Friday, 21 December 2012

The Longest Night: A Meditation for the Winter Solstice

The Longest Night
It is growing dark, and I am standing on the hillside, beside the ancient stones placed here by my ancestors. They gleam white with lichen, old rocks, dragged here over four thousand years ago, and they stand here still. A mute testimony to the forgotten beliefs of long ago, when there came a tribe that sought to mark out a sacred space where they could worship.
A little further away, a fire is burning, and I feel the heat as the wood crackles and sparks fly into the night sky. We are all gathered here, and I sit beside the others, and we sip mead and eat honey cakes, and when we have drunk and eaten our fill, we turn to await the storyteller. He pushes back the hood on his robes, and lights his long stemmed pipe, gently blowing smoke rings until we are ready. Then he begins.
There is the tower, tall, dark, but with a flicker of light from a high window. And here is my path, my destiny, the fate woven in moonlight.
I enter the door and climb the stairs. They spiral round, ever upwards, until I come to an open door at the near the top of the tower. On a table is a candle, flickering brightly, and beside it is a lady sitting on a chair, a blue shawl around her. In front of her is a spinning wheel.
The window is open, and the moon shines brightly. The rays of the moon shine on the bare wooden floor, and the dust sparkles along their path. The moonbeams reach to the corner where the lady spins, and it seems as if she captures their thread in her wheel, as she spins a fine cloth, singing softly.
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Care for clan and every kin
Making tapestry of light
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Now the thread grows ever thin
Comes the darkness, barrow wight
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Fear and hope both found therein
Spinning nightly my delight
The citadel was on the edge of a desert, and within the three astrologers gazed at the pool; in its cool waters, the sky at night was shining, rippling in a breeze, then steadying into a fixed pattern as the wind died down, and the waters stilled. In the sky above was Jupiter rising, on a path which would take it close to Saturn, and the star Regulus, shining bright in the constellation of Leo.
The eldest unravelled a scroll and began to read the words of the Chaldean oracle:
Jupiter ascending, a mighty beam, a blaze of light:
Laugher of the seven heavens, the glorious sight;
The breath of air, raising spirits high, so tall,
As the mighty planet casts its light on all;
The cripple walks upright with the healing touch,
No more the need to lean so heavy on his crutch;
The beggar in rags, down, despondent, rises up,
Joy when the mighty Lord has come to sup;
Kingship and power, the giant upon his throne,
The power released, like sparks from fires blown;
Listen! The bells are ringing loud, the trumpet blows!
Behold the mighty planet, shining, more brightly glows,
Like a sunlit wave, creamy crested, shining in the night;
The wanderer in the sky takes up his throne aloft and high,
And the music of the heavens plays across the sky,
The solemn festival, the laughter, as the king appears:
A joy of creation blowing , a holiday from fears;
Here is Jupiter the Mighty, banded with his rings:
A conjunction with Saturn, Regulus, the cosmos sings;
In the darkest night, amidst the stars, the brightest white,
Joy to the world, the promise of the coming light.
The stars move closer in their dance, a pattern in the sky. It is cold, and the sky is clear, and the portents are visible. In distances beyond our comprehension lie other galaxies, alien worlds, and beyond that, the edge of the known universe.
The light from distant suns began its journey when our earth was being formed. A billion stars have emerged from the dust of space, have been born, have died, and still the great hymn of the cosmos continues.
The history of the stars is ancient. The stories are told and retold, and will be, while there is breath on earth, while there are chanters to tell the ancient lays, and learning passed on from generation to generation in tales told by the fireside, before sleep.
Centaurus was wisest of the Centaurs. His name, when he lived on earth, was Chiron. He taught the mighty Hercules. But in an accident, he was wounded; immortal he cried out in endless pain. At last Zeus took pity on him, and placed him among the stars, where he shines down, casting wisdom upon our world for all who would seek it.
Orion was a mighty hunter, with his faithful dogs, famed throughout the lands. He fell in love with Merope, but she rejected his suit, and sends him away disconsolate. Distracted, he stepped on a scorpion and died.
The gods were sad that such a tragic end should befall a hero, and placed him in the night sky, where he shines brightly with his dogs,. Canis Major and Canis Minor. The hunt goes on, and there are the hunted, also in the night sky, Lepus the rabbit, and Taurus the bill. But Scorpius they placed on the opposite side of the sky, so he would never again suffer the sting again.
Many are the stories of the stars, and on this darkest night, it is a time to tell their tales. These are a few of the stories told so very long ago, but still remembered as we gaze upward at the stars in the clear night sky and they shine forth, sending their blessings down upon us.
It was the long dark night, and the stars were hidden behind thick dark clouds.
Cry freedom, he said. But they came in the night, and when morning came, he was gone. Taken to the camps, where the searchlights prowled the night land, and the shadows were sharp and jagged like the wire. He was a grandfather, much beloved, proud of his roots in his native land, but he was taken away, removed from his family, and never seen again.
A branch is severed from the tree, and the bare trunk is raw, sap weeping from the wound. A curse lays heavy on the land, like an evil enchantment. And from deep in his cold citadel, the tyrant rules the land with an iron fist. He mocks the gods.
This is the darkest point of the night, a time of loss, a time to mourn those who have joined the shades, and those lost who have spoken truth against power, and paid the price.
We light a candle for freedom, for the ending of the longest night, and pray that dawn may come.
The wound is deep and will not heal
We mourn the past, the bells do peel
Even when we know, we never find
Still chords of love shall ever bind
The darkness night, the turning point
A healing touch, time out of joint
And bind together, holdings hands
Hope is lines drawn in the sands
Loss is beating like a broken heart
We may grasp only some small part
Of the whole. But in the darkest night
There is still a space for candle light
The dawn will come, and the embers of the fire will be softly glowing. Then we shall take a log from the fire, and as the sun has come to the turning point of the year, so shall we take turns, and leap over the fire.
This is the Yule log, a sign for hope, for the renewal of the sun at the turning point of the year, and as we leap over the smouldering wood, we too cross the threshold from darkness into light and are reborn.
Pass through fire, be not burned
Such is promise now discerned.

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