In the ancient days of the world, when all was still mostly froth and chaos, there lived two great Kings. The Oak King was the ruler of the places that were light, and the Holly King ruled the places that were dark. At first They feared one another; for the Holly King was the master of the places that the Oak King dared not go, and the Oak King was the master of the places that the Holly King dared not go. What secrets might the other be keeping? But the Goddess of the Moon and Stars knew Them both, and She bade Them to go to one another. “You’ll like Him!” She told each of Them with the twinkle of the stars in Her deep dark eyes. “You’ll see!”
So They agreed to meet at the border of Twilight, where light and dark meet. The Goddess guided Them to the meeting place with the twinkles of Her eyes, and then She tactfully withdrew.
The solstice season is upon us, and it’s only a couple of weeks before the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It’s a season of darkness and cold, where we are given the opportunity to find the gifts that darkness brings. It can be hard, when the rest of the world seems to be doing their best to stave off their fear with bright lights, noise and extended shopping hours, but if we are able to push beyond that we can see the sacredness of this holy time, and the exquisite power that it brings.
I am mostly a diurnal creature myself. I prefer to go to bed early and rise early, rather than staying up late. However, at this time of year the darkness catches up with me, and by 4pm it is pitch black out there. My usual sunshine nature turns inwards, and time for reflection and contemplation kick in. But that is not all there is to the darkness that pervades my life at this time of year.The sweet relief of darkness beckons me to release into its embrace, when edges are abandoned and we are allowed to float free in space and time.
Solar festivals are definite fixed points in the wheel of the year. Shortest day and longest day, and the two days when light and dark are equal. It all seems very straightforward, until you start trying to make sense of the details or work out what you, personally, want to do in response to all of this.
When do we celebrate? Is it the dawn, or the setting sun, or the sun at the height of its power at midday? When is the midpoint of true balance at an equinox? And in practice, Pagan groups are only sometimes able to gather and celebrate the day. Normal work patterns mean that we’re more likely celebrating the nearest weekend to a solar event. At which point it’s more about celebrating the idea than an immediate experience of connecting with the occurring solar festival.
There is a cultural stereotype that Ireland is a Catholic country, harrassed by clergy and neurotically pious. The literary canon tends to reinforce this view; contemporary writers are less concerned with overturning this and getting on with fresh material. Ireland may be a majority Catholic country, but as Catholic friends from other countries point out - not as they know it! While the Catholic Church may be a social institution still, especially in rural areas, it does not hold sway spiritually anymore. (The resounding 'Yes' vote to gay marriage on 22nd May 2015 in the Republic of Ireland displayed little heed to Bishop's sermons to the contrary.) The popularity of ancient sacred sites at Summer Solstice is one piece of evidence that Ireland has never really divested itself of her pagan roots.
Remember when New Age discovered the Winter Solstice? Christmas Lite, without the baggage.
As a pagan, I grew to resent this. Not that the sunsteads—solstices—belong to us; they're a common inheritance. But don't be telling me about solstices, now. Some of us have been keeping them since, oh, the end of the last Ice Age or so, thank you very much. If not longer.
Somewhere around the third self-satisfied little sermon, I'd had enough, and started turning people into toads.