As I've been meditating on what lesson this season brings, I find there are two ways this holiday teaches us about the world and about ourselves. Most of us polytheist folks use them in tandem, but when we do this, are we truly internalizing the fullness of the wisdom being offered?
The modern Solstice practice is based on a generalized retelling from the Norse/Germanic myth cycles. When the end of the world, Ragnarok, is upon us, it will begin with the Fibulwinter when the wolf eats the sun and she doesn't return on solstice morning. In the northernmost areas of Europe, the longest night was LONG--upwards of 16 hours, it seems. They would keep the fires lit in vigil throughout the night to ensure the sun could find her way back and stave off the beginning of the end for one more year. The darkness was feared and the sun was celebrated as a rebirth.
The first lesson in this tale is that of the longest night, the night when darkness is at her height. Comparative mythology tells us of Nyx, known to us commonly as the Hellenic Goddess of Night, but she is far more than that. Nyx appears as a shroud of dark mists that obscures the light of the heavens, Aither, who is notably her daughter. Aither is the daughter of Nyx and Erebos, the embodiment of Darkness. Their other daughter is Hemera, or Day. The shroud of the night coupled with complete darkness, in other words, gives rise to the light of the heavens and the day. The lesson of the Longest Night is to embrace the darkness like a lover. Get to know the inky blackness within. In the darkness, much like a babe in the womb, lies the creative power that brings new life and new light to be.
The lesson of the Returning Sun is first, a reminder not to wallow and despair in the darkness, but to look toward the first rays of illumination that shed light on that which would be created out of the chaos of night. Illumination, to continue the metaphor, does not exist without darkness to dispel. What in your life, then, can you find in the darkness to be reborn in the light? This is truly the gift of the Winter Solstice.
May you find inspiration in the darkest night that grows more each day to the fullness of the Summer Solstice.