Today on Winter Solstice, when the ‘Sun Stands Still’, 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.
The day following the 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.
Christ’s birthday 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. Oak was popular in the north of England, birch in Scotland & ash in Cornwall & Devon, all associated with the Sun.
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.
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.
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 Hanukkah candles or 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?
|Online Holy Nights Gatherings:“May Human Beings Hear It”|
|Hosted by the Anthrophosophical Society in America|
Organizers: Laura Scappaticci, Angela Foster, and Hazel Archer-Ginsberg
Each gathering will begin with an opening verse and acknowledgment of the zodiac constellation corresponding to that night. Then a special offering will be shared by different friends representing many North American groups, branches, and regional councils. These unique contributions will range from meditative readings and thoughtful poems, to enlivening eurythmy and artistic activities, to insight into the cosmic script of the zodiac. This will be followed by work with the Foundation Stone Meditation and conclude with a closing verse.
December 24 1:00 PM Eastern Time (US & Canada / 6:00 PM GMT)
December 25 – 30 7:30 PM Eastern Time (US & Canada / 12:30 AM GMT)
December 31 “Hidden Night” – No Meeting
January 1 – 5 7:30 PM Eastern Time (US & Canada / 12:30 AM GMT)
|Register for the Holy Nights Gatherings ›|
|The gatherings will be recorded for later viewing if you are not able to join us live. Register using the button above to access both the live presentations and recordings.|
|Wise Cosmos is pleased to participate in this inaugural Holy Nights series sponsored by Anthroposophical Society in America. Brian Gray will be the featured presenter on January 4th.|
Holy Nights 2019-2020 – The New Mysteries of the ‘Christmas Conference’ Renewed! Dear Friends – Join us this year for an Extra Ordinary Holy Nights. We will gather at the Branch from 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm CST to attend a new initiative with folks from around the world; ‘May Human Beings Hear It: An Online Holy Nights Gathering hosted by ASA friends around the country’. Organized by: Laura Scappaticci, Angela Foster, & Hazel Archer-Ginsberg
Then from 7:30pm – 8:30pm CST we will take up our own study of the ‘Laying of the Foundation Stone’ from The Christmas Conference 1923/1924. (There are copies of ‘The Red Book’ in the Library)
Most Nights are from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm CST except:
24 Dec. Zoom Call at NOON CST (no meeting at the branch)
*26 Dec. The Rudolf Steiner Branch is Hosting this Nation-wide event. Meet in the Upper Room at 6 pm CST.
*28 Dec. Olaf Åsteson practice 3 pm – 5 pm CST – Performance at 7 pm CST.
1st Holy Night: Tuesday 24 December 2019 – Christmas Eve, Adam & Eve’s Day (no meeting at the branch) Zoom call at NOON CST – A Goethean Conversation
2nd Holy Night: Wednesday 25 December 2019 – Christmas Day. 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm. 1st hour hosted by ‘The Sophia Holding Group’. Our study: Rudolf Steiner’ Opening Lecture. pg. 43
*3rd Holy Night: Thursday 26 December 2019 – Boxing Day – Feast of St. Steven. 1st hour hosted by us the Rudolf Steiner Branch, Chicago: “The Vast & Holy Night” a liminal performance of spoken word & eurythmy honoring the dark from which the light is born. Our study: The Laying of the Foundation Stone of the General Anthroposophical Society through Rudolf Steiner. Pg. 68
4th Holy Night: Friday 27 December 2019 – Feast of St. John -1st hour hosted by Mary Stewart Adams. Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting pg. 98
*5th Holy Night: Saturday 28 December 2019 – The Dream Song of Olaf Åsteson with Debbie Barford & Mary Tom 3pm – 5pm practice 7 pm – 9 pm performance. Come gather to work with the Legend of Olaf Åsteson in the afternoon to be part of the community ensemble 3pm – 5pm with a dinner break returning for the performance open to all from 7 pm – 9 pm. $10 Donation Encouraged. Contact Debra Barford for more info.
or Zoom Call: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm hosted by The Dallas Maitreya Branch. Lisa Dalton
6th Holy Night: Sunday 29 December 2019 – 1st hour hosted by The Rockford TN. Group.William Rogers
4 pm – 6 pm You are invited to the Mandaamin Institute’s 2019 Open House! This year we intend to report on the great progress we have made with breeding, testing, and getting our high quality, nutrient efficient corn out together with our farmer, university, and company colleagues.
However, we also need now to consider, does it make sense to do research and to breed crops for organic farmers if the farmers are going out of business?
The last few years have been very tough for farmers and there is a real danger that we will lose the smaller scale farmers who practice biodynamic and organic farming. It is increasingly clear that farmers cannot do it alone. Consumer awareness and action are critical for ensuring the best food possible and a healthy planet.
Therefore, this year we will highlight Mark and Petra Zinniker, who run the oldest biodynamic farm on the continent in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. They will share with us the amazing things they have been doing to produce the healthiest food possible, while at the same time, saving the planet through their farming methods.
We will share with you our problems, our plans, and our hopes. Please forward this invitation and the attached flier to anyone who is concerned about food and water quality, climate, and planet health.
Sunday, December 29, 2019
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. 7194 Madaus Street, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Drinks and snacks will be provided. Please RSVP by contacting Bente Goldstein at: (262) 642-9738 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Then dear friends, from 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm We will hold the Holy Nights ‘May Human Beings Hear It: An Online Holy Nights Gathering hosted by ASA friends around the country’. Here is the link with info. for this free Zoom Call gathering. Here is the Link to Register
PLEASE CONTACT HAZEL IF YOU WANT TO CAR POOL
for those who opt to stay in the City – Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting. pg. 110
7th Holy Night: Monday 30 December 2019 – 1st hour hosted by The Eastern Regional Council. Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting. pg. 138
– NYE–The 13th Hidden Night Tuesday 31 December 2019-2020
7:30 pm – 1 am – $20 + Potluck Food & Drink to Share
Live Music & Folk Dancing with Jutta & the Hi-Dukes ™ 8 -9:30pm
Spacial Dynamics & the Loving Kindness Meditation with Deborah Rogers
Cut Away & Call in – A Ritual of Renewal
Seeking the Holy Grail Within – with Hazel Archer Ginsberg
Lead (Wax) Casting Divination for the NY
8th Holy Night: Wednesday 1 January 2020 – 1st hour hosted by Tess Parker & The Youth. Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting. pg. 183
9th Holy Night: Thursday 2 January 2020 – 1st hour hosted by The Western Regional Council. Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting. pg. 192
10th Holy Night: Friday 3 January 2020 – 1st hour hosted by The Portland Branch. Our study: Continuation of the Foundation Meeting. pg. 204
11th Holy Night: Saturday 4 January 2020 – 1st hour hosted by Brian Gray. Our study: The Envy of the Gods – the Envy of Human Beings, Looking back to the burning of the Goetheanum, by Rudolf Steiner. Pg. 231
*12th Holy Night: Sunday 5 January 2020 – Epiphany, ‘Three Kings’ – 1st hour hosted by The Central Regional Council. Alberto Loya, Marianne Fieber, Lisa Dalton, Hazel Archer Ginsberg. Our Study: On the Right Entry into the Spiritual World – The responsibility Incumbent on us, by Rudolf Steiner. Pg. 260
for more info. contact Festivals Coordinator Hazel Archer-Ginsberg