Today marks the winter solstice of 2020, the shortest day of the year and the longest night in the Northern hemisphere. There would normally be celebrations at Stonehenge by modern pagans and modern Druids, the only time when people are allowed inside the monument, which is looked after by English Heritage. This year thanks to Covid19 no one could congregate at Stonehenge but English Heritage live-streamed the sunrise, which you can see in the video below.
This year the solstice is very special because on this day there is an unusual conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, apparently merging to form a very bright star. In reality, they continue to be billions of kilometers apart, it is an optical phenomenon, due to their alignment. This is an effect known as the 'Christmas star' and it happens every 400 years or so.
The solstice marks the absence of light and its gradual return - the sun 'dies' today but it is also reborn. From today onwards, days will get longer till the summer solstice in June which marks, again in the Northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year , with a 'mature' sun (in the Southern hemisphere it is exactly the opposite). The deep spiritual meaning of the solstice is precisely this rebirth. All is dark, but newborn, newly gathered energy will shine forth, allowing us to make changes and proceed on the path to enlightenment. We must not fear the winter of the soul, it marks a new beginning for us.
It has been a difficult year for most of us, because of the pandemic. It has also been, personally, a difficult year for me, with tantalising, unfulfilled promises and enforced containment. I can but look forward to a renewal. I love the Tarot, which is part of Western esotericism, and its deep symbolism - I would choose two cards for me: Death and the Sun. They are cards I shall reflect upon in the coming weeks, hoping to get some insights (on the Tarot I shall soon post separately).
The whole month of December is marked by celebratory moments in which spiritual enlightenment is hinted at. On December 13th Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) is celebrated in Sweden and in Italy too. It seems that according to the pre-Gregorian calendar December 13th was, in fact, the day of the solstice. Santa Lucia is the day of illumination. Christianity appropriated a likely pre-Christian tradition. The iconography of Santa Lucia (Lucia was a Christian martyr whose eyes were torn by her torturers) is that of a beautiful young woman with a pair of eyes on a platter. Those eyes symbolise illumination, a Christian concept roughly equivalent to the Eastern enlightenment.
On the day of Santa Lucia (Lucia was also my mother's name) a friend of mine sent me a message which included the Hannukah lamp and which I took very lightly, saying I did not celebrate Hannukah being a non-Jew and saw no connection. I was tut-tutted for my superficiality. The connection is Light. My friend told me that December 13th meant much to him, precisely because of the spiritual meaning of light.
In a way we could say that throughout December light, its absence and its return are variously celebrated by different festivals. Even Christmas is a celebration of light, as baby Jesus is the light of the world.
As we come to the close of 2020, I can only wish that 2021 may be a year of deeper insight and growth for all of us.