Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's the Solstice!

Note: we've added pics of the recent snowfall as nature is also a big part of our celebrations.
Winter solstice. December 21. Nightist of nights and day of least light with each day forward seeing more light. The winter solstice has been a time of celebration since the Celtics of Neolithic times. It is the celebration of the deity responsible for harvests and fertility. This is a time for feasting, music and dancing.
Bough'd under weight of snow
Solstice celebrations are rooted in ancient traditions from before the time of Stonehenge. Before the discovery of faiths from the East, like Buddhism and Hinduism. Before a religion from the Middle East was imported to Europe and later to the Americas, imposed many times by the sword.
Lion's Mane mushroom on maple
What is known of the earliest history of the Celtics is that they originated in Central Europe. Their culture spread north to the British Isles, south to Gaul, the Iberian Peninsula and France and into Bohemia and the Po Valley in northern Italy. This was during the Iron Age where they were skilled in these crafts. They were responsible for some of the earliest farming methods in Europe.  They were described as hairy and wearing colorful attire. We children of the 60’s can relate to that.
Great big burl on oak
They established communities of farmers and metal workers with a sophisticated system of laws and spirituality. Communities were made up of family farms with communal land to provide for chiefs, priests, the old, poor and sick. Common lands provided for grazing and foraging. There were annual assemblies that including feasting, music and tribal business. Land disputes were settled and petty crimes were tried. Chiefs and officials were democratically elected and could be either male or female.  Here in Limerick we have an annual meeting to take care of our town business, including electing our Selectpersons and voting on budgets and expenditures. With our New England puritan background, it seems we’ve forgotten the music and feasting that were an integral part of our Celtic heritage. Hope I don’t get burned at the stake for suggesting that we include a feast and barn dance to be part of the next town meeting. I’ll bet attendance would be enhanced if we did. 
Red Pine baby
A unifying bond between Celtic tribes was the Druids, the ancient priests. They were at the pinnacle of a highly evolved religious system than included meditation, belief in reincarnation and in a supreme being. The Druids travelled freely throughout Europe, including forays into Greece and Rome. A Solstice ritual was for Druid initiates to meditate while in a state of sensory deprivation by sitting in the dark,  coming out on the morning of the Winter Solstice to be released into the brightness, representing a rebirth.
Big rock snowcapped
Our early ancestors were a non-literate society, so written records of their practices come from cultures that came into contact with them. Julius Caesar, in 50BCE, said they “know much about the stars and celestial motions, and about the size of the earth and universe, and about the essential nature of things, and about the powers and authority of the immortal gods, and these things they teach to their pupils”.  Aristotle also referred to them, as did Livy’s Early History of Rome. The Druids, as well as Celtic tribal practices, were driven underground when a new religion spread into Europe from the East. Remnants of our ancestral heritage remain in many hearts and minds yet. 
Clump of maples

We celebrate the 2013 Winter Solstice, appreciating the roots of our ancestral past and embracing the current spirit of the Druids to make sense of the present and to prepare us for the future. The past is not to dwell on. It is to understand where we have been. We are moving forward in a world far different that what it was when Stonehenge was built, when Buddha sat under a tree, when Jesus sermonized on a mount. Technology has created a world of convenience. We have become separated from fields, forests, and harvests and tending herds. Without understanding our roots, our lives may be disconnected from who we are. Eating and drinking, singing and dancing,  and making love are the basics of life. These are what our ancestors celebrated in a simpler time. These are still the building blocks of our humanity, and we can focus on these basics of life while wandering through the maze of modernism. -G.H.