Sunday, December 19, 2010

Midwinter Night

The Wheel of the Year has turned once again and we find ourselves nearing the Midwinter Festival of Light, one which has been celebrated in many mythologies and under many names for eons.

At this time in the Northern Hemisphere, the light of the sun is reborn and the days begin to grow longer, waxing toward spring. Very frequently midwinter is celebrated as the birthday of the Sun God; always, it marks a time of renewal. It is a time of light in the midst of darkness, warmth of spirit and heart to counter the cold of the weather and a harsh world.

In actuality, the story of the birth of the Sun God, the Divine Child of Light, is illustrated in the stars of the winter sky. The hours of darkness have gradually increased since the Autumnal Equinox as the longest and darkest night of year, the Midwinter Solstice, approaches. The actual moment of Solstice marks the time when the Sun moves from the sign of Sagittarius into that of Capricorn. The Divine Child of Light is born in the dark cave of the vast sky’s darkest region at the darkest hour of the year.

At midnight on Midwinter Night, the constellation of Virgo, holding her sheaf of wheat, rises in the eastern sky. And so the Virgin gives birth to the Child of Light in the very depths of the darkness. His light, the newborn sun, will rise at dawn.

The newborn Light will bring growth and abundance—and therefore, life. So it’s not surprising to find that, in the Christian tradition, the Child is born from the House of Bread—Bethlehem’s literal meaning—who is the Virgin holding the grain. He is laid in a manger—the small glowing starry cloud of Praesaepe, or Manger/Crib, in the constellation of Cancer. He is surrounded by ox and ass—in the constellation of Taurus and the star group Aselli, the Asses, in the constellation of Cancer, one on each side of his Manger.

The three wise men—Magi, who were astrologers but are sometimes referred to as kings—come seeking him, this New Light whose birth they have seen in the stars. They have followed his star, they say, which rose in the east. The three stars that form the belt of Orion, which rises in the southeast on Midwinter Night, are called the Three Kings. Was it nearby Sirius, brightest of the stars and associated by the Egyptians with Isis, whose light they followed? Or perhaps the special planetary conjunction of bright Venus and giant Jupiter near Regulus in Leo (the planet of the King in the sign of the King) that lit up the night sky in the months just before midwinter?

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” (Luke 2:8)

Angels sing to herald this birth, bending low to the earth from their homes in the high heavens. Angel means “messenger,” and stars were looked upon as messengers of the divine.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11)

The song of the starry angels streamed through the heavens, pouring forth to the shepherds the message of the new birth and its accompanying flow of spiritual energies that would usher in a new era of light, love, growth, and spiritual abundance, and “peace to men of goodwill.”

In Sagittarius, not far from the place of the birth, we find the constellation of Lyra the Lyre, or Harp; perhaps it was the “harp of gold” played by the angels as they sang. The constellation of Bootes, near Virgo, is known as the shepherd or herdsman; while the across the sky in the sign of Cancer, the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer, pictured as holding a goat over his shoulder, is sometimes known as the shepherd’s crook.

And so the sky tells the story of the birth of the Holy Child of Light. At Midwinter, this Light is born again, and will shine forth—bringing light, warmth, joy, and abundance to all the world.

This time of the year is a time of sharing, love, and good cheer. May you all experience these holiday delights of the spirit— gifts which far surpass any material ones you might receive.

© Margie McArthur, 2005-2010; All rights reserved.



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