The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstitially based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades is permitted to enter Mount Olympus (his domain is the underworld so he of course does not get accepted any other time). Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
Spell Of The Month
Thin Veil Spell
Best Day To Cast: December 21st – Yule – Winter Solstice
Color of the Day: White
Incense of the Day: Vanilla
The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the returning light of the Sun. It is the shortest day and longest night. In pre-Celtic Ireland, a wonderful ancient tomb and fairy mound called Brug na Boinne, located near modern Newgrange, contained a passageway which was aligned with the Sun on the Winter Solstice. On this day, sunlight streamed into the back of the sacred site. Like other sacred days, the Winter Solstice is a time when the veil between the worlds is thin, and contact with the Gods may be auspicious. A ritual sleep or vision quest prior to the solstice morning ceremony may bring you visions of what is to grow in your life. Before bed, recite these words inspired by the Scottish “Lullaby of the Snow” until you fall asleep:
Cold, cold this night,
Lasting this night my
My eye is closed,
My sleep is heavy,
Bring visions of my soul
– Sharynne NicMhacha
Llewellyn’s Witches’ Spell-A-Day Almanac