Signs of the Old Gods: The Winter Solsticesam
by Simon Mitchell
Once again the Earth turns around the sun and we come to the shortest day, conspiratorially hidden right next to Christmas – on Dec 21st. The Longest Night is an opportunity to make ‘Deamon Fire’ – find out how. In pre-Christian times the solstice was an important time when the sun miraculously alters its course and the days shift to becoming longer, the nights shorter. In a World without electric light this was a profound reason for thanksgiving.
People got nervous as the days got shorter, because they could see perpetual night coming. They didn’t understand the rotation of the earth and how it makes the days shorter and longer. The Celtic priests and other leaders of early faiths in Northern Europe would promise to use their ‘power’ to re-ignite the sun. In the old Celtic tradition the evening of the longest night involved the local ‘priest’ ordering the burning of a pine tree on the nearest ‘high hill’ – a precursor to ‘beacon fires’.
Local people would be told to drag a pine tree to the top of the highest hill around December 25th. With great ceremony the priest would assert his power and control over the sun by commanding it to return to full brilliance in the following days, and firing the tree. In this way he was assured that his power was also recognised by the people he controlled. In a cunning reversal of burning a pine tree outside, we now bring them inside and sacrifice them through lack of water.
Christianity was spread most effectively by subsuming ‘ancient’ beliefs to its own ends. The practice of blood sacrifice common in ancient times, is replaced by wine and wafers, a metaphor for flesh and blood. The ancient celebration of the longest night is subsumed in the ever more materialistic dash to Christmas, now a Saturnalia of materialism where even the Christian message is lost.
Traditionally, at least in Dennis Wheatley novels, the longest night ‘Walpurgisnacht’ is associated with dark magic and lots of naked romping about and making homunculii and other horrid things. Here is confusion between Christian images of the devil and those of earlier Celtic ‘Pan’ like entities, the ‘genus locii’ of special places. Herne the Hunter of popular myth and the like. Also this time of year the sun is in Capricorn, a horned goat, contributing to another cultural mish-mash with many strands.
The ancient Celtic cycles tie the winter solstice to a time of celebration – the return of the light – a natural beginning to a New Year, a letting go of the old. There are many activities from ancient times with a positive flavour, and quite frankly its way too cold to go romping about with nothing on. But on the longest night, like All-Hallows Eve, the veil is thin and we only need a tiny nudge to see other worlds.
Here’s one based on ancient tree burning, called ‘ Deamon Fire ‘: You will need: A strong metal container for a small fire Dried lavender herb or essential oil of lavender Dried pine cones A new white candle
Get your container, preferably silver, and take it out under the full moon, the night of the Goddess (Full Moon is on 2007 Dec 24). Wash it with the rays of the moon. Put in the dried pine cones and place it safely outside onto a base of local stone if possible. Light the pine cones with the wick of a fresh white candle and stand back to let them burn. Sprinkle dried lavender on the flames while it burns, or use a sprinkle or three of lavender essential oil.
When it burns down, gaze into the embers while they still show lights, and see what you can see.
Then go out into the woods and quiet places and see what you can find playing in the moonbeams and starlight.
About the author: THE LILY by Simon Mitchell (fiction) THE LILY is the first episode of a magical new Cornish adventure novel. Trapped in time for 2000 years, the spirit of a healer finally tells his story. A giant conspiracy is unveiled and our hero sets out to mend the land. Order this story by visiting: http://www.simon thescribe.co.uk/Lily.html