Solstice Comes But Once A Year, Now It’s Here! by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ 2002 colorActually it comes twice, once in midsummer, the longest day of the year, and once in midwinter, the longest night.  Winter Solstice is also known as the first day of winter.

For those of us attuned to the cycles of Mother Earth, Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the dark and the transformations that come in the dark. Many of the customs associated with Christmas and Hannukah, including candles, Yule logs, and trees decorated with lights were originally associated with Winter Solstice.  The extra pounds put on during winter feasting were insulation against the cold winter nights.

Those who fear that many of the customs of the Christmas season might be pagan are right.  As we learn again to honor our place within the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration, we can return these customs to their roots in the circle of life.

ChristmasTrees20060001

On the Winter Solstice, which generally comes on December 21, the days begin to get longer. This is not evident for a few weeks, as at “solstice” the sun seems to “stand still.”  By mid-January it is clear.  The darkness has given way to slightly longer days. However, the coldest days of winter are yet to come.

Perhaps taking a cue from Christmas celebrations of the light shining in the darkness, many contemporary pagans welcome “the return of the light” on Winter Solstice.  For those who feel kinship with Mother Earth, Winter Solstice can also be a time to celebrate the darkness itself.  Yet few of us know how to celebrate the dark.  We don’t celebrate “the return of the dark” on Summer Solstice, so why do we focus on “the return of the light” on Winter Solstice?

In our culture, light is associated with reason, masculinity, civilization, God, and salvation, while darkness is associated with feeling, femininity, barbarism, the Devil, and hell.  The metaphor of “the light shining in the darkness” has been associated with everything right and good, while the darkness has been demonized.

When women and the feminine are associated with the dark, this means that they must be mastered and controlled by men and the masculine.  When races are identified as light and dark, this becomes justification for domination.

None of us have escaped this enculturation.  Thus it is hard for us to think of celebrating the dark.

In the natural world, darkness and light are part of the cycles of life.  We would not live without sunlight, but neither would life as we know it thrive in a world without the darkness of night.  The dark of winter is a time to slow down, to sleep, to wait.  Winter dark is a time of transformation:  seeds collected at the end of summer must rest in a cold dark place under the earth before sprouting in spring.

This Winter Solstice, let us think about what it would mean to acknowledge the dark: to see it as one of the phases of life, of equal value with the light.  As we learn to value the dark, we begin to transform the dualisms of light and darkness that have been used to oppress women, nature, and all cultural and religious “others.”

This Winter Solstice, let us embrace the dark, the time of rest before regeneration.

Candles in the Dark

Carol P. Christ was born on the eve of Winter Solstice and her mother named her after the carols being sung while she was emerging from the womb.  Carol is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute



Categories: Feminism, General, Goddess Spirituality

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7 replies

  1. Brava! Let us indeed celebrate the darkness. And learn to know our shadows.

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  2. First of all let me wish you on your birthday which falls on the eve of the winter solstice. Happy birthday and hearty wishes for many more fruitful years of research and work to unravel what we have have been conditioned into believing by the offcial, malestream religious traditions of the world.
    Your post has inspired me to think about the significance of the black and the dark – two shades anathematized by malestream traditions. But I cant help thinking that there was a time when the black and dark was held in great esteem. Though official traditions of the major religions have succeeded in projecting them as associated with evil, the older tradition which associates the dark with hermetic powers and fertility has succeeded in keeping itself alive through popular religious practices around the world. How else can one explain the cult of the black madonnas and the cult of the dark goddesses like Kali. While it is true that most adherents of mainstream hinduism approach Kali with fear and most of their rites and practices are aimed at propitiating her which betrays a deep sense of fear and eagerness to avert her malevolence, the shaktas approach her with great love and reverence. She is the most important goddess of the shakta tradition. And reverence for the qualities represented by her dark hue is reflected in the respect for the feminine gender of dark colour among all creatures. A tantric text enjoins that if one sees a black she dog or a she cat then one has to bow to them visualising that they are offering their reverence to the Goddess Herself.
    And it is interesting to note that all the major heroines of hindu myths are dark. Draupadi, considered the most beautiful of all women, heroine of the hindu epic Mahabharata, and the focus of a popular amman-cult in Tamil Nadu is called Krishna-dark one. Madhura Meenakshi, the great goddess at Madhurai is dark. Bhumi devi, the earth goddess, considered one of the consorts of the great god Vishnu has two forms-one with white hue, and the other, a more powerful one with a dark hue. The great god Vishnu is dark. His incarnation Krishna is dark as the name itself suggests. Perhaps it is the old tradition which assocaites the dark with power and energy.

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  3. Yes I agree with you Meenakshi. Both Europe and India were invaded by Indo-European speaking patriarchal warlike groups that brought with them the light-dark hierarchical dualism. In India as in Europe there are many remnants of the older tradtions, especially in “folk” traditions.

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  4. Good things take root in the dark! I associate darkness and retreating into darkness with safety–a cocoon, the womb. We all took root in the dark, generative, rich spaces of a woman’s body! :)

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  5. Out of the darkness comes the fear of what’s to come
    Out of the darkness comes the dread of what’s undone
    Out of the darkness comes the hope that we can run
    And out of the darkness comes the knowledge of the sun.

    Out of the darkness comes the fear of the unknown,
    Out of the darkness comes the dread of bleaching bone
    Out of the darkness comes the hope we’re not alone,
    And out of the darkness grows the seeds that we have sown.

    Out of the darkness comes the fear, revenge and hate
    Out of the darkness comes the dread of indifferent fate.
    Out of the darkness comes the hope we’re not too late
    And out of the darkness come the songs that we create.
    Darkness is the place of life, darkness is the womb,

    Darkness is the place of death, darkness is the tomb.
    Death belongs to life, half af day is night,
    The end won’t come in darkness
    But a blinding flash of light.

    [Written by Frankie Armstrong for a Greenham Common march.]

    Frankie Armstrong is one of my favourite folk singers. She can move effortlessly from feminist songs to big ballads to humorous songs.Lokker her up if you like folk music.

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  6. Yes let us embrace the darkness. In a world of duality such as ours both the light and the dark must be honored for us to be in balance. Thanks for your words. And Happy Birthday!!

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