Tuesday, December 21, 2010 is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
This is a long newsletter, because we take a look at the Winter Solstice Traditions from various Mystery School Traditions and religions from around the world. It's fascinating to see the parallels between them all.
And we also offer instructions for a set of beautiful meditations: a special Solstice Meditation designed to unite the aspirant with the Invincible Sun -- the Christ within -- and a Gabriel Meditation, calling upon the Archangel of the new Winter season to transform our lives. And to top it all off, we present a beautiful song-poem by Buffy St. Marie entitled "God is Alive, Magic is Afoot", which captures the essence of this Sacred Season. So please be patient and read on. . .
Solstice 2010 is the day the Sun enters into Capricorn, conjuncting Pluto, which not too long ago entered this Earthy sign of large organizations, public and private for a multi-decade long stay that will transform our entire global society. And this year's Solstice is a promise that we can transform our lives and our society, and fulfill our dreams for a life with a Higher Purpose than mere survival, domination, or accumulation.
Solstice Secrets of the Mystery Schools of the East and the West
The Solstice has been a holy day around the world for thousands of years. The holy days marking the beginning of the four seasons are known as the "cross-quarter days" because the two equinoxes and the two solstices divide the plane of the ecliptic into four equal parts. The plane of the ecliptic is the apparent yearly path of the Sun in space, which seems to an observer on the ground to be moving around the Earth.
The lengths of the seasons are unequal because of the changing velocity of the Earth in its orbit. The change in velocity is caused by the fact that the Earth's orbit is elliptical, and so as the Earth travels along its path through space, it builds up increased momentum from time to time according to the laws of motion.
The Earth is three million miles closer to the Sun at New Year's than it is in June, but here on the East Coast of North America, we are entering the coldest part of the year.
The seasonal rhythms on our blue-green planet are orchestrated by the fact that, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Earth's axis wobbles off-center, tilting some 23°27' from the perpendicular, relative to the plane of the planet's orbit.
The Earth is nearly spherical, and receives parallel rays from the Sun as it rotates daily on its axis in its annual orbit around the Sun. The tilting of the Earth's axis remains basically constant throughout the year. Since the Earth's axis is always pointed in approximately the same direction in space during a given yearly cycle, each terrestrial pole is turned alternately toward and away from the sun during a given solar year.
This wobble tilts the Northern Hemisphere away from direct solar exposure during the autumn and winter, and causes the Sun to appear lower and lower in the sky for fewer and fewer hours per day in the Northern Hemisphere during the autumn months, until we reach the Winter Solstice, the point where the planetary wobble begins to tilt the Northern Hemisphere back in the other direction, increasing the length of time the Earth is exposed to the Sun each day, and causing the Sun to appear higher and higher in the sky.
Beginning on this Sunday, December 20, we enter the three-day period called "The Winter Solstice Window", when the sun appears to stand still from the standpoint of a viewer on Earth, and rises in the same place along the horizon for three days in a row.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Every day thereafter until the end of June, days will grow longer and longer.
Why then does the Winter Solstice herald the onset of winter? As days grow longer, one might expect days to grow warmer as well.
The Solstice is followed by winter because the atmosphere and conditions on the Earth's surface affect the progress of seasonal climate change.
The air, ground, rocks, lakes, rivers and oceans all conduct heat more slowly than the vacuum of space.
After the Summer Solstice in June each year in the Northern Hemisphere, days grow shorter and the Earth loses heat, but water, ground and air release their heat slowly, so that even though days are growing shorter, warm conditions prevail for some time.
For some weeks after the winter solstice, the daily increase in heat from slightly longer days is much more than offset by the cumulative cooling of ground, air and water on the Earth's surface, set in motion by the shorter days of fall, and cold weather prevails. It takes a long time for the rate of heating to overcome the rate of cooling, and that time lag determines the length of the winter season.
So as we enjoy winter sports or huddle around the fireplace, let us all meditate on the fact that despite appearances, day by day the web of life on Earth is being infused with cosmic forces conducive to life and growth, and conditions in our Solar System, and especially here on Earth, are creating a collective momentum toward light, warmth, growth and rebirth of vegetation on the Earth's surface. That momentum will sustain the long summer season and the harvest of early fall in the coming year.
This mystery, the eternal return of the light, implicit in the moment of greatest darkness, is what we celebrate at the Winter Solstice.
