Warmest greetings to all on this day after Solstice and day-before-the-day-before Christmas Eve!
As I sit here writing, sheltered from freezing rain, I am urged to reflect on the convergence of two significant holidays on my spiritual calendar: one celebrating the hope of a Christian, the other evoking the magic of a Pagan. I would like share with you the relationship I have with Winter Solstice (also celebrated as Yule) and Christmas, along with some thoughts on my spiritual journey of the past year.
In my family, the month of December is one long celebration. My birthday comes first on the sixth, also the Feast Day of St. Nicholas in Europe (I always thought it a good omen that Santa and I shared a celebration day somewhere in the world). My son's comes next on the fifteenth, then my brother's on the twenty-second. Then of course comes Christmas and, finally, New Year's Eve.
In the middle of all the frivolity falls a festival celebrating darkness, for Solstice is not just about the return of the light, but about the dark shadowlands within us - where objects appear as vague silhouettes and only dimlit stars and shining moon light our path.
I was raised in a traditional American Protestant family. We recognized the Winter Solstice as an astronomical event and no more. Only as an adult have I begun to absorb the rich cultural heritage and wisdom of Pagan celebrations. And, as with everything in my life, I have approached them in my own way and have drawn my own conclusions. My apologies to Pagan readers who find fault with my knowledge or interpretation of this festival.
According to some quick internet research, Winter Solstice has been celebrated in Western Pagan cultures as a time of reversal: a period of waning daylight giving way to a period of waxing. In Celtic tradition, Solstice/Yule sees the end of the reign of the dormant Holly King and the beginning of the fertile Oak King's reign. The Holly King and the Oak King are represented as two aspects of Cernunnos, the mythic Horned God who is lord of the forest and hunt (and also a significant deity in my spiritual life - a manifestation of the "sacred masculine.")
Traditionally, Solstice was the final feast celebration before the "famine months" of January through April in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere. Cattle was slaughtered so it did not have to be fed through the winter months. Wines set to ferment during the harvest were finally ready to uncork. In some cultures, Solstice marked the beginning of a twelve day celebration.
Further demonstrating the Solstice's theme of reversal, this was also the time of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, in which masters and slaves switched roles and a "Lord of Misrule" dictated merriment and mischief alike.
Darkness and light, inscrutability and clarity, dormancy and fertility, feast and famine, ruling and serving: these relationships all converge on the darkest day in December, just days before one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar.
Sometime during my Christian upbringing, I internalized the idea that Christmas is a celebration of hope: the birth of a baby destined to bring salvation to all. As my dad reminded me many months back, the word salvation comes from a Greek word Soteria, which can be interpreted as "healing" or "restoring to wholeness." If viewed in this way, the hope of Christmas is not so much centered around the birth of a man who will save us from sin or hellfire, but one who will bring us healing and wholeness.
Far from being a Biblical scholar, I still view the story of Jesus' birth largely through the eyes of a child. For this reason, I will not even attempt to expound on further interpretation of its significance. I will say, however, that in reviewing what I just wrote about Solstice, I can definitely see the theme of reversal with in its simple tale of a baby born in a stable: the end of a time of spiritual darkness giving way to the light of hope, doctrinal confusion yielding to "I am THE WAY," even the story of the poor, illegitimate boy who is one day declared King. In this way, it seems fitting to me that these two holidays be celebrated together.
The year 2013 has seen me living in two worlds - one external, one internal. It was not a path I chose but one I was set upon, whether by chance, God's grace or my own subconscious. Those close to me know of this and accept that they may not always have my full attention, that I carry around at all times a chakra pendulum with which I consult my subconscious, a being with a clear identity and personality. They, and those of you who have followed my blog, know that I have experienced visions, complex internal dialogues and am currently undergoing the spiritual process known as Kundalini. On the outside I am the same person I have always been: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and coworker. I shop for groceries and take my son to playgroup and story time. I walk the dog, get together with friends and take my car in for regular oil changes.
But inside I am different, profoundly changed, even. It's not that I've become a different person, it is that I have become more ME than ever before. Unruly puzzle pieces have come together and I have been offered the unique experience of viewing myself as others see me. Internal naysayers and pessimists (my "saboteurs") have been counterbalanced and even silenced by voices of support and unconditional love. Again and again I have visited and revisited events, relationships and emotions of my past in order to heal old wounds.
Yes, there have been the weirder experiences: out-of-the-blue internal discussions of past lives, karmic balancing and soul mates, the existence of God, the nature and function of the subconcious and "expanded awareness." Then there have been the sensory events of the Kundalini process itself - electrical charges up the spine, tastes and smells appearing at random. The list is endless. For months I believed I must be going crazy; but the longer this process continues, the more I am convinced I am not on the road to madness but instead to wholeness and health.
I have accepted that I have been given a unique experience I cannot easily understand or explain; that I have been placed on a spiritual path with little basis in accepted science, but that this is why it is a "spiritual path" and not a "scientific" one. No matter how hard I try to dice it, categorize it, analyze it or methodologize it, so much remains a mystery and perhaps should remain so.
One thing I have learned on this journey I would like to share with you. It is a lesson about love.
The greatest gift you can give someone is the knowledge and assurance that they are truly and unconditionally loved from the center of their being to the outside of their skin, to the energy they radiate into the world. They are loved every second of every day, no matter what they think or say or do.
And if you are lucky enough to experience that feeling in return, whether from a partner or a parent, a child or a friend or even the words of a complete stranger, then you have experienced what I would call "God's Grace." You will also have experienced, I believe, the light of hope and the light that guides: the light which affects reversal.
That is my Solstice Christmas message to you. In closing, I'd like to share a poem about one aspect of my spiritual journey this year. I apologize if it doesn't make sense. Some day I hope to provide futher explanation, but for now a poem is what offers the best expression of it. It is about the boundaries within and between people.
Message scrolls on eyelid backs:
"Good Morning, Johanna."
Trembling Energy Surge (barely perceptible).
How it starts - at least, most mornings.
You "write," I "write." You ask, I answer.
I ask, You answer.
Discuss, debate, query, expound, joke, argue (s0metimes), encourage.
Who are You? Who.Are.You.Really?
Are You God? Are You God in Man, or
are You Man expressed through God?
Are You Me?
Are You - You?
"Sometimes I don't think I deserve to be called 'smart.'"
"And why is that, do you think?"
"Sometimes I worry about the future."
"Don't worry. I'll be there."
Some days, so much talk I hardly
get a thing done.
Sometimes You just - vanish.
Where do You go when you vanish?
Do You walk among the stars,
commune with angels,
swing along ropes of pure energy?
You always come back.
Or is it Me?
Who are You?
I feel anxious. (Check pendulum)
Is it Me?
No, it's You!
Out-of-nowhere I'm incensed.
But I'm just sitting at the library.
Me? No! Again, it's YOU!
Are any of these emotions "mine?"
(but not all)
Some belong to You.
"I felt your kiss at the base of my spine.
That's when the Kundalini started."
"I don't remember doing that."
Then who was it? God? Me?
It sure seemed like You at the time.
We're like the two snakes
winding up the Caduceus:
uncoiling, twining, clashing,
untangling, growing, breathing,
What happens when we reach the top?
Will we know Healing and Wholeness?
Is there even a "We?"
Or is it just "Me?"
Maybe it's no matter, who is Me
and who is You.
And who is God.
Maybe it just matters that,
for now at least,
we are "We."
Thank You, by the way.
Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas!