By Rene Villard-Reid
It is our quiet time.
We do not speak, because the voices are within us.
It is our quiet time.
We do not walk, because the earth is all within us.
It is our quiet time.
We do not dance, because the music has lifted us to a place where the spirit is.
It is our quiet time.
We rest with all of nature. We wake when the seven sisters wake.
We greet them in the sky over the opening of the kiva.
— Nancy Wood
Nancy Wood’s poem describes the Winter Solstice as a time of turning inward, a time of recollection, a time of rest. The sun has moved its face as far away from the earth as it can; the days have grown shorter and the nights longer until the sun finally stops at its furthest point… and pauses for a brief moment at solstice. The earth grows quiet as do our spirits. We rest with nature.
Connection Between Spirituality and The Winter Solstice
The beauty in the stories and traditions of our native people reveals a natural order and connection with spirit. In their world the earth and sky are joined and are part of a circle, a continuum of life. Life and death, winter and summer, dark and light and all that is in between. The Winter and the Summer Solstice, the dark and the light and the Fall and Spring Equinox, all that is in between. There is a rhythm and a balance in nature which those who live close to the earth understand and honor. It is a rich alignment with heaven and earth and of all creation.
Originating from the Latin words sol, which means sun and stes or stare which means standing or to stand respectively. Winter Solstice is a time where the sun does indeed appear to stop in the sky when it has reached its northern most point on or around December 21st before it begins its slow descent, which culminates on June 21st with the rising of the Pleiades joining it at dawn … We wake when the seven sisters wake.
Called Midwinter by the Celts, the solstice has birthed many cultural and religious traditions. The story of Winter Solstice and its meaning is shared among ancient tribes with certain variations. The common thread in these stories is the return of the Sun God as he begins his descent closer to the earth where spring is restored and life flourishes once again.
The Druids have a myth where the solstice is called the Time of the Serpent days and represents transformation. As the story goes the Elder and the Birch tree are the guardians of the underworld and stand as sentinels outside the entrance of the place where all life is said to be formed. At this time of the year, the Sun God journeys to the underworld to learn the secrets of life and death and to subsequently bring forth upon his return the souls who are to be reincarnated.
In the Southwest, the Pueblo Indians observe the Winter Solstice with ceremonies built around the sun, the coming of the new year, and the rebirth of life and all that grows. Of course, the rituals differ among villages and groups. However, the basic rites include the making of prayer sticks, altars and prayers for increase.
The Hopi, who are considered the Caretakers of the Earth, are dedicated to giving aid or assistance to the Sun God who has traveled as far from the earth as is possible and is ready to return and give his strength and energy to new budding life. In order to bring the sun back, the warriors of the tribe hold a great festival. This time of renewal and purification is called Soyal or Soyaluna and is meant to welcome the sun after winter and to prevent its disappearance during the time of the shortest days. It is the most sacred of the Hopi ceremonies and is comprised of wishes and prayers for each others prosperity and health.
Blue Eagle, one of the spiritual leaders of the First Nation of Canada, wrote in his book The Beauty Way, “… winter solstice, celebrated as the Celebration of Internal Light… is a time of the year when the forces of darkness are at their peak. It is time for the Warrior of Light to manifest his qualities. We want to embody the inner light which will shine and overcome darkness.”
There is also the tradition of the lighting of the Christmas tree which evokes more symbolism of the return of the light. Like the Celtic countries, the practice of bringing a tree indoors to decorate and to ceremonially burn as the Yule log, is also a part of the Cherokee winter solstice ceremony. A spruce or cedar tree, which symbolizes the new year is brought in with prayers and ceremony. The four bottom branches are removed and used to sweep away the old year. They are then burned in the sacred fire so the energies of the ending year vanish and go up in smoke. Finally, the tree is put in a place of honor and decorated and blessed with wishes for the New Year to come.
The Winter Solstice As A Celebration
It is significant to note, that in all instances of different traditions, the light is celebrated. There is strong mystical symbolism in this for all of us. In Christianity, the ancient church leaders recognized that the beliefs of the old tribes within the Roman empire were strong and would not be altered or changed easily. It is no mystery December 25th was chosen as the birth of Jesus. It was a compromise with the Old Religion, which yielded favorable results for the early church. Jesus represented light returning to the earth at a time when darkness and evil had prevailed for so many centuries. It was time for the Warrior of Light to manifest his strength.
No matter what religion or spiritual tradition you may ascribe to, it is evident Winter Solstice is still a very sacred and important event. Many churches now observe solstice events and 24 hour vigils awaiting the birth of the Son three days later.
It is natural to feel the urge towards ceremony and ritual as it places our roots deep into the earth. Like the branches of an oak or a cedar tree, we raise our hands skyward to receive new light and new growth. We await expectantly the return of the sun while recognizing a deeper awareness of our connection with all things and our Creator.
The earth has grown still. No leaves rustle in the trees, plants are dormant and the earth is hardened from the cold and bears no life. But in the silence, the earth waits. It waits for the return of the sun’s warmth and the renewal of life.
It is a sacred awareness… the quiet time, the going within time, the soft waiting time for life to be reborn. It is a gentle reminder that everything has a purpose under the sun and there is a balance and harmony in this knowing.
If you have no tradition, create one of your own. The simple act of lighting a candle, closing your eyes and envisioning a flame burning within brings you a step closer to your divine connection here on earth. In this simple rite, you create a quiet time to listen to the voices inside your heart. You create a quiet time to walk within and not without. You create a quiet time to rest with all of nature. You wait for the Summer Solstice when the seven sisters wake with the sun and you with them.
We are a Summer People and a Winter People,
Living and dying, Sun Bringers and Sun
Takers for each cycle of our seasons.
We are a Summer and a Winter People,
Dressed in leaves and stones, dancers for
The blessings of Earth and all her creatures.
— Nancy Wood, Excerpt from Summer and Winter and Winter People