Monday, 21 December 2020

Winter solstice and light

 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.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Being young and growing old

 By most of us, ageing is still perceived as a downward spiral - and in many cases it is, when one's health is bad - I personally hate seeing images of my late mother when she was ravaged by her illness and have made it a point to collect pictures of her in which she can be seen in her glorious youth.

I recently had a spat with a friend because after telling him I wished I had the same emotional engagement I had when I was twenty-three, I asked him what he missed the most about his youth. He regarded my question as being a bit daft. 'Why I miss being young, it's obvious". No, actually it is not obvious. A lot of people think of their youth as a period of intense suffering or hardship and are happy to have overcome it. Some other people, like me, do not wish for a younger appearance - I like myself and my body now, though I wish my knees were a bit stronger and that it did not take me so long to warm up when exercising.

Children by Lana Jo

 But I miss the intensity of the feelings I had when I was twenty-three. I was very much in love, back then, the kind of love that envelops you, and makes you wake up every day feeling intensely happy and thinking that life is indeed most wonderful. It was my own experience of love, not the relationship itself - to be honest, my then-partner was happy to be with me but did not feel the same intensity and a couple of years later we split up. 

I never felt like that again - of course, I have loved many more times, but never with that all-consuming passion that I felt back then. And that is what I associate with my youth, a freshness in the way one approaches interpersonal relationships, the sense of wonder one feels concerning the world. 

Perhaps feelings about youth and growing older are best expressed by the poem 'After a while', attributed to Veronica B. Shoffstall but which is apparently a part translation of Jorge Luis Borges' 'Aprendiendo' 

After a while you learn the subtle difference,
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul.

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning,
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts,
And presents aren’t promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats,
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn,
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth,
And you learn and learn,
With every goodbye you learn.

There are grace and beauty in growing older, and we should aspire to the serenity of old age even while appreciating the turbulent passion of youth. And those of us who retain a sense of wonderment and a child-like quality even in their older years, are blessed.