Winter Solstice: Celebrating the Returning Light

Before going to bed last night, I blew out the candle on my Solstice Altar and let the darkness of the Winter Solstice Eve envelope my being.  I reflected on all the different things darkness means to us today and how our ancestors must have felt on this longest night of the year.  For our bone ancestors, there was no knowing that the light would always return.  For our more recent ancestors, there was the knowing the light would return, but also the knowledge that this time of the year was a very tenuous time.  Food stores were getting lower and there was still much winter to come.  Still, in darkness, they awaited the rising sun of the Winter Solstice morn knowing that once again the Great Wheel was turning and with it the returning of the light.

I awoke in darkness this morning and made my way to the kitchen for coffee.  I then sat and waited for that first sliver of light before braving the cold of the deck.  I live deep in the forest so normally I don’t get to see the sun until it’s fairly high in the sky.  This time of year, however, as the trees stand in their naked beauty, my view of the actual sunrise is spectacular.  As the sky shifted into its gloaming and then into a spectacular display of reds and purples and gold, She began to rise.  Oh my, is there anything more beautiful than the rising sun after the longest night?!

For those of us who follow the Wheel of the Year, each turning brings its own symbolism, language and internal psychology.  There is a rhythm to this way of being and knowing that entrains our bodies to that of Gaia and the Cosmos.  A knowing deep in our Soul that says YES, THIS!


Sun illuminating the Triple Spiral in the Passage Tomb at Newgrange

Many cultural traditions flood both our psyche and our rituals with one singular thread weaving its way through them all.  As nature moves deeper and deeper into her darkest hours right before the dawn, our ancestors desired reminders of the light and of life.  Standing strong amidst all the apparent death of nature were the evergreen trees and the red holly berries, candles and community.  Both trees and branches were brought inside as reminders of life and the coming greening of nature.  The red berries were reminders of the red blood of life.  Families and individuals shared with each other things that might be needed in the coming months and were reminders for each other of the strength in community.  Candles and celebrations brought the much needed light into homes and hearts.  To this day we desire those same symbols, our material culture and practices reflecting the very same need of the reminders of light and life.

I love the different ways that cultures celebrated and the myths and stories that developed around this time of year… Love that those stories were born from the ordinary rhythms of life and nature and the basic necessities required to maintain both individual and communal life.

Maybe it’s the time of year.  That time when we are literally in our darkest hours right before the dawn.  That time of year when there is more darkness than light.  That time of year when we reach deep within to find the comfort the ancients knew.  Darkness has its cycle and Light will always return.


Sunrise at Stonehenge 2019

While we celebrate the returning light at the Winter Solstice, that’s just it… She is the returning light, not the returned.    In fact,  for the next three days we are in Solstice and the time the Sun stands still.  After that She will start returning, growing and strengthening every day as she moves from her southern most point on her axis toward the northern most point that will be the Summer Solstice.  With this movement we will begin to gain a bit more light each day and  Nature will begin her journey of greening.  For now though I/we rest in the dark womb of the Mother, visioning and waiting for the strengthening light that will bring the potential that now gestates to its fullness and its birth.

Blessed Winter Solstice.


~Arlene Bailey, ©2019

Cover Image – Sunrise at Newgrange, Photographer Tourism Ireland

All other images found on Pinterest with no photographer credit.


Author: The Sacred Wild

Artist, Writer

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