Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New


December 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm PST / 22:22 UT

The Sun Arrives at 0° Capricorn

picWhen 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, its southern-most extreme: 23.5° latitude, south of the equator.

The triumph of darkness over light at this time of year is tempered with the knowledge of the never-ending, turning of the wheel. For after the December 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.

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, the lush, high greening of the land. 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.

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King Tide, California Coast — December 22, 2014

Winter Solstice and the King Tides

New and Full Moons in December and January are unique. At this time of the year, the Earth is as close to the Sun as it gets (perihelion), so we see the year's highest tides, especially in the weeks leading up to and following the December Solstice. If one of these New or Full Moons also happens to be a "perigee" or "Super" Moon (New or Full Moon that occurs when the Moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit) we have especially high, SUPER King tides, which will be coming in late January, the 21st, which will also be a lunar eclipse. The January 21st Full Supermoon is also the first of three in a row.

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 my way down to my local beach, here on the Mendocino coast, on the Capricorn New Moon, which fell just one day after solstice.

To check the tide charts for your area, 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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The low Sun shines through Redwood trees at noon on winter solstice (2013)

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, picbut 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.

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Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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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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.

— William Butler Yeats

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 pic 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 above illustration shows, a Blue Moon sleep pillow I made last year in wool felt. With felt 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.

Merry Solstice!



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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.