Our Ancestors at Winter Solstice

 

On this, the longest night, they waited. Waited in the Scandinavian darkness for the return of the life giving sun. They burned bonfires with Jul logs, crisp and crackling.  The return of the sun brought hope that once again summer would come, the fields would ripen and food would be abundant.

Druid priests slaughtered a white bull and gathered mistletoe, believed to be a magical plant. Likewise, the people slaughtered the last of their animals. The meat was salted and stored, in hopes of warding off starvation for the remaining winter.

In what is now the United Kingdom, monuments had been built, by the ancestors or others that came before them, awe-inspiring and bold as they stand to this very day. Perhaps an ancient race of giants or aliens had dragged the megalithic rocks that would form Stonehenge and Newgrange. Somehow this ancient race had aligned the rocks perfectly to catch the rising of the solstice sun. It was here the Druid priests performed their rituals.

During the endless night of Winter Solstice, it was believed that spirits of the dead walked the earth. These were the restless and the lost who could not find peace in the afterlife. Our Germanic and Slavic ancestors honored their own loved ones who had passed in the previous year by whittling wooden dolls to resemble the dearly departed. These dolls were placed in the forests and the bone-yards as beacons, to help the spirits of family members find their way home, in case they got lost with the wandering dead.

Ancient Celtic tribes had a custom of traveling to the forests and fields, singing and shouting to drive away any evil spirits who might keep the land from prospering. They poured wine and cider on the ground to purify it.

In later years, this custom would evolve in a different form, called wassailing, popular in Victorian England. Instead of pouring the libation on the ground, they would drink it. Instead of singing to drive away evil spirits, they would sing Christmas carols. Neighbors would go to each others houses, drink a cup of ‘wassail’ punch, and bless their homes under the new sun.  In yet later years, they skipped the wassail punch altogether and this tradition became simply Christmas caroling.

In ancient Rome, the great feast of Saturnalia continued (having begun on December 17th.) There was much eating and drinking and debauchery. In the long, stir-crazy darkness, people ran wild in the streets, honoring Saturn, Capricorn and all things goat.

In later years, reminiscent of Saturnalia, the revelry continued. In England, in upper-class households, a common servant was elected as The Lord of Misrule. He held a place higher than the master of the house. For one night, all roles were reversed. The lords and ladies waited on their own servants. Servants insulted their masters. In this long, glorious night, there was much dancing, masking and merriment. Come morning, the working class returned to their lot, the lords and ladies once again in command. This custom continued in England until the early 20th century.

Weird Winter Solstice Coincidences

On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. With the return of the sun, in the brutal New World, they went about setting up a place where they hoped to worship and live as they chose. Many died, but those that remained tilled the land, relied upon their faith and took advantage of what the rocky Eastern seaboard could offer. They faced hardship and political unrest. Their ideas, both good and evil, brought challenges. Yet their discovery was the beginning of the United States of America.

On December 21, 1898, Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie made her discovery of  radium, thus ushering in the atomic age. The discovery was bittersweet, as the element itself is both helpful and deadly. Nonetheless, Marie Curie won a Nobel Prize in Physics for her efforts.

On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched. It was the first mission to the moon that included live astronauts. What followed was the Apollo 11 moon landing, “one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.” This too, however, was an event shrouded in darkness and mystery, as the US Government cancelled all further moon missions for mysterious and unknown reasons…

This holy day is a time of darkness and mystery, a time of ancestral communication and reverence. It is also a time of hope as we celebrate the return of the sun. Whatever you choose as your Winter Solstice ritual, have a merry time! And who knows, perhaps you will make a dark discovery of your own 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Astronauts and Goddesses — Happy Moon Day!

 

Who doesn’t love the moon? She is our silver lady, a bright beacon in the dark night, the everlasting subject of mythos and folklore. She is the ruler of romance, fate, madness and lunacy. Mythology of every culture has at least one moon goddess.

The moon has always had a powerful effect on the Earth and its inhabitants. The phases of the moon, from wax to wane, take place within a 28 day cycle. These phases are believed to influence human and animal behavior. A woman’s menstrual cycle matches the 28 day moon phases.

