For those of us living south of the equator, today marks the time of the Winter Solstice, where for a short period of time the sun seems to "stand still" as it has reached the northern most point in it journey, before making the slow swing back to the southern point.
In Beyond the Blue Horizon, astronomer and author Dr Krupp described this time as “the turning point” of the year and the moment when “all of nature was poised to step over the border” of the old cycle into the new. In other words, it will be the winter solstice, the time when the sun reaches its southern most point of its cycle, resulting in the shortest number of daylight hours.
For the most part, rugging up against the cold is more of an inconvenience than a life/death situation. Yet, for our ancestors, the endless hours of darkness, the shortage of food supplies and the increasing coldness brought many dangers. As the sun rose lower in the sky and its life giving power grew weaker, life drew away from the earth’s surface, allowing death and chaos to stalk the land.
During the three days of the winter solstice, the sun appeared to be frozen with everything hung in suspension, anticipating the arrival of its rebirth. As the world plunged into darkness, the old cycle of existence dissolved into primordial chaos, allowing immortal spirits to be released from the Underworld to cause havoc. It was only with the return of the solar hero, bringing with him the new cycle, which these chaotic spirits were banished to the Underworld again. The ancient Celts aptly referred to this time as being the “time without”, the unhewn stone, the day set outside the normal cycle of things.
This time beyond the boundaries of normalcy was reflected in the ancient Babylonian festival of Sacaea, where a “mock” king ruled the land, bringing chaos and upheaval until the more appropriate ruler reassumed his mantle of authority.
Throughout the Bavarian and Austrian alpine regions perchten (“wild Pagan spirits”) roamed the countryside on the three “rough nights”, ie the night before St Nicholas (6 December), before the winter solstice, and before Epiphany (6 January).
This article can be found in its entirety in the Winter edition 2014 of Alternative Spirit magazine