Today on Winter Solstice, when the ‘Sun Stands Still’ during the longest nights – Let us pause – to reflect on the many customs associated with this powerful storytelling time of year.
It is the dark before the dawn, the time of renewal, giving us the most primordial myths of humankind. The Sun of Mid-Winter draws in its breath, opening in new life at this time of deepest darkness.
In Old Norse mythology, the Sun goddess was swallowed up by the wolf of darkness, but was reborn as her daughter, the maiden goddess of the underworld, who rose again to illumine the world.
The esoteric meaning of this time of year can be gleaned from the ancient mystery schools. Initiates into the Mysteries of Isis had to undergo a ceremony of death & rebirth in which they entered the underworld to gaze upon the “sun at midnight.” This ceremony, speaks of the journey of the soul into the fecund depths of the subconscious mind, & even deeper into the great dark sea of space from which all creation comes forth, where it could be purified & born anew.
Dion Fortune describes this process in her book, The Sea Priestess:
Sink down, sink down, sink deeper and more deep
Into eternal and primordial sleep.
Sink down, be still, forget and draw apart,
Sink into the inner earth’s most secret heart.
Drink of the waters of Persephone,
The secret well beside the sacred tree.
Waters of life and strength and inner light –
Eternal joy drawn from the depths of night.
Then rise, made strong, with life and hope renewed,
Reborn from darkness and from solitude…
Throughout the ancient world, people gathered at sacred sites as far apart as Newgrange in Ireland & the temple of Karnak in Egypt, to celebrate the miracle of the sun’s return at the darkest time of the year. In the pitch-black sanctuaries of caves & earth chambers, our ancestors waited for the birth of new light & life.
At a time when the fate of our planet & all her creatures hangs in the balance, let each of us journey down into the cave of the soul to drink from the secret well of wisdom & find the hidden flame within the dark — then return bearing our own unique gift of Light for the world.
May we re-member what came before, so that we can reflect on the now & create the future anew.
The ancient Romans celebrated from December 17th to December 24th with a festival called Saturnalia, during which all work was put aside in favor of feasting & gambling. The social order was reversed, with masters waiting on their slaves.
Saturnalia is named after Saturn, who is often depicted with a sickle, like the figures of Death or Old Father Time. Astrologically speaking, Saturn is saturnine: gloomy, old, dutiful & heavy, like the metal associated with it: lead. He was the god who ate his own children rather than let them surpass him.
For new life to flourish, for the sun to rise again, it is necessary to vanquish this gloomy old fellow. Therefore, the feasting & merriment of the midwinter season are required in order to combat the forces of gloom.
Following Saturnalia, was the Juvenalia, a holiday in honor of children, who were entertained, feasted & given good luck talismans. After vanquishing the Old King, it’s time to celebrate the New Year’s Baby.
The birthday of Jesus of Nazareth was not celebrated on December 25th until the 4th century. Before then, December 25th was best known as the birthday of the Persian hero & sun-god, Mithra (an earlier form of Michael). The myth tells that he sprang up full-grown from a rock, armed with a knife & carrying a torch. Mithra journeyed into the underworld, winning gifts for humankind before his miraculous rebirth.
Lenaia was a women-only Athenian midwinter festival. They held ecstatic dances where a bull, representing Dionysus, was cut into nine pieces.
In 274 AD, the Roman emperor Valerian declared December 25th the Birthday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun.
In the early years of Christianity, Christ’s birthday was celebrated on January 6th known to us now as Epiphany, represented by the Wise Magi, Kings who could read the omens in the starry script. The Eastern Orthodox folks knew that this was connected with the Baptism, when the Cosmic Christ Being entered into human form.
On the same date in pre-Christian times, this was when the Virgin Kore gave birth, celebrated in Alexandria with a festival called the Koreion. The image of the goddess, decorated with gold stars, was carried seven times around her temple as the priests cried, “The Virgin has brought forth the new Aeon!”
This ritual recalls the Egyptian ceremony re-enacting the birth of Horus, the sun-god to Isis. All lights in the city were doused while Isis circled the sarcophagus seven times, then brought forth Horus who was called “the Light of the World.”
Statues of Isis holding the newly born sun god on her lap, presenting him to the world, prefigure the later Madonna & child archetype.
In Europe on Winter Solstice the ceremonies involved kindling the new light with a Yule log. This is a tradition in my family. We light the fire with a piece of last years Yule Log. Then write down all the bad habits & things about ourselves that we want to transform & we burn them up in the fire. Then we write what we want to grow like the Sun in the new year. We save that & put it in a special box where we keep the Yule Log. We can then read what we wrote the year before to see what came true before we write the new resolutions.
The Yule log is brought into the house with great ceremony, & decorated with holly & ivy & evergreens. Some prefer to use the Yule log as a decoration & place candles on it instead, transforming it into a candelabra. It is lit with a piece of last year’s log as described in Herrick’s poem, “Hesperides:”
Come bring with a noise
My merry, merry boys
The Christmas log to the firing
With the last year’s brand.
Light the new block,
And for good success in his spending
On your psalteries play:
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-teendling.
In Italy, the Yule log is called the Ceppo, & families gathered around the hearth pouring libations of wine upon the glowing wood, linking the Yule log with the custom of wassailing, & pouring out libations to the trees in the orchard.
The Yule log is left to burn all night, &, if possible, throughout the 12 Holy Nights. The ashes are kept for good luck. They have magical properties & can be scattered in the field to fertilize the soil or sprinkled around the house for protection.
Another ancient midwinter custom is decorating with greens. The Romans decorated with rosemary, bay, laurel, holly, ivy & mistletoe. The holly & ivy were both important midwinter plants in Great Britain & Ireland, as seen in the mysterious medieval carol which mentions the rivalry between them, with the Ivy representing the cold gloominess of winter, & the Holly King, the jolly spirit of the season.
The Christmas tree is of more recent origin. The earliest record of an evergreen being decorated comes from Riga in Latvia in 1519, when a group of local merchants carried an evergreen bedecked with flowers to the marketplace, where they danced around it & then burned it.
Another possible source is the custom in 15th century Germany of hanging apples on a fir tree as a prop for the Oberufer plays performed on Christmas Eve, depicting Adam & Eve being driven out of Paradise.
In some parts of the Scottish highlands, the head of the household finds a withered stump and carves it into the likeness of an old woman, the Cailleach Nollaich or Christmas Old Wife, the goddess of winter, the hag of night, the old one who brings death. Burning her image drives away the hardships of winter & protects the occupants of the household from death.
Many traditions focused on this human battle between the dark & the light within. May we be willing to look into the dark before calling in the light.
This is a natural time for letting go & saying farewell. Since this is the season when animals hibernate & nature sleeps & we can turn inward too. Then when you light your Christmas tree, do so with the intention of bringing light into the world. What are the ways in which you can help make the world lighter?
Solstice Blessings Dear Ones. See you in the ethers for our Holy Nights Storytelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Until Soon – Peace ~hag
Thursday 23 December 2021 – The Eve of the Eve –
11 am PT / 12 pm MT / 1 pm CT / 2 pm ET / 7 pm UTC
A Christmas Festival with Christian Community Priest Rev. Jeana Lee,
Movement with Lucien Dante Lazar
‘Divine Love and the Holy Child Within’
This will be a hybrid in-person & Zoom event
Featuring our 2 camera technology with Mary Spalding
Doors open at 12:30 pm (Zoom Room open 12:45 pm for Social time)
Snacks to Share Encouraged
Suggested donation $15.00 –
At the door or via the Rudolf Steiner Branch PayPal donation site –
*Please make a note on the first line – type in: “Christmas Fest”!
The Festival will be recorded
Time: Dec 23, 2021 01:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 705 293 1041
For more info. Contact Cultural Events & Festivals Coordinator
TODAY is LAST DAY TO REGISTER !!!
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Storytelling during the Holy Nights 2021-2022
Hosted by the Anthroposophical Society in America
”The purpose of a story is to be an ax that breaks up the ice within us.”
~ Franz Kafka
Click to Register!
