Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New
THE CAPRICORN SOLSTICE
December 21, 2019 at 8:19 pm PST / 04:19 UT (22nd)
The Sun Arrives at 0° Capricorn
When our central star glides into the cardinal, earth sign of Capricorn, it marks an important turning point in the solar year: the winter solstice and longest night — for those of us north of the equator. At the Capricorn solstice, the Sun concludes its long, half-year descent into the southern sky. High noon on this day, it shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn, the Sun's southern-most extreme: 23.5° latitude, south of the equator.
The conquest of night over day at this time of year is tempered with the knowledge of the never-ending, turning of the wheel. For after winter solstice, our days gradually lengthen until eventually summer solstice arrives, six months from now, marked by the Sun's entry into Capricorn's polar complement: the feminine water sign of Cancer. At winter solstice the seeds of summer are sown.
While those of us in the north huddle by the fire sipping hot toddies and peering out at a stark winter landscape, our friends in the south are enjoying the peak of the Sun's strength. If there's ever a time when the fundamental, dual nature of life here on planet Earth is most evident, it is at the two solstices — the "Sun extremes" of the year.
Saturn and Capricorn's Solstice
As the December Solstice is marked by the Sun's entry into Saturn-ruled Capricorn, Father Time is the Big Kahuna, master of ceremonies for this turning point in the solar year. And right now, Saturn happens to be especially strong transiting through Capricorn, its very own sign. Moreover, just a few days later, on Christmas Day in several time zones, including mine, a total solar eclipse will strike in Capricorn.
So Saturn is looming quite large right now, and at a time of year that is already strongly Saturnian. Difficult, sometimes painful, lessons to be learned about facing the harsh truths of life, growing up, and becoming more effective often hit us when Saturn is active. "Buck up, quit your whining and procrastinating!" Saturn, the cosmic parent, tells us while giving us a swift kick in the pants. Where are the key "Saturn eruptions" Saturn is not alone right now. Pluto, God of the Underworld, is a close companion, the two drifting towards a turning-point conjunction.in your life right now? What are the lessons you REALLY TRULY need to learn, take to heart? Yes, I'm referring to those lessons — the ones you have absolutely been failing to deal with over and over again and for way too long. Did you really expect to get away with this forever?
When Saturn is strong, there is a tendency to see life in too pessimistic a light: the glass always looks half empty, conflicts and disagreements can seem worse than they really are. Ideally Saturn prods us to face the whole difficult truth, to deal with our problems and not run from them, but to not get swallowed up by them either, drop into despair and hopelessness. Lucky for us, optimistic, broad-minded Jupiter, newly in Capricorn, is closely conjoined the Christmas eclipse, which will help bolster a much more cheerful outlook in these darkest days of the year.
And Saturn is not alone right now. That other heavy, Pluto, God of the Underworld, is a close companion, the two drifting towards a turning-point conjunction. A deeply difficult conjoining of the Lord of the Underworld and Karma, Saturn-Pluto alignments are historically associated with serious abuses of power, resource wars, scapegoating and propaganda. The conjunction will be exact in less than a month in Saturn's sign of Capricorn, coinciding with another eclipse: the Cancer lunar eclipse in January. Cold January, this year, is going to a hot month, astrologically speaking. But that is a topic for another post.
Winter Solstice and the King Tides
New and Full Moons from December through early February are unique. At this time of the year, the Earth is as close to the Sun as it gets (early January is perihelion), so the gravitational pull is stronger and we see the year's highest tides. The upcoming January 10th Cancer Full Moon, (also an eclipse), the Aquarius New Moon on the 24th, as well as the Leo Full Moon, also a supermoon (February 8th and 9th), will all bring King Tides. I am not sure why the upcoming Capricorn New Moon, only four days after solstice, isn't listed, but it could be due to the Moon being at apogee, furthest from the Earth, at the time of the lunation.
Work a Little Magic for Mother Earth
If you live close enough to a coast, a special way to celebrate and witness the power of Mother Nature is to catch, and perhaps work a little magic, on one of these impressive, astronomical tides. As John Michael Greer noted in The Celtic Golden Dawn, powerful currents of magical influence flow at each of the solstices and equinoxes. Ceremonial workings done on any of these power days can "draw upon these currents and direct them to bring fertility to the land, harmony and healing." What better place to do this than on a wild beach during a wild tide. I took the photo above a few years ago on the way down to my local beach here on the Mendocino coast, on a Capricorn New Moon king tide, just one day after solstice.
To check the tide charts for your area, here's the link for NOAA's Tides & Currents, and for those outside of the U.S tide-forecast is a good resource. (Just click the country link for your location and then select the nearest city.) These extreme tides are now referred to as "King Tides," and groups around the world are collecting photos to help scientists pinpoint areas most at risk of flooding as sea levels rise due to global warming. One such group is the California King Tides Project — collecting photos and data from locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Winter Solstice, as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle, is a great time for banishing and releasing problems, worries, bad habits, irritations, and various other thorns in the side. You can do this through elaborate ceremony, such as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. You can accomplish the same end more simply (my personal preference). Merely write out all the things you'd like to see disappear from yourself, but also collectively from the face of the Earth. Some things on my list (for example): fracking, nuclear anything, greed, hunger, racism, corrupt judges, dirty politicians (refrain from naming names though, we're not wishing harm on anyone, just working on eradicating bad behavior).
