Dick Rauscher reflects on the importance of the Winter Solstice
The winter solstice is one of my favorite celebrations of the year. More than any other ritual the solstice reminds me of my connection with those unknown ancestors to whom the solstice was an issue of life and death.
Whenever possible, I take my drum outside on December 21st and honor my history as a human. I use my drum to pull the energy out of the earth and send it out to the spirits of those who lived in a more frightening world; a world embraced in magic and deep mystery.
It is the one day of the year that most reminds me how fortunate I am to live in the modern era and how easy it is for me to forget the visceral power contained in words like re-birth, hope, trust, faith, and new beginnings.
It was not that far back in history that the solstice was experienced as a time of high anxiety. The ancients knew that unless the sun stopped its relentless sinking into the southern sky and began its return north, the tribe would die of starvation. The tribe rarely entered the winter famine with enough food to last the long months of winter.
Thus the months leading up to the solstice would have been filled with rituals and sacrifices designed to appease the Gods. They believed that the Gods would allow the sun return to warm the earth only if they were pleased with the tribes’ sacrifices.
The arrival of spring and the re-birthing of the world was never a certainty.
Until the discovery of more accurate measuring tools such as Stonehenge, it was four days before our ancient ancestors could celebrate; certain that the sun was indeed returning; that the hunger of winter and the long months of famine they faced would once again come to an end.
Today the solstice comes and goes virtually without notice. We know it is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere, but it holds no real significance for most people. We don’t associate hope, trust, faith, or rebirthing and new beginnings to the day.
As a scientifically literate global culture, we “know” the sun will return.
But isn’t it interesting that the Christian celebration called Christmas just happens to fall on the 25th of December; that the Christian day of hope, trust, faith, re-birth, and new beginnings is celebrated four days after the winter solstice.
The solstice is one of the oldest and most important of humanity’s creation stories. We forget how deeply the emotional power of the solstice is buried in our collective human memory.
I don’t know if the spirits of the ancients are around to hear my drumming on the solstice, but it is important for me to honor their memory; to be grateful that I can speak to the spirits of those who lived a much harder life than I have lived. It reminds me that I too will one day become a spirit ancestor listening for the distant voice of the drums coming from my children’s children on the night of the winter solstice.
Have a great holiday season, and may each of you experience the birth of “new beginnings” and deep happiness as we enter into another new year.