The moon affects the oceans, the tides, and water retention in the human body.  There are, statistically, more trauma and emergency room visits during the full moon, for humans as well as pets! Police departments report higher crime rates. Lions hunt more, sea creatures have exotic mating rituals, and scorpions are known to literally turn blue in the moonlight!

In spiritual and metaphysical terms, every Monday is really the moon’s day.  Consider the etymology of the word ‘moon’ – Germanic Mond, and Latin luna.  Hence, the word ‘Monday’ in most languages is some derivative of this — German, Montag, Danish Mandag, Swedish Måndag , Italian Lunedi,  Spanish Lunes, and Welsh dydd Llun.  The list goes on…

The moon is, no doubt, a very special planet, and today, July 20th, we have a national holiday to honor the moon!  Or, more specifically, to commemorate the first walk on the moon.

On July 20, 1969, NASA spacecraft Apollo 11 landed the first humans, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the moon.  Six hours after landing, Neil Armstrong left the craft and stepped onto the lunar surface, forever changing our perceptions and notions of what was humanly possible in space exploration.  He famously called his walk “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong was later joined by Buzz Aldrin. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, served as pilot, remaining at the wheel of the spacecraft while the other two explored.  Together, Armstrong and Aldrin spent about five hours on the moon. They collected 47.5 pounds of lunar material to bring back to Earth.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Americans were glued to their TV’s watching the live broadcast.

The moon landing was a huge achievement, the cumulation of the program initiated by President John F. Kennedy years before. It was also a milestone in the “space race” – the competition between the US and the Soviet Union to see who could get there first.

Reaching the moon placed the United States in a leadership role, with a duty to explore farther and deeper into the reach of the universe. In the years that followed, NASA and the Soviets both stepped up their game, continuing to fiercely compete for claims in space.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon proclaimed ‘National Moon Landing Day’ on July 20 to commemorate the mission. However, it seems the administration dropped the ball, never issuing  a proclamation to follow.

A man named Richard Christmas, a Michigan native, took it upon himself to make the holiday official. He began what he called the “Christmas Card” campaign –  tirelessly writing to congressmen and senators in all fifty states, urging them to create National Moon Day. By July of 1975, twelve states had sponsored bills observing Moon Day. Although Moon Day never became an official Federal Holiday (the kind we get a day off work for) many proponents continue to advocate for it, arguing that if we have a Christopher Columbus Day, we should have a Moon Landing Day as well.

Curiously, and suspiciously, after 1972 NASA stopped all missions to the moon. The supposed reason was because the undertakings were too expensive. However, some conspiracy theorists have other ideas. They believe NASA’s abrupt stop in moon exploration may actually be a cover up for the fact that they have made contact with Extra-terrestrials!

This theory is not so far-fetched as one might think. If NASA had made contact, the government, of course, would not want us to know. (Kind of like Roswell.)  Some folks even believe that NASA has established secret space stations for further alien contact.

These stations would be on the “dark side” of the moon – that is, the side that never faces Earth, so nobody can know what is going on there.

Regardless of what we believe about Extra-terrestrial contact, today is a great day to celebrate all aspects of the moon! Here are some fun things you can do:

  • Conduct a ritual for the goddess of your choice. Light a silver candle, go outside and observe the moon. Meditate, pray, commune with nature. Be grateful for the vastness of our universe.

  • Take a moonlight  bath!  Throw in some traditional flowers of the moon, such as lily, lilac, violet or jasmine.  Astrologically, the sun is now in the water sign of Cancer, the moon’s own home, so this is perfect. (Coincidence that the moon landing occurred in the sign of Cancer? I think not. )

  • If you happen to have a telescope, do some moon-gazin’!

  • Watch the movie “A Walk on the Moon”. This little gem stars Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen in the story of a summer romance set against the backdrop of the 1969 moon landing and all the frenzy it created.

  • Channel you inner Michael Jackson! Challenge your dancing skills with the famous ‘moon walk’.

Whatever you do, keep in mind the great beauty and mystery of this celestial body. Have a fantastic and not too loony Moon Day!