I have always thought that, from a mystical perspective, we are lucky to have winters. This may seem a strange sentiment, but I have my reasons. If we believe that we are a part of what is all around us, then the seasons assume great importance.
In reality each season merges slowly into the next, but our ancient forebears gave us four divisions of the year, each corresponding to a major ‘event’ in the way light – our primary enabler of outer consciousness – changes.
In the middle of the ancient Summer, the day would be longest. The time of fullness an warmth would have returned, albeit briefly, to the earth. The Christian church borrowed the ancient rites and named the Summer Solstice the Feast of St John; it marked a time when the joyful ascent of light (an upwards gradient, if you like), gave way, in a moment of profound stillness, to the descending gradient that led from the longest day to the shortest. There was no actual moment of pause in that glorious fullness – planets and suns do not stand still – but the human consciousness recorded and knew that a primary quality of existence had changed; and not for the better…
Halfway during that descent of the daily light, the times of day and night became equal at the Equinox: a word derived from Latin meaning ‘equal night’. The harvest was gathered in – probably the most important time of the ancient year, as it determined whether the long, wet and cold months ahead could be survived. There was little of more importance than that…
At the end of the darkening half-year begun with the Summer Solstice came the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night – Christianised as the Feast of St Stephen. The Christmas tradition has changed the Pagan calendar, somewhat, but the underlying principles of the Light-bringer’s birth in the darkest of days hold true.
The physical and agricultural marking of these times is obvious. Modern scholarly interpretations of such events focus simply on these, dismissing any other considerations as fanciful and superstitious – as though our forebears, often starving, had time for such diversions. They simply cannot conceive of the world-view of those of our ancient past, because they have been taught that anything outside of ‘science’ is invalid.
There are two deeper layers to these key points in the year – one is psychological, the other spiritual. We need to define our terms carefully: psychological refers to the workings of the mind – really ego; spiritual refers to contact with a layer of being which is greater than the small self; an experience or series of experiences within which the individual self realises oneness with a super-physical that is beyond question. In doing this, we have encountered that which simply ‘is’ – the Objective World.
Emotions are not the whole story, nor necessarily the highway to spirituality, but they can provide the energy to throw off the mundane perspectives that keep us locked into the world view of the small ‘me’ – now protected by science. At the time of the Winter Solstice, our emotions undergo a kind of ‘death’ – if we are sensitive to this unmeasurable ‘pause’ in the flow of life’s energies. For a brief moment, which may have more to do with the observer than the observed, we sense the awe of cessation… Of a death of the small self in the face of the fullness of objective existence around us.
What is around us has not died, but it challenges us to see the internal ‘death’ with which we need to come to terms if we are to sense the greater life that surrounds us, and from which the small self keeps us separate.
In this sleep of nature the one Life prepares the raw materials of the next phase of its expression. This is done in the dark places of the soil and the unconscious places of the self. When that rest is complete the Life comes forth from darkness, marked, symbolically, by the light-bringers’ victory over the darker days, and the advancement of the light-filled days – an outer sign of the manifest potential of what lived and lives through the dark night of Winter. In spiritual terms the physical return of the light is mirrored by the growth of human understanding, and its connection to all life around it.
The mythological archetypes of the light-bringers are there to enable us to attune with the subtle energies pervading the Earth at this very special time. They are our deepest friends…
Wishing you a very special Winter Solstice.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com