We’ve been celebrating Solstice in our household for several years now. And I have to admit it’s taken a while for me to not miss Christmas. Fifty plus years of that holiday goes in deep. And lingers. Made more poignant by the huge presence of the holiday and all its trappings for increasing months each year. It’s easy to be nostalgic about decorated trees and memories of childhood Christmas times. And sometimes those ghosts drift through with a tug of longing. Still, shifting to Solstice is a decision we have never regretted.
There’s much about the Christmas holiday I don’t miss and much of what I don’t miss has made it easy to disengage. I don’t miss the frantic consumption that takes people over and the sense of obligation to buy things for people who quite frankly don’t need anything. Things too often made by poor people and children, too often under slave labor conditions. Too soon headed for the landfill. Annie Leonard, creator of the Story of Stuff, reports that only 1% will be in use six months from now. I don’t miss the idea that what and how much is gifted to others is somehow a measure of love. I don’t miss Santa taking center stage from Jesus. Whether he was born on December 25th or not, and most biblical scholars agree not, Jesus was a most amazing being of light and love.
After all, Light is the true reason for the season. The return of the Light in this season and all seasons of darkness. Attending the Light we all hold and again setting an intention to make our Light manifest in the world. And so we celebrate Solstice with light. We find music to play that doesn’t involve reindeer. We host a sacred Solstice Fire celebration. And then, while the rest of the world is busy with Christmas, we tuck into a few days of peace. Reading, writing, being on the land. Time to be still and be with the Light.
Ironic, really. That the choice to celebrate Solstice and the Light gives us the space to do just that. A Light that continues to dispel the ghosts of Christmases past.
There are many wonderful things about celebrating Solstice. Among them this year is this week that stretches before me. A time to settle in with the land and write. To once again pick up the shuttle to weave the words and stories of Ireland’s indigenous spiritual ancestors. A time of peace and quiet as clients and friends are busy with the Christmas holidays.
Solstice. A time when we celebrate the Light and step once again beyond the darkness. Within and without. A time to leave behind what no longer serves us. A time to remember what is truly important. A sentiment beautifully articulated in this Irish blessing.
May you never forget
what is worth remembering
what is best forgotten.
Worth remembering for me is a powerful meditation under this magnificent tree in the Giant’s Ring in Belfast two summers ago. This tree holds such power. Even in winter.
There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is welded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as a blessing.
And so as we welcome the returning light of the Sun, may we welcome and celebrate the Light we hold within. There is such power in this Light. Indeed it is the only power that can dispel the darkness. Within and without.
This is a story I will share around the Solstice Fire tonight. Will be a wonderful and powerful gathering…and we will have bagpipes this year! Magic. Magic.
It was the day before Solstice in the deep of winter. Snow swirled in the bitter cold wind. In the castle high on the hill above the village there was trouble. The great kitchen fire had gone out. There was no flame to cook the food or make the big kettle sing. As people stood shivering in front of the hearth they wondered what had caused this catastrophe. Some said it was the wrong fuel they were burning in the fire, others ventured that all the quarreling in the castle over matters of state made it too cold for any fire to burn.
The King snorted. “No matter the cause,” he said, “we must have fire!” And he sent a messenger to the village to bring back coals from one of the hearth fires. So the messenger set out with a big iron lantern and made his way down the hill crying, “Coals. Coals. Coals for the castle fire.”
The door flew open as he passed the first cottage and a man stepped out. “Coals for the castle? Why yes, we have coals.” As the messenger filled the lantern the man said, “Of course tell the King we want as many gold coins as coals you are taking!” The messenger agreed and started back up the hill to castle. But he hadn’t gotten very far before the coals in the lantern turned cold. Leaving them on the side of the road he turned back to the village calling, “Coals. Coals. Coals for the castle fire.” Continue reading
“I just hate this time of year,” she told me on the phone last night. “It’s so cold and it gets dark so early.” Like so many, she is a woman with places to go and things to do in these hectic holidays. Rain, icy roads, driving in the dark. This season just isn’t cooperating.