All around the world the season of midwinter is the traditional time for community bonding through storytelling. In laying the groundwork for the 100-year anniversary of the Christmas Conference, we bring the ancient Sumerian saga “The Epic of Gilgamesh” to life. Rudolf Steiner explored this story in Occult History during the Holy Nights of 1910; and again with the lectures “World History in the Light of Anthroposophy” given during those fateful Holy Nights in 1923 for the re-founding of the Society.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is perhaps the oldest written tale on Earth. The Sumerian version dates from around 3000 B.C. Later it was compiled from 12 clay tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform.
It is the “Hero’s Journey” of human evolution, a story of friendship, and a quest for the meaning of life – revealing Steiner’s core mission of bringing karma and reincarnation to the west.
Myths, fairytales, historical epics, and sagas open us up to powerful archetypes behind the human condition, revealing clues to ourselves – from the past, the present, and the future. What will we uncover about ourselves and each other during this year’s Holy Nights adventure in storytelling?
Tune in for any or all of the episodes of this dramatic reading, re-worked by Hazel Archer from various translations, and featuring friends from around the world.
What: The Epic of Gilgamesh: Story Telling during the Holy Nights hosted by the ASA, Hazel Archer, and friends.
Time: 22 minutes daily at 9 am PT / 10 am MT / 11 am CT / 12 pm ET / 5 pm UTC
Dates: December 24, 2021- January 5, 2022 for 13 consecutive days
Can’t join us live? No problem. Each gathering will be recorded and posted on our Holy Nights page (link will be emailed upon registration).
How: Register Here! Then check your email for confirmation with the Zoom registration link.
Eurythmy for the Holy Nights with Jan Ranck
‘Tuning to the Stars’:
Sacred Geometry, the Planets and the Zodiac
LIVE IN-PERSON 26-30 Dec. 2021
at the Rudolf Steiner Branch Chicago 4 pm – 5 pm
And at 7pm on 31 Dec. as part of our Annual NYE Gathering (details below)
$100 for all 6 sessions, or $22 for each individual session.
Cash at the door, or send a check to:
Rudolf Steiner Branch
4249 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618-2953
For more info. Contact Cultural Events & Festivals Coordinator
* Jan Ranck – Born in the USA, Jan Ranck studied music and comparative arts at Indiana University in Bloomington. She accompanied the London Stage Group on their 1976 USA tour and went on to study eurythmy at the Eurythmeum in Dornach with Lea van der Pals, where she subsequently taught. In 1984 she joined the faculty of The London School of Eurythmy. She left there to complete her eurythmy therapy training in Stuttgart in 1989, moving afterward to Israel, where she founded and directed the Jerusalem Eurythmy Ensemble (1990) and the Jerusalem Academy of Eurythmy (1992) and was an instructor in the Jerusalem Waldorf Teacher Bachelor Program in David Yellin Academic College from 1999. Jan has held Master Classes at various venues worldwide, including the Goetheanum and the MA Program in Eurythmy held at Emerson College and Spring Valley. She is the representative for Israel in the International Eurythmy Therapy Forum.
Friday 31 December 2021
Doors open at 6:30 pm
Join us for our Annual NYE Conscious Community Gathering –
The Theme for 2022 is Cabaret – a Cultural Sharing!
All are invited to take the stage with an offering.
Circles Edge & other Waldorf alum will also perform
Please bring Food & Drink to share
$20 Cash at the door or Make your payment using the Rudolf Steiner Branch PayPal or QuickPay with Zelle to email@example.com
(Please indicate in the notes that it is for the “NYE”)
All proceeds go to support the Rudolf Steiner Branch – the young People hosting & The Band (Can’t make it? send a $ gift PayPal)
7 – 8 pm – Holy Nights Eurythmy with Jan Ranck (separate fee $22 see above)
8 pm – Potluck Social
8:30 pm – Circles Edge & Friends warm the stage & host the open mic
10:10 pm – Thought-Seed Circle
10:30 pm – Clean-up…;)
For more info. Contact Cultural Events & Festivals Coordinator