The Winter Solstice is upon us! This year the date falls on the 22nd of December, but the Winter Solsice date does vary and depending on the year might be few days earlier or later. For those who follow the Wiccan or Druid "Wheel of the Year" the festival is also named as Yule. Pagans of all varieties love participating in the festivities this time of the year, which is not surprising as the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration and contemplation in many world traditions, including many of the European traditions.
Like with other articles I have posted in this series on my Covenant of Hekate blog here, I am including an extract from the essay "A Goddess for all Seasons" by Amelia Ounsted from Hekate: Her Sacred Fires here. Amelia gave permission for it to be shared here, so if you do decide to quote from it or take inspiration from her work, please credit it to Amelia (not Sorita!).
The festival of the Winter Solstice takes place (usually) on 21st December. It marks the time of year of the shortest day and is opposite the Summer Solstice on the Wheel. At Winter Solstice we focus on the fact that this is the darkest night of the year. It is a time for internal contemplation. We might come across our own "dark night of the soul”; a time to face our inner demons, fears and doubts that dwell within depths of our unconscious. Working with these dark aspects of ourselves we can invoke a darker aspect of Hekate by looking at her Chthonic aspect. Chthonic means ‘of the earth’ (and by extension, the underworld), and the festival of Winter Solstice is also associated with the element of Earth. Chthonic deities in Greek religion were worshiped at altars close to the ground, so if you want to work with Hekate in this aspect setting up an altar on the floor (or if not practical on a low table or first shelf of a bookcase) would be appropriate. We can regard Hekate as a guardian of the unconscious, just as She guards the entrance of the underworld. She is mistress of all that lives in the hidden part of the psyche. She holds the key that unlocks the door to the way down, and She also bears the torch that illuminates both the treasures and the terrors of the underworld. One way to Her wisdom is to descend into the underworld of our unconscious. This confrontation and acceptance of the darkness is necessary for us to understand ourselves, our motivations and to confront the unconscious fears that hold us back.
Winter Solstice is also the time when we celebrate the rebirth of the Sun. The sun has been dying since he reached his peak at the summer solstice and on the darkest night we say that he has ‘died’. Yet this is not a linear path for we see that death is necessarily followed by life and renewal and darkness is followed by light. Paradoxically, the death of the sun also marks the death of the darkness. Although it may not seem so after the Winter Solstice the days get longer and we turn once more to the light. So after we have followed Hekate into the darkness and contemplated the depths of our souls we must also seek the rebirth of light and life within us. It would seem obvious in this celebration of returning light to invoke Hekate as Phosphoros, the torch bearer. Yet there is