Winter Solstice 2022
My Regular Pagan Holiday Missive
Years ago my wife Holly and I invented a solstice ritual we named the Twelve Days of Solstice, starting on the solstice, December 21, and ending with New Year’s day. We made up our own daily rituals and customs, observing the natural world and the changing of the seasons.
Our invention was aimed at supplanting the christian holiday. We are both ex-christians, she tortured by a more evangelical denomination than me by my pale protestant presbyterian sect.
My antipathy has been mostly aimed toward catholicism, a particularly misogynist, patriarchal, racist, and homophobic cult whose latest endeavor is covering up its sexual abuse of children. It is only the most powerful example of christian horror, but there are many more worldwide who hide behind religion to perpetrate evil.
We want no part of this and so we eschew the trappings of christian holidays. However, we do feel the need for tradition and ritual in our lives and so must invent our own. This year in the wake of a worldwide fascist assault on democracy I was feeling a bit depressed in mid-November and sought holiday solace.
“Let’s start celebrating solstice early!” I entreated.
The festive custom of tree decorating is not owned by the christians. It was stolen from pagan religions and so I feel very good about reclaiming this pagan tradition. The term pagan was historically used by christians to refer to everyone not christian, so it includes all of us non-christians.
I checked around and there were no trees nor boughs to be bought until the day after Thanksgiving. So, after considering and rejecting cutting our own, on the morning of November 25th we drove directly to Grandma’s tree farm a few miles out in the country. People had already stormed the farm, a magical place with a huge old barn decorated to the rafters for the season. There was hot chocolate waiting, a flocking room, a real antique sleigh for kids to play on and all the ornaments and boughs and trees of every size.
We bought evergreen boughs for the mantle, adorable bird decorations and, of course, a tree, cut and carried by an agile worker who told me he has a landscape company in other seasons.
For the next couple of days we decorated the tree, taking all the time we felt like because why should we be in a hurry? One point of invention is to overcome all the obligations that make this holiday stressful. Like shopping. We are made to feel like we will be responsible for the U.S. economy failing if we don’t spend tons of money. Retailers depend on this holiday to bring in 40 percent of their annual revenue, an unsustainable economic program that bankrupts the poor and does not fit well with our effort to consume less.
With a much longer holiday schedule than usual, we were designing rituals for a month of celebrating instead of just the 12 days of solstice. Ok but no pressure. Instead, I decided to just appreciate the revelatory events that happened to me daily.
Nov. 24 As I planted 40 daffodils in the front yard, I thought bulb planting must be added to our annual constellation of solstice rituals.
Nov. 30 It froze! Contemplating the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, we acknowledged the wilting of the big flowers in our yard. The tree dahlia, which at nearly 20 feet tall had only just started blooming, died. And the huge marigold that had appeared late in the fall, maybe from a wildflower mix, froze. We appreciate that nothing is truly perfect or permanent.
Dec. 1 Then it stormed! We got an inch of rain. We invoked Tefnut, the Egyptian goddess of rain and moisture, responsible for maintaining life, as we watched the bright leaves fall from the trees.
Dec. 3 As I picked the first oranges from our tree and made juice, I called in Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and the harvest. When her daughter Persephone returns to Hades each winter, the plants die, only to be reborn when she returns in spring. The orange, one plant that the gods apparently overlooked, produces fruit all winter.
Dec. 7 I’m witness to a supernatural event at 5am while I soak in the hot tub. The sheet metal cap on the chimney glows with an amazingly bright light. I feel this is like seeing the virgin Mary on a slice of toast–positively spiritual. The cap continues to glow and I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It was so bright I couldn’t imagine what the light source could be. Could the light be coming from inside the house? Of course, it was the setting full moon shining at a direct angle, but so otherworldly that I wanted to take a picture to let someone else in on my religious experience. Who would believe me? Will I be the Cassandra of Hylandia?
I can find no goddess of chimneys nor sheet metal nor chimney caps, so I’ll have to decide whether to check in with one of many goddesses of the hearth. Or perhaps the moon was communicating with me through the chimney cap, in which case I can consult any number of moon goddesses like Selene, the Greek personification of the moon.
The universe is definitely talking to me.
Dec. 8 We spent a lovely couple of hours walking at the ocean with Holly’s brother and wife and afterward I happily consumed the sacred molluscs, oysters. Is there a seafood goddess? Maybe not exactly, but Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, was born in an oyster so she knew something about them.
Then on our way back from the ocean we hit only green lights on Guerneville Road. A total miracle! I didn’t even have to invoke Asphalta, the goddess of roads and highways, because I know that she is watching over us, especially when we look for parking. We recite the prayer “Hail Asphalta full of grace, help me find a parking place.” Then we rub the sacred crystals which are pieces of asphalt adorned with the yellow line, enclosed in an orange bag that hangs from the car’s mirror. Asphalta’s priestesses are the flag women of the highways. The goddess was invented by my friend Morgan Grey for a book called Found Goddesses and so fits right in with our effort to invent rituals.
Finding the sacred in my everyday life has definitely improved my spirits. It’s worked so well that I might have to continue this practice for the rest of the year.
Happy solstice my friends, however you choose to celebrate it.