Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 23, 2013

Communing with the Ancients at Winter Solstice

Darkest of dark descendswinter-solstice

Silence blankets all the Earth

And stars dance upon ice

The Winter Solstice has become one of my favorite days of the year.  It’s cold and dark, yes, but it’s hugely significant in the grand scheme of the Earth.  I love to think about our ancient ancestors gathering at Stonehenge or other holy sites throughout Britain, waiting for the sun’s golden beams to shine directly into their precisely-carved holes or cairn-covered tunnels.  I share their long-ago excitement as I ponder the exact moment when the sun will begin to move back toward the center of the sky on its daily crossing.

stonehenge-winter-solstice-2003-01Perhaps there is even more awe today when we consider that it is not any god pulling the sun back up into the sky but our entire planet shifting on its axis, like some sleeping giant rolling over in its bed to find a fresh spot on the pillow.  Still, they were no slouches, the ancients.  They had much of the world figured out without fancy tools or telescopes – they merely observed natural phenomena and discovered patterns.

Solstices are times of such dichotomy, accentuating the pull of yin and yang without and within us.  In December, the cold and dark outside pull us inward – to our contemporary caves where we crank up the artificial heat sources and curl up with our devices. . .or big fat books.  Edison’s light bulb may be considered a curse as much as a savior:  are we better off for keeping second and third shifts going through the longest nights, or might the Electric Age instead mark the point when civilization began to speed out of control toward its inevitable demise?  We might praise and damn Mr. Edison in the same breath.

reading by fire 2Part of me loves to romanticize those times when nightfall meant the end of work, time to retreat to the cave or the hut to tend the fire and be still.  And sleep.  How glorious to have utter darkness and silence for hours on end.  I know, I know, life was grueling and dangerous and painful, and you’d be lucky to live past 40, but I can’t help but be a little bit envious when I consider the simplicity of that rhythm, letting Mother Nature set the schedule.

Yet Nature is still calling us to us to slow down and rest this time of year.  She hasn’t changed, nor have the wild animals.  And what is our reaction?  To do exactly the opposite!  We have invented a season of the most frenetic, crazed, ever-growing list of rituals and obligations, right at the time when everything in the world around us is telling us to hibernate.

hibernation-dormouseWhy do we do this to ourselves?  I supposed it’s an evermore desperate form of the many “longest night” rituals practiced over the ages in cultures all around the planet, when people gather to light lights and proclaim their own existence in the face of certain death.  Christmas, Hanukah, and Solstice rituals all involve light — fire, candles, stars – symbols of our hope for eternal life.  “We are here, and we matter!” we seem to be calling out into the darkness to whatever Great Beings may be paying attention.

Because when we pare away all the gifts and tinsel and cookies, that’s what is left at the center of everything – the fire in the hearth, the candles in the window.  We gaze at them and remember times past, from our childhoods and far beyond, to the times of the ancients.  Solstice night, more than any other, reminds us that the only things differentiating us from the Druids are just that:  our things.  When we turn off our screens and carols and mall strobe lights and step out into the darkness of the night, we are just as small and awed by the stars as were the people who had no conception of how truly vast the universe really is.

red candleCommuning with the ancients on the longest night can bring us all some much-needed humility. . .and peace.  On the night of the Solstice, I light a candle and give thanks to the Celtic ancients whose DNA flows through my flesh and my veins, for without their ingenuity and fortitude, I might not have come into being.  Life may be short, but it is indeed a miracle.

Blessings to all in the new year.


  1. Love this! Peace to you and your family in the coming year!

  2. I love it also Kate..

  3. A peaceful, warm writing…..thank you.

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