The fantasy and the truth.

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Winter solstice, in your dream fantasy, is a rowdy pagan affair.  Naked young flesh pulsating in the flickering light of heathen torches.  Bare breasts heaving with excitement, gooseflesh skin tingling with anticipation as the winter sun crests the ancient stones.

So you drive for hours and fuss over the parking arrangements.  Dress warmly, for the wind over Salisbury plain is a scour in winter.  You tramp your way to the stones and arrive well after sunrise.  Is that Mrs Neville, the butchers wife?  Must remember to say Happy Christmas.

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Toward the Winter Solstice; by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
it dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
and cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
a dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
the cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
and call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
we all are conscious of the time of year;
we all enjoy its colorful displays
and keep some festival that mitigates
the dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
but UPS vans now like magi make
their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
are gaily resurrected in their wake;
the desert lifts a full moon from the east
and issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
and valets at chic restaurants will soon
be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
the fan palms scattered all across town stand
more calmly prominent, and this place seems
a vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
the tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
and ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
it’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity
the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.

The long dark night.

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Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.