It never does. And for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere we might have figured out by now that it never will. For the whole point, the lesson, of this season is not about it cooperating with us…but rather our cooperating with it. This season call us home to the hearth to spend time around a warm fire. And as we wait for the return of the Sun’s Light, to attend our own Light. A great gift of the dark is that we are able to see our own Light most clearly.
Our ancestors knew this.
They would step away from the busy seasons of planting and harvesting to spend time sharing stories, playing music, singing songs, and re-membering who they were as people and as a people. It was a time to reconnect with the great dreams and visions of their lives. Their fires and candles were a powerful reminder of the power, promise, and purpose of this season. A bright beckoning in the dark.
Today we have electricity and our lives are filled with light. But are they filled with Light? I imagine Earth Mother shaking her shaggy head as we rail against this season. When will we learn? When will we slow down to find the gift of Light within the darkness? I imagine Spirit looking at our frantic activity and sighing. Maybe next year, maybe next Solstice Season. For it will return. It always does.
Halloween. Before the Church and candy companies got ahold of it, this holiday was a celebration of a very different nature and a very different name, Samhain. Pronounced sow-in, Samhain roughly translates from the old Irish as ‘summer’s end’ and was a celebration of the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half thus marking a new year. For our Irish ancestors the new year, the new day which began at sundown, and new life all began in a womb of darkness.
This is also a time when the veils and borders between this world and the Otherworld are thin, allowing spirits to roam freely between the worlds. While Irish family ancestors were honored and invited home, other less friendly spirits were to be avoided. For some this warding off included dressing in frightening costumes. For many it included carving heads as the head was believed to be where the soul resides and was thus considered the most powerful part of the body. This was the real reason the Irish collected heads during battle….but that’s another story altogether. Candles were placed in these carvings and these carvings were placed in windows so the light of the soul would keep the family safe. This photo is of an actual preserved Irish turnip carving. But I understand that if you haven’t got a turnip, a mangelwurzel will do.
For only $99, one of the ancestor search sites offers a simple DNA test that can tell you a lot about who you are and where you come from. Where you come from may be easily discerned, but who you are is vastly more complex than anything a DNA test will tell you What testing and ancestor searches won’t give you is what you come from. And it’s the what that stitches together the who and where into deeper meaning and knowing, It’s the what that holds the complexities of cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heritage.
My maternal grandmother used to tell us we were related to Lady Godiva. She delighted in sharing this dark family secret, always careful to tell us when no one else was around. Perhaps she was avoiding the possibility of being contradicted but I suspect it was more likely a factor of modesty. After all, the woman was riding naked. And although this 11th century English noblewoman was protesting her husband’s oppressive tenant taxations, that was never part of what we were told. For my grandmother the whole and only point was our relationship to a famous person. Riding naked was just a provocative bonus.
Being related to a famous person. Like striking gold while mining for family history. But without the contextual story, it’s just a name. A woman riding nude through the streets of Coventry is interesting. Lady Godiva’s story is fascinating. And it’s story that holds depth of meaning. Anything less is just legacy lite.
The path to the round tower we had come to see meandered through a graveyard next to the ruins of a church. Glancing at one of the headstones I saw my name. Nilan. My people came from this small village but in all the time I’ve spent in this area I’ve not been called to explore any of those relationships. Not, I realize, the norm for people who come to Ireland, so many of them looking for their ancestral roots.
In fact not the norm generally as so many people are searching their history and heritage. I couldn’t find a number for ancestry.com but the LDS site, FamilySearch, gets between 35-45 million visits a day. That’s a lot of searching. Searching that yields an aggregate of names and dates. An intellectual knowing. But not a complete knowing.
A journey to Ireland can begin to provide context and a more personal connection. To hear the lilt of the spoken word. To engage with the people. To walk the streets. and yes, to even drive on the left. All contributing to another level of knowing.
Yet there is still deeper knowing to experience. For to be Irish is to be from Ireland, to be of Ireland. And Ireland is a landscape of 5,000 year old sacred sites. Sites that beckon to a knowing as old as time.