By Garth Johnstone
Today is the Winter Solstice in South Africa … a notable landmark each year, particularly in our region which is so affected by the seasons.
The solstice is the day each year with the least hours of daylight and the “longest night”. It’s also sometimes known as “mid-winter”.
Psychologically, for Midlanders, it’s an important turning point, for a place that enjoys a brief but bracing period of winter cold, a moment to look ahead and perhaps circle on the calendar the Summer Solstice, which falls on Tuesday, December 21.
Recalibrate and reflect
And perhaps in this year, when we are fighting our way through the turbulent, dark time of the coronavirus (our second winter solstice while facing the pandemic), the date will have special meaning for some as inroads are made but serious challenges remain.
For me, personally, it’s a moment to recalibrate, reflect on the year to date, remind myself that life is short and the seasons are turning again. In just a few months we’ll be preparing for summer.
The winter solstice, or the onset of true winter, is, in astronomical terms, when the sun reaches its minimum declination in the respective hemisphere (here, the southern).
From a spiritual standpoint, the winter solstice has always represented a turning – where dark has held sway over light, but now things will begin to change. It’s historically been marked by rituals, ceremonies and rights of passage, many linked to the land, productivity and the seasons.
The website Explore Deeply notes that “The energy of winter is that of going within. It’s the fruitful darkness and silence out of which our soul’s yearnings and new inspirations can eventually emerge. As we consciously link our awareness to nature’s cycles, our understanding of our own personal growth cycles begin to deepen.”
It also suggests a small ritual to mark this event on the calendar. “It is suggested to take time 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after the precise moment of the Solstice to open to the intelligence of nature all around you and to acknowledge your personal growth cycle. A simple ritual act done with intention in your heart is enough.”
Or else, a simple fire ritual (perhaps a community braai – a small, controlled one please) to remind yourself of your inner light and the divine light that guides us all. Otherwise, just try to get outside during the day and soak up some sun and light if it’s available – again, use this time to reflect, to appreciate and plan the months ahead.
According to Forever Conscious, “The winter solstice celebrates the longest hours of darkness or the rebirth of the sun and is believed to hold a powerful energy for regeneration, renewal and self-reflection. In Pagan times the winter solstice was referred to as Yule and was a celebration of the Goddess (Moon) energy. It was believed that on this day, the moon would give birth to the sun.”
For “land people”, the shortest day obviously has great significance. Those of us who farm, live outdoors, are veggie or “backyard” farmers – whether serious or hobbyists – are always looking at the weather, the sun and the impact of the growing seasons. We can celebrate that from this point on until December 21 the days will get longer, there will be more sun when skies are clear and our gardens will respond appropriately.
We know that in a month it will be time to sow xx, or plant yy, that now is the time to regenerate and build up our quality of soil, and that by the end of September we can expect to see a significant response in our gardens thanks to more abundant light and heat from the sun. This is a time for celebration, as we look at the bare oaks, fruit trees and pared back veggie gardens and know that good things are to come.
In short, it’s a powerful moment to remember that out of darkness, light will emerge.