This is the night of the Winter Solstice, the night of Yule, "the Wheel." For thousands of years, the celebrations of this season have been those of gateways, the magic of passages--journeys of the folk from one year to the next, journeys of the spirit from one world to the next, the magic of birth and death and of rebirth. And because life deserves more than mere survival and continuance, the magic of this season has always been that of peace and plenty as well.
In the North, the months we know as December and January have long been called Freyja's Nights of Darkness. The year's longest night is the Mother Night, and in darkness the Lady labors to bring the Light to birth once more. The Young Sun is born at the Winter Solstice--Freyr the Lord, the Lady's consort, who controls the work of sun and rain and brings fruitfulness to the fields. Freyja the Lady is reborn of herself at Yule. Her blessing was invoked on all birthing women. A white candle that last burned on Mother Night is a charm for safe childbirth.
Horus of Egypt, whose sign is the winged Sun, is born. Qetzalcoatl, the Aztec fiery Feathered Serpent, is born. Chango, the Yoruba and Santeria God of Fire, is born. Mithras, the Unconquered Sun of Persia, is born. The Hopi Kachinas return to the Earth at this season. Juno Lucina, "the little light," Goddess of the Moon and of the Midwinter Sun, is born.
Celebrations of Light begin weeks before the darkest night. Lucia, saint or Goddess of Light, is honored from Italy to Sweden, crowned with candles to carry us through the darkness. Neith of the Moon is invoked to light the long nights. Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun, is born in the darkness before the Solstice, her hidden light growing stronger as the nights lengthen. The hearth fires of Hestia and of Vesta are quenched and then rekindled.
Justice is dispensed at this season. Women in Rome celebrated Bona Dea, the Good Goddess Fauna or Hekate, with a day of fair judgments and rejoicing in honor of Cybele of the Lions and Rhea the Great Mother. In mid-January, the Roman Goddesses Pax ("peace"), Felicitas ("happiness"), and Concordia ("harmony") were honored with a day of judgments and arbitration. In Japan, women celebrate the festival of broken needles, leaving women's work for a day and reversing sex roles. Sapientia, Roman Goddess of Wisdom, was worshipped at this season, as were Pallas Athene of Greece and Sekhmet of Egypt, Goddess of the Solar Disk, defender and protector of Osiris.
The Three Queens of Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld rule this season. Astarte or Ashtoreth had her feast day just after the Solstice. Sarasvati, Queen of Heaven in India, is honored at Yule. Hera Gamelia and Juno the Perfect One blessed marriages in the first Moon of the year. Mother Holle shakes her feather bed and covers the Earth with snow. She is Hel, the Dark Goddess, who holds power over nine realms and shares food and lodging with those who come to her at the natural end of their cycles. Inanna of Sumer is born just after the Solstice. Her dark sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, offers to humans who show sympathy for birthing women the gifts of water, grain, and rebirth.
Isis, Queen of Heaven, gives birth to Horus on the Solstice. Rhea gives birth to Saturn. Hera conceives Hephaestos parthenogenetically. Larentina gives birth to the Lares, the spirits of the ancestors. Kore gives birth to Aeon, the new year. Ereshkigal gives birth to herself. The Deer Mothers dance for fertility for the people. Heimdall is born of nine mothers at the beginning of time. Ixchel the Mayan Mother and Tonantzin the Aztec Mother appear, bringing healing and prosperity. The Celtic Matrones, Triple Mothers, bear fruit and grain and children.
This is a season of peace and plenty. The seven days before and after the Solstice are the Halcyon Days of calm seas, honoring Alcyone of the Pleiades who floated on the ocean as a nesting bird and came to no harm. The Saturnalia and the Opalia were celebrated. Saturn is the Lord of Time, the Dark Lord of the fallow Earth, patron of farmers. Ops, his consort, is the Sabine-Roman Goddess of Plenty, bestower of riches, prosperity, and opulence. Gifts and amulets were exchanged in their honor, and dolls were carved to bring the people health and prosperity. The Juvenalia, at the end of the Saturnalia, was a festival of children, games, fools, courting, and misrule. Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas gives presents to children. La Befana, the Italian Witch Goddess, flies through the air with gifts. Baubo, the Midwife Goddess, is honored after the Yule Child is born. Carmenta, Goddess of Childbirth, held three days of celebration in January.
Kwanzaa, the Swahili first fruits festival, honors the seven Yoruba Powers, Oya, Yemaya, Elegua, Oshun, Obatala, Ogun, and Chango. The Chinese Kitchen God is celebrated. Freyja Gefjon, the Gift Giver, brings prosperity and the energy to go back to work when the holidays end. In Scotland, the last night of the year is Wish Night, when wishes made for the coming year are at their most powerful. Demeter and Dionysos were celebrated with feasting and drinking and the ritual discovery of the newborn God in a winnowing basket.
This is the season of renewal. The Dagda pours his Cauldron of Plenty on the Earth. His Cauldron gives wealth and food and meets our everyday needs, but it also offers inspiration to poets and writers and artists and artisans. It is a vessel in which shamans travel to other worlds. It renews the worlds and guides souls toward rebirth. The Dagda is the Good Father. He is Herne and Cernunnos, the Horned God of the Witches. He is the King of Cups. His image is on the Gundestrup Cauldron, cast into a peat bog in Denmark as an offering long ago.
This is the season of visions. Epona, the Celtic Mare Goddess, rides through the dreams of her people by night, opening her Basket of Plenty to give everyone exactly the gift they most need. She is Rhiannon and Macha, the Mare Mothers. She is Sequana, the Goddess who sails on the Seine in a ship drawn by swans. She is Mother Goose and Lady Godiva. She is the stuff of our earliest dreams. She is the Rider, the Shaman Goddess who takes us out of ourselves and sends us, neither riding nor walking, neither naked nor clad, neither feasting nor fasting, to the place between the worlds where we create our own visions and make real our dreams.
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