We made it. With winter solstice behind us, the days are finally getting longer. At first imperceptible to everything but our soul’s intuition, gradually the days grow more light-filled. Not quite sense-perceptible yet, nonetheless, our life forces and our biologic consciousness are breathing a collective sigh of relief as we leave the sun’s nadir, the darkest day of the year, in our wake.
You might have taken this re-enlightening for granted; I tried not to. Each year, I struggle to re-experience the drama which must have terrified our ancestors as they noted darkness encroaching through the autumn until, deep in what we now call December, the sun seemed almost to give up. Instead of soaring high above the horizon and blazing down upon a grateful earth, she seems to grow more weary each day barely mustering an appearance above the horizon. Imagine the collective sense of doom, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness felt by ancient peoples clustered at the feet of their astrologers pleading for reassurance that the sun will not forsake them. Only sudden eclipses would have struck more terror in their hearts than did the gradual and relentless loss of daylight as winter closed in.
Mid-winter is a holy time. It is a time of transformation. A time when cosmic patterns reverse. Thus, even though authoritative biblical scholars place Jesus of Nazareth’s birth in September 1,995 years ago, the early Christian church leaders were wise to celebrate that event near the winter solstice. For, of all the phases of earth’s transit through space, this is the bleakest and most awful (awe-filled) moment. This is the Wendepunkt, the turning point. The darkest hour before the dawn. This is the now-or-never. This is nature’s highest drama. It terrifies us.
In the context of diminishing external light and warmth, uncertain of whether earth will be able to retain the sun’s commitment to blaze again, we are thrown back on our inner resources. We dig down and create a celebration to bolster us in times of distress. This is the drama of light and darkness. Midwinter is the theater. Most splendid of all midwinter rituals is the advent spiral rekindled each year by students at Waldorf schools around the world. If you missed it this year, let me describe what occurred at the
Picture a dark room filled with fragrant freshly cut evergreen boughs arranged as a border creating a great winding spiral which leads inward to a large stump. Upon this stump stands an unlit candle. As the ceremony begins, one child, usually the youngest, carries a tiny candle’s flame slowly into the spiral path and, approaching the stump, lights the great candle. The child then blows out its candle before returning quietly along the spiral to its parent. The room is silent and entirely dark except for a tiny flame flickering at the center of the spiral. After a few moments for contemplation and appreciation of both light and darkness, the drama begins.
Starting with youngest to oldest, children take turns wending their way along the spiral toward the stump with unlit candles. For some of the younger children, this ritual takes considerable courage. Upon arriving at the lighted center, each partakes of the flame and turning around, slowly returns along the spiral pausing at regular intervals to leave their lighted candle beside the path. Child after child ventures into the spiral and out again leaving behind one more candle along the way and a bit less darkness. To behold this ritual is profoundly uplifting. It transforms the hearts of those accompany each child on his or her journey. As with most true rituals, this has a health benefit: I’d call it a spiritual antidepressant in the context of mid-winter blues.
Throughout the year, my practice is full of depressed and anxious people who feel helpless, hopeless and worthless. An alarming number are suicidal. For these folks, and many others, Christmas is a terrible time – reminding them as it does of deep family pain, anger and disappointment. Another part of my practice is full of angry and bitter people whose relationships seethe with antagonism and teeter towards divorce. For these folks, the festival season is heart-wrenching and feels more hollow than holy. Another part of my practice is full of people facing their demons ranging from alcohol to obesity to any manner of self-defeating or self-destructive behavior. Parties and pastries undermine their will power and threaten to reinforce their sense of despair if they succumb and self-esteem plummets. Indeed, this holiday season ravages people like no other.
In Nature, interestingly enough, the remedy is close to the toxin. For example, the jewel weed, Impatiens biflora, with its anti-itch powers frequently grows close to the dreaded poison ivy. So it is with Christmas and the Wendepunkt. As we plunge deeper into darkness, an inner light is kindled and resolutions for the new year take root. Year after year, we promise ourselves that, if we can just survive the darkness, we will make of ourselves a new person. We will face our challenges and persevere. With will forces having ripened during Advent season and the time of waiting behind us, we move into action. Earth sets the pace shifting her rhythm towards light and we sense the momentum of hope. We have a cosmic bandwagon to climb upon and armed with renewed courage for our New Year’s resolutions, we anticipate change and growth.
“Happy New Year!” comes at various times depending upon one’s religion and culture. The nations of
To your Health !