Now ‘tis Yuletide and people in northern latitudes shore up the weak December sun with merriment and communal good cheer and those in southern climes bask in the sun’s warmth. Winter solstice, or Midwinter to the ancient Celts, stays the march of darkness. At the solstices, the midpoints of the darkest and brightest times of the year, the sun seems to stand still for several days before shifting from a pattern of growing dark to growing light, or vice versa. Yule is a traditional Germanic name for the twelve-day celebration of the sun’s pause and new growth from December 21 through New Year’s Day. The Christian calendar incorporates this ancient holiday by shifting the twelve days from December 25 to January 6.
We prepare our hearts and minds for the turning of year by hanging evergreen wreaths on our doors and building blazing fires to symbolize the sun. But this year joy is marred by consternation. The whole world has been plunged into the dark of a pandemic that has crippled economies, overwhelmed hospitals, and cut short many lives. Collectively we hold our breath! Will the vaccine work? Can the rampaging virus be slowed, and our lives turn again toward the light?
Now that we are crones, many of us have more control over our time with fewer obligations binding us. With greater autonomy comes the power of choice. This year has not been what we expected. Many of the trips, concerts, meals at restaurants, and visits with friends have been cancelled. This winter solstice offers an opportunity to ponder what have we learned from this time of relative quiet and isolation. The pandemic has given us a taste of spaciousness in which to evaluate our lives. Do the things we do give meaning to our soul? This question can be disturbing. It is often easier to respond to the needs of others than to tend to our own.
In her book Goddesses in Older Women, Jean Shinoda Bolen explores goddesses from classical mythology as archetypes or invisible patterns that contribute to the shape and structure of an individual woman’s psyche. Bolen suggests that it is important to make life choices that correspond to the goddess archetypes that speak to our inner depths. This ensures we are being true to ourselves. As younger women, the world demanded much of us, now it is important to choose what feels right to us alone, even if it contradicts what others expect from us. One size does not fit all. Bolen notes, “the same role and set of circumstances can fulfill one woman and constrict another” (xv). For example, in women for whom Hera, the wife archetype, exerts a powerful influence, marriage contributes to a woman’s identity and sense of well-being. This might lead to happily growing old with a spouse, to a widow feeling a soul connection with her late partner and having no desire to find another, or to a late-blooming Hera finding a meaningful soul connection and marriage late in life. A woman with a strong Hestia archetype might be happier alone.
Hestia, the hearth keeper, is what Bolen terms a virgin, one-in-herself goddess. When Hestia stirs in a woman’s soul, she seeks a time and place to be alone in the stillness of her own center.
Perhaps we can kindle our inner solstice fires to Hestia. You might, as Bolen suggests, try imagining your favorite goddesses gathered in a circle around Hestia’s fire sitting in council speaking one at time each sharing her perspective on the issue at hand. Listen to each in turn until clarity is reached and your inner and outer actions come into harmony.
Recently I acquired a puppy, a decision I made with little internal debate. Artemis with her direct manner, love of the natural world, and straight-shooting arrows, seems to have taken charge during the forty-eight hours in which I went from “I think I want a puppy” to “I can pick up my mini-poodle up at the breeder in Staten Island on May 9th.” Had I offered up this choice to scrutiny, the other goddess aspects of myself might have weighed in something like this. Persephone: Yes, there is too much death on earth now, celebrate new life. Enjoy the moment. Play! Demeter: The puppy will give your adult children something to bond over and deepen a sense of family. Hestia: It will keep you company and encourage you to spend more time at home doing the reading and writing that bring you joy. Artemis: The dog will get you outdoors walking. You need more exercise to stay healthy. And the mystic Sophia: View this desire as a call from spirit. Answer it.
Do you remember the popular saying by mythologist Joseph Campbell “follow your bliss”? Our lives are for living as fully, deeply, and truly as possible for whatever time remains to us. If we do not follow our bliss now, when? Covid restrictions can focus our imaginations and reveal new facets of our nature to ourselves and others.
Let us celebrate the newly born solstice light with prayers that the world soon returns to health and balance. With a little Hestia magic, we wise women crones can lead the way.
In the spirit of warmth and light,