Here in Boston, Massachusetts, the December sun, on its low path across the sky, slips past in a mere nine hours leaving us with fifteen hours of darkness. I am greedy for the light. I long for it to fill me and lift me into the brighter world of joy that the holiday carols promise. However, it is in accepting the dark and learning its lessons that we find the courage needed to embrace the new cycle of growth that begins to quicken in our hearts as the light slowly returns during the twelve days from winter solstice to the New Year and beyond.
The penetration of the dark by the fertilizing beam of the sun at winter solstice was made visible by the goddess worshiping people in Neolithic Ireland in their construction of the New Grange chamber. There the beams of the rising sun from December 18 through 23 enter the inner most room and illumine the triple spiral incised in stone, a glyph for the cyclical nature of existence in which death and life dance in a seamless round.
For a new cycle to begin, we need to let go of the old one. Fully embracing the crone stage of life requires not only the courage to let go, but also the determination to hold on to life and find new meaning in spite of losses.
Caitlin Matthews in her book, The Elements of The Goddess, writes about nine aspects of the divine female. One is the challenger—the winter goddess. “She is the guardian of the secrets of time and eternity” (66). She knows what lessons we have been given to learn in this life time and confronts us with them again and again until our positive response shows we have listened and grown in wisdom. The challenger wrenches us away from the comforts of the past which stifle future growth, cleanses the dark places in our hearts, and brings us renewal. She helps us break the chains that keep us stuck in the old ruts and releases our souls like a butterfly from its chrysalis to a wide world of light, love, gratitude, and freedom.
It is to the realm of the Challenger I come at this winter solstice. I decorate my tree alone waiting for grown children to come home briefly before they leave again pursuing the trajectories of their own lives. The partner with whom I once dreamed of sharing our empty nest has been dead for three years. I’m recovering from surgery for breast cancer and waiting for radiation to begin. This is a different kind of holiday, yet it confronts me with both a closed and an open door. Since I was 13, I have dreamed of being a writer. This dream has been a dark underground stream haunting my life with its subterranean gurgling, reminding me to honor this deepest desire of my being. Keeping it tamped down is no longer an option. The Challenger is stomping on my life with a heavy foot and shattering the structures that once supported me. In this earthquake comes release. It is an opportunity to reorganize my priorities and spring lose my creative self from its cage of obligations to
others. If I can give honest answers to the Challenger’s questions perhaps she’ll hand me the key to a life of renewed meaning.
How do you confront the goddess as challenger in your life? If you meet her in these dark winter solstice days, welcome her. Let her give you the courage to confront the dark fearful places and knotty difficulties of your life, and the inspiration to find creative solutions for moving forward with renewed hope and possibility. Follow her into the deep inner chambers of your heart, the dark center that contains the potentiality of all things. Here the yawning tomb of the dying year quickens into the womb of rebirth. Here you can mourn what is lost and strengthen what is struggling to be born—a new lightness, freedom, and hope. It is a gift to have a long life and to have the opportunity to keep growing, learning, and opening our hearts to love.
The winter aspect of the goddess challenges us. She knows what lessons we have been given to learn in this life time and confronts us with them again and again until our positive response shows we have listened and grown in wisdom.
A Winter Solstice Ritual
Here is a ritual to perform to brighten the long darkness of a solstice evening. If you have a five-taper candelabrum, you may want to use it for this ritual. Otherwise arrange five tapers or votives on a table or your altar placing four candles at the corners and one in the center. Light the corner candles as you call in the power of the four directions– east for inspiration and new beginnings, south for determination, passion, and growth, west for compassion and love, and north for grounding and contemplation. Take time to fully experience the qualities of each direction, and how each illuminates your life. Finally, light the center candle for your soul yearning toward the divine. Allow the expanding warmth, beauty and love of the Goddess to dance in the flames and in your heart.