When you've composed your list, burn it in the flame of a special fire that you've blessed with prayer, intention, or mediation. You can use a simple candle (red, gold, white or green are colors associated with the season), or get into the act a bit more by decorating your very own yule log with sprigs of related winter solstice herbs and evergreen boughs, blessing it, and lighting it safely in a wood stove, fireplace, camp or bonfire outside, and burning your list in its flames. More important than the method employed, whether simple or elaborate, beautiful or plain, is the sincerity, intention and focus you bring to the task. Joining forces with other appropriately serious, fellow banishers also seems to work to magnify the power of the process.
Symbols of the Yule Season
Bells, candles, Yule logs of oak or holly, wreaths, stars, the crown of light, the evergreen tree, holly, ivy, and mistletoe are all emblematic of the season. Mistletoe, the "Golden Bough" of the Druids, in particular is an ancient symbol for life essence, fertility and immortality honored at the depths of winter. According to J.C. Cooper's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Symbols, the evergreen mistletoe represents the sacred feminine principle, with the oak its male counterpart, on which this (usually non-damaging) semi-parasitic plant commonly grows. Cooper adds that mistletoe was once believed to be the result of lightning strikes to the branches of oak trees and was thus considered imbued with special spiritual qualities.
The evergreen mistletoe no doubt came to represent everlasting life at winter solstice as it is only really visible this time of year. Only after the oak has dropped its leaves and slipped into a deathlike, winter slumber, do we see it, still lush, green, growing — fruiting even — hanging in rounded masses from the oak's bare branches. Birds relish mistletoe fruit, its pearly white berries, an important winter food source. If you're worried about the oaks, don't be for mistletoe spreads and grows relatively slowly and only rarely becomes a threat to the tree's health. And no doubt, in those cases, probably due to other ecological imbalances. Healthy trees are able to tolerate a few mistletoe plants with little harmful effect. Moreover, when trees are laden with mistletoe, it is often a sign of a healthy bird population.
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The Lake Isle Of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats
I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
BECAUSE DEEP WINTER has always represented an important period of retreat and rest, long nights to help us catch up on our sleep and rejuvenate body and soul, crafting soothing, sleep-enhancing Dream Pillows is a perfect way to celebrate the season. There are many herbs that help relax and calm us, such as: lavender, catnip, rose petals, hops, chamomile, lemon balm, lemon verbena, sweet marjoram, and passionflower. When making the pillows, a combination of two or three favorites works very well. If you are using hops, however, just know a little goes a long way. While it is a most potent relaxer, it does have an unpleasant odor. Be sure to mix sweeter smelling herbs with hops to mask its scent.
You can find the herbs at your local natural food store, organically grown, dried and ready for use. After making my first dream pillow years ago, I started growing my own — most of which are perennials that come back year after year in the garden. I like to harvest my sleep pillow herbs on the day of summer solstice, hang them to dry naturally in the warm dry shade under the eaves of my house and then store them until I'm ready to make a new batch of pillows come winter. They make lovely handmade holiday gifts.
If you sew, you can make your own custom pillows: squares or rectangles are easiest. If your sewing skills allow: hearts, stars, circles or crescent moons make especially sweet pillows. Tucked into pillowcases, they do not have to be large. I found a medium-sized pillow that is relatively flat after filling works best as it stays in place better. You can use scrap material, buy remnants from the fabric store, or use old bandanas. You can sew them by hand or machine, or if you don't sew at all, you can use ready-made natural fiber sachet bags, the kind you can usually find right in the bulk herb section.
Felt can also be used, as the photo here shows a Blue Moon pillow I made with wool felt on which you can easily (no hoop needed) add embroidered designs and symbols to enhance potency. When the herbs lose their scent, just crush the pillow a bit. You can also recharge them with drops of lavender essential oil. I also like to add small, polished stones, tucked into the pillow with the herbs that are known to soothe and reduce stress: Moonstone, Selenite, Onyx, Blue Jade, Amethyst, Prehnite, Rose Quartz, and Lepidolite are some that I've used.
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DRINK IN THE STARK BEAUTY of our little planet at this reflective time of year. If you light a bonfire, campfire, hearth fire, or even a simple candle, in honor of this "turning of the wheel" of the solar year, you are reviving a practice that stretches back through millennia. Observing these ancient, natural "holy days" helps us heal a split that has gone on way too long between Mother Earth and her human children. May this solstice bring blessings of peace and happiness to you and your loved ones, and to Mother Earth herself.
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The photograph at the beginning of this post is the Yule King by Michael Kerbow.
"Ring Out, Wild Bells" is a poem, excerpted above, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Published in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate, it forms part of In Memoriam, Tennyson's elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister's fiancé who died at the age of twenty-two. The entire poem can be read here.
The mistletoe illustration is a detail from a vintage Christmas card.
© Elaine Kalantarian, all rights reserved