"Annually at this festival point in December the celestial rhythm of Earth and Sun come momentarily to pause," says biodynamic farmer, philosopher and astrologer Steven McFadden, "an anomaly that moves us inescapably into the deep, the dark, the other. At this Winter point, consciously or unconsciously, we set an inner pattern to guide what we will weave in the outer world through another solar cycle. We dream the dreams that will flower in another season. How much more powerful if we know we are dreaming? How much more beguiling if we know nature is inviting us to peer through the veils?"
Ancient Solstice Science and Spirituality
The Winter Solstice has been held sacred in spiritual traditions around the world for thousands of years, as the time of the rebirth of the Sun, and of the birth of the Son of God.
Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Icelandic, Irish and Hindu spiritual traditions speak of the succession of the Ages through a period of time known as the Great Year, calculated to be approximately 26,000 years, and the reincarnation of human souls through vast cycles of time. All these traditions celebrate yearly festivals dedicated to the return of the light, the birth, and re-birth of a Solar Deity.
It is quite likely that the Earth's wobble is the physical phenomenon underlying these diverse manifestations of spiritual science.
Because of the Earth's wobble, there is a 23°27' angle between the planes of the earth's equator and orbit. The Earth's axis performs a slow, wobbling movement in relation to the fixed Zodiacal constellations found in the plane of the ecliptic, and thus the site of the rising sun on the day of the Spring Equinox performs a slow, backwards movement through the signs of the Zodiac. This long cycle takes 25,920 years, and this cycle is known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.
From approximately 4000-2000 BC, the spring sun rose in the sign of Taurus, the Bull; from around 2000 BC to 1 BC the sun rose at the spring equinox in the sign of Aries, the Ram, and from I AD to the present it has risen in the sign of Pisces. We are now about to enter a 2,160 year long phase of the Great Year in which the spring equinox will find the sun rising in the sign of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer. This is the meaning of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. We are living in the cusp between ages, a time that many ancient cultures speak of as being a time of great confusion, transition, challenge, and opportunity for spiritual advancement.
For ancient civilizations, the Precession of the Equinoxes indicated a flaw in the Earth's orientation in space that seemed to be the root cause for seasonal fluctuations in temperature, rainfall and general weather conditions that resulted in the yearly vegetation cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth.
This wobble represented a kind of cosmic "original sin", the signature of human mortality writ large across the Earth's surface and indeed, across the vast expanse of the starry night skies.
Ancient astrologers were scientists and priests. These ancient practitioners of spiritual science devised rituals and myths that would explain the origins of the Universe and detail the descent of humanity into a creation fraught with the vicissitudes of Nature and circumscribed by the iron-clad limits imposed by the death of the physical body. They sought to provide spiritual practitioners with the wisdom teachings and the tools they would require to understand and transcend the unceasing cycle of birth, death – and reincarnation.
For it was obvious to these spiritual scientists that the human soul had its home and origin in realms that transcend the yearly seasonal cycles, overarching the incomprehensibly long cycles of the Great Cosmic Year, and that the soul, like the Sun, like the Earth's vegetation, was subject to a cosmic cycle of eternal return involving repeated birth, growth, death and resurrection.
On a social level, these astro-hierophants believed that it was necessary for human beings to participate in these yearly and cosmic cycles, attuning their efforts to the energies prevalent at the time, and performing spiritual tasks, rituals and prayers, designed to insure the ongoing cycles of eternal return would successfully initiate a new yearly cycle of birth and growth, a new yearly resurrection of the light at winter's onset, a new rebirth of vegetation slumbering in the depths of the Earth during the time of the dying of the light.
Evidence compiled by archeologists and comparative mythologists, and detailed in Dr. Thomas McEvilley's comprehensive work,"The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies", shows that in the fourth millennium BC, prior to the invention of writing, Sumerian spiritual scientists, working with an oral tradition that handed down memorized sunrise positions for the Spring Equinox over very long periods of time, correctly calculated the cycle of the Precession of the Equinoxes.
These Sumerian hierophants created a calendar of 72 five-day weeks with 5 additional inter-calendar days. Multiplying 72 by five we get 360, and multiplying 360 by 72, we get 25,920, the number of years in the Great Cosmic Year.
The Sumerians also created a sexagesimal number system, whose primary use throughout history has always been for astronomical observation. All this prior to the invention of writing.
"What the evidence just reviewed suggests is that the Sumerians, in the fourth millennium B.C. . . .had developed an alternative arithmetical method -- the sexagesimal – which would magically plug into the Precessional cycle and thus give greater force to human reckonings by harmonizing them with cosmic fact, and finally that they subsequently devised a myth of cycling time, since lost, which diffused secretly from one priestly caste to another, giving rise to variant myths with interrelated numerologies from Cambodia to Iceland," explains Dr. McEvilley, in "The Shape of Ancient Thought", p.79. "The alternative is that these steps were taken by some earlier culture or cultures and inherited by the Sumerians."
As another example of the importance of the Solstice to humanity’s various mystical traditions and religions, consider the case of Stonehenge, thought to date to around 2800 B.C. Sir Norman Lockyer was the first person to identify an astronomical reason for the orientation of Stonehenge, in a book published in 1906. He realized that on the summer solstice the sun rose at the end of the main axis, as it would have done in the second and third millenniums BC.
The huge circular stone megalithic structure at Newgrange, Ireland is estimated to be 3,200 years old, older than Stonehenge. Newgrange was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on the winter solstice.
Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and equinoxes. Archaeologists exploring the origins of ancient structures and their links to astronomical events have discovered similar sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Chumash Indians, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, "believed in supernatural forces and beings and they believed that humans could influence those forces for good or for evil," according to the University of Michigan website, Windows to the Universe. "The most important time of the year for the Chumash was right before the winter solstice. They believed that this was the time when the Sun might not choose to come back to the Earth. This would've obviously affected life on Earth and so it is not surprising that the Chumash took it upon themselves to influence the Sun to come back since it was a matter of life and death. The Chumash people held times of prayer and dancing that would last for several days. They observed the Sun by putting sun sticks and poles in the ground. This vigilance was meant to pull the Sun back to Earth."
Hannukah is the name of the Jewish Festival occurring around the time of the Solstice. Known as the Festival of the Lights, Hannukah occurred December 1-9 this year. The Hannukah celebration is tied to both lunar and solar festivals and calendars. Hanukkah begins three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice.
Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.
After many years of war and persecution, the Jewish people, who had been in exile, returned to their temple in Jerusalem, which lay in ruins. The Jews began rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 B.C. When they came to rededicate the Temple they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah, or temple candleholder, which illuminated the sacred texts. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days (by which time a fresh supply of oil was obtained).
On the first night of Hanukkah, one light is lit. On each successive night a light is added until the eighth night, when all the lights are lit. The addition of light recalls the greatness and growth of the miracle. Candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit from left to right. The highest candle, known as the Shamash or "servant", is used to light the other candles. Blessings are recited each night before the lights are kindled.
Hannukah recapitulates the basic Solstice themes of resurrection, this time of a temple, and of an entire people, the return of the light, and the waxing and triumph of the light.
In Iran, the Winter Solstice is the time of the Feast of Shab-e Yalda. "In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and the renewal of the Sun," explains Massoume Price in his article on Yalda on Farsinet.
". . .Egyptians, four thousand years ago celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month."
"The Persians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own Zoroastrian religion. The last day of the Persian month Azar is the longest night of the year, when the forces of Ahriman are assumed to be at the peak of their strength. While the next day, the first day of the month 'Day' known as 'khoram rooz' or 'khore rooz' (the day of sun) belongs to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Since the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, this day marks the victory of Sun over the darkness. The occasion was celebrated in the festival of 'Daygan' dedicated to Ahura Mazda, on the first day of the month."
"'Day' Fires would be burnt all night to ensure the defeat of the forces of Ahriman. There would be feasts, acts of charity and a number of deities were honored and prayers performed to ensure the total victory of sun that was essential for the protection of winter crops. There would be prayers to Mithra (Mehr) and feasts in his honor, since Mithra is the Eyzad responsible for protecting 'the light of the early morning' known as 'Havangah. It was also assumed that Ahura Mazda would grant people's wishes, specially those with no offspring had the hope to be blessed with children if performed all rites on this occasion."
"One of the themes of the festival was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and servants reversed roles. The king dressed in white would change place with ordinary people. A mock king was crowned and masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed. This tradition persisted till Sassanian period, and is mentioned by Biruni and others in their recordings of pre-Islamic rituals and festivals. Its' origin goes back to the Babylonian New Year celebration. These people believed the first creation was order that came out of chaos. To appreciate and celebrate the first creation they had a festival and all roles were reversed. Disorder and chaos ruled for a day and eventually order was restored and succeeded at the end of the festival."
"The Egyptian and Persian traditions merged in ancient Rome, in a festival to the ancient god of seedtime, Saturn. The Romans exchanged gifts, partied and decorated their homes with greenery. Following the Persian tradition, the usual order of the year was suspended. Grudges and quarrels forgotten, wars would be interrupted or postponed. Businesses, courts and schools were closed. Rich and poor became equal, masters served slaves, and children headed the family. Cross-dressing and masquerades, merriment of all kinds prevailed. A mock king, the Lord of Misrule, was crowned. Candles and lamps chased away the spirits of darkness."
"Another related Roman festival celebrated at the same time was dedicated to Sol Invictus (the invincible sun). Originally a Syrian deity, this cult was imported by Emperor Heliogabalus into Rome and Sol was made god of the state. With the spread of Christianity, Christmas celebration became the most important Christian festival. In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favored day because it was thought to be Jesus' Baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). In year 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided, with Winter Solstice and the festivals Sol Invicta and Saturnalia. Many of the rituals and traditions of the pagan festivals were incorporated into the Christmas celebration and are still observed today."
Solstice Wisdom Teachings
Wisdom teachings of the West provide us with insight into the deep spiritual meaning of the Christmas festival.
"In the days when genuine occult teaching was not disowned as it is today by materialistic thought but was the very wellspring of the life of the peoples, the Christmas Festival was a kind of memorial, a token of remembrance of a great happening on the Earth," explains mystical Christian philosopher, sage and educator Rudolf Steiner, in his Christmas 1905 lecture, given in Berlin, called "The Christmas Festival: A Token of the Victory of the Sun".
"At the hour of midnight the priests gathered around them their truest disciples, those who were the teachers of the people, and spoke to them of a Great Mystery. . . .This Mystery was connected with the victory of the Sun over the darkness. There was a time on the Earth when the light triumphed over the darkness. And it happened thus: in that epoch, all physical, all bodily life on Earth had reached the stage of animality only. The highest kingdom upon the Earth had only reached a stage at which it was preparing to receive something higher.
And then there came that great moment in evolution when the immortal, imperishable soul of man descended. Life had so far developed that the human body was able to receive into itself the imperishable soul. These ancestors of the human race stood higher in the scale of evolution than modern scientists believe, but the higher part of their being, the divine 'spark' was not yet within them. The divine spark descended from a higher planetary sphere to our Earth which was now to become the scene of its activity, the dwelling-place of the soul which henceforward can never be lost to us."
"We call these remote ancestors of humanity the Lemurian race," Steiner continues. "Then came the Atlantean race and the Atlantean race was followed by our own — the Aryan race. Into the bodies of the Lemurian race the human soul descended. This descent of the divine 'Sons of the Spirit,' this great moment in the evolution of mankind was celebrated by the sages of all times as the victory of the light over the darkness. Since then the human soul has been working in the body and bringing it to higher stages of development but not at all in the way that materialistic science imagines. At the time when the human soul was quickened by the Spirit, something happened in the universe, something that is one of the most decisive events in the evolution of mankind."
. . ." And now try to think of the course of human life in connection with the harmony of the universe. Man seems to become more and more akin to the great rhythms of Nature. If we think of all that encompasses the life of the soul, of the course of the Sun and everything that is connected with it, we are struck by something that closely concerns us, namely, the rhythm and the marvellous harmony in contrast to the chaos and lack of harmony in the human soul.
We all know how rhythmically and with what regularity the Sun appears and disappears. And we can picture what a stupendous upheaval there would be in the universe if for a fraction of a second only the Sun were to be diverted from its course. It is only because of this inviolable harmony in the course of the Sun that our universe can exist at all, and it is upon this harmony that the rhythmic life-process of all beings depends.
Think of the annual course of the Sun. — Picture to yourselves that it is the Sun which charms forth the plants in spring time and then think how difficult it is to make the violet or some other plant flower out of due season. Seed-time and harvest, everything, even the very life of animals is dependent upon the rhythmic course of the Sun.
And in the being of man himself everything that is not connected with his feelings, his desires and his passions, or with his ordinary thinking, is rhythmic and harmonious. Think of the pulse, of the process of digestion and you will feel the mighty rhythm and marvel at the wisdom implicit in the whole of Nature.
Compare with this the irregularity, the chaos of man's passions and desires, especially of his ideas and thoughts. Think of the regularity of your pulse, your breathing, and then of the irregularity, the erratic nature of your thinking, feeling and willing. With what wisdom the powers of life are governed where the prevailing rhythmic forces meet the challenge of the chaotic! And how greatly the rhythms of the human body are outraged by man's passions and cravings! Those who have studied anatomy know how marvellously the heart is constructed and regulated and how wonderfully it is able to stand the strain put upon it by the drinking of tea, coffee and spirits."
"There is wisdom in every part of the divine, rhythmic Nature to which our forefathers looked up with such veneration and the very soul of which is the Sun with its regular, rhythmic course. And as the wise men of old looked upwards to the Sun, they said to their disciples: 'Thou art the image of what the soul born within thee has yet to become and what it will become.' The divine cosmic Order was revealed in all its glory to the sages of old. And again, in the Christian religion we have the 'Gloria in excelsis.' The meaning of 'gloria' is revelation, not 'glory' in the sense of 'honour.' Therefore we should not say: 'Glory (honour) to God in the highest,' but rather: 'To-day is the revelation of the Divine in the heavens!' The birth of the Redeemer makes us aware of the 'Glory' streaming through the wide universe."
"In earlier times this cosmic harmony was placed as a great Ideal before those who were to be leaders among their fellow-men. Therefore in all ages and wherever there was consciousness of these things, men spoke of Sun Heroes. In the temples and sanctuaries of the Mysteries there were seven degrees of Initiation. I will speak of them as they were known in ancient Persia.
"The first stage is attained when a man's ordinary feeling and thinking is raised to a higher level, where knowledge of the Spirit is attained. Such a man received the name of 'Raven.' It is the 'Ravens' who inform the Initiates in the temples what is happening in the world outside. When medieval poetic wisdom desired to depict in the person of a great Ruler an Initiate who amid the treasures of wisdom contained in the Earth must await the great moment when newly revealed depths of Christianity rejuvenate mankind — when this poetic wisdom of the Middle Ages created the figure of Barbarossa, ravens were his heralds. The Old Testament, too, speaks of the ravens in the story of Elijah."
"Those who had reached the second stage of Initiation were known as 'Occultists'; at the third stage they were 'Warriors,' at the fourth, 'Lions.' At the fifth stage of Initiation a man was called by the name of his own people: he was a 'Persian,' 'Indian,' or whatever it might be. For that man alone who had reached the fifth degree of Initiation was regarded as a true representative of his people. At the sixth stage a man was a 'Sun Hero' or one who 'runs in the paths of the Sun.' And at the seventh stage he was a 'Father.'"
"Why was an Initiate of the sixth degree known as a Sun Hero? To reach this level on the ladder of spiritual knowledge a man must have developed an inner life in harmony with the divine rhythms pulsating through the cosmos. His life of feeling and of thinking must have rid itself of chaos, of all disharmony, and his inner life of soul must beat in perfect accord with the rhythm of the Sun in the heavens. Such was the demand made upon men at the sixth degree of Initiation. They were looked upon as holy men, as Ideals, and it was said that if a Sun Hero were to deviate from the divine path of this spiritual harmony, it would be as great a calamity as if the Sun were to deviate from its course. A man whose spiritual life had found a path as sure as that of the Sun in the heavens was called a 'Sun Hero,' and there were Sun Heroes among all the peoples."
". . .The Sun-Soul was the great example for the way in which a man's life must be ordered. How did the ancients conceive of the soul of a Sun Hero who had reached this inner harmony? They pictured to themselves that no longer did a single individual human soul live within him, but that forces of the cosmic Soul were streaming into him. This cosmic Soul was known in Greece as Chrestos, in the sublime wisdom of the East as Budhi. When a man no longer feels himself a single being, as the bearer of an individual soul, but experiences something of the universal Soul, he has created within himself an image of the union of the Sun-Soul with the human body and he has attained something of the very greatest significance in the evolution of mankind."
". . . If the glory, the revelation of the divine harmony in the heavenly heights is a real experience within us, and if we know that this harmony will one day resound from our own souls, then we can also feel what will be brought about in humanity itself by this harmony: peace among men of good-will. These are the two thoughts or, better, the two feelings which arise at Christmastide. When with this great vista of the divine ordering of the world, of the revelation, the glory of the heavens, we think of the future lying before mankind, we have a premonition even now of that harmony which in the future will reign in those who know that the more abundantly the harmony of the Cosmos fills the soul, the more peace and concord there will be upon the Earth.
The great ideal of Peace stands there before us when at Christmas we contemplate the course of the Sun. And when we think about the victory of the Sun over the darkness during these days of Festival there is born in us an unshakable conviction which makes our own evolving soul akin to the harmony of the cosmos — light over the darkness had always been commemorated. And so Christianity is in harmony with all the great world-religions. When the Christmas bells ring out, they are a reminder to us that this Festival was celebrated all over the world, wherever human beings knew what it signified, wherever they understood the great truth that the soul of man is involved in a process of development and progress on this Earth, wherever in the truest sense man strove to re