Welcoming the Sun


Altar for our Solstice Rite
Altar for our Solstice Rite

Last night, in a small apartment, my coven re-enacted the battle of the Oak and Holly Kings, and welcomed in the Sun with a ritual celebrating the winter solstice. In our tradition, we refer to the lesser sabbats as “The Albans”. This was the rite of Alban Arthan, also known as Yule, Midwinter, and several other names depending on what particular flavor or cultural bent the people celebrating take. The general theme that seems to pervade though centers on the return of the sun.

Ever since the summer solstice in late June, the sun’s power has been diminishing. This is observable, astronomical fact and it’s because of this natural phenomenon that Pagans throughout time and history have sought to honor and align themselves with this occurrence. Minute by minute the daylight fades earlier and arrives later as night begins to overpower it. At the autumn equinox in September they are evenly matched, but after that time, the darkness begins to grow stronger and we begin to fully embrace that dark part of the year: Winter, filled with the cold and the dark.

The truest statement yet made about the end of December's holidays
The truest statement yet made about the end of December’s holidays

The story of the Oak and Holly King is a mythological way of interpreting this, and it happens to be my personal favorite. The Two Kings are aspects of the great Horned God/Green Man, known as Cernunnos in our tradition. Because of this, they are brothers and closer than brothers, they reflect two sides of His power and show how he appears to us depending on the seasons. These aren’t the only faces that Cernunnos may wear, but at the times of solstice, they are what we focus on. Because birth in any form is a struggle, it is taxing and exhausting, and being reborn at these points in the year is birth, the bright god must struggle to overcome the darkness in order to bring light to the world. In the summer time, the dark god must overcome in order to bring the darker seasons forward, and so the wheel turns…

holly-oak
This represents our version of things perfectly, down to the White Mare in the background even

This isn’t the only way that the celebration of the winter solstice can be done though. Some modern Pagan mythologies also use the imagery of the Sun God being born as a new baby to the Mother Goddess on the night of the Winter Solstice. While I do understand the focus and meaning behind this, to me it fits a slightly different mode of thinking than what I personally have. I don’t discount or disavow such a mythology, each must choose their own way that the season is reflected to them. The story isn’t as important as the message behind it, and no myth or story is meant to be taken as actual literal truth. It’s just that the story resonates and makes more sense to me to see the sun as either growing or diminishing in power. Even a winter sun is too powerful to be considered ‘infantile’ in my mind. Also, and I say this with all due respect to those who follow the Christian teachings, but the ‘baby sun being born’ is just too close to Christian imagery for my tastes.  The mythos that speaks to me the strongest doesn’t really include this story as a key element. While I do appreciate seeing the correlation, and seeing it as something that could serve to unite the huge chasm that separates modern Pagan and Christian paths, I think the ‘sun baby birth’ is reaching just a bit too far for that kind of connection. To those who see it and for whom it truly represents the season, may you be blessed in celebrating such a warm and loving interconnection. I just don’t see it that way.

But, since I think it’s important to experience and learn as much as possible, maybe next year at Alban Arthan we may choose to go with the newborn sun story for our rite. Time will tell, as the wheel turns…

Blessings to you this season and may the warmth  of the returning sun grant life and happiness to you throughout the coming year.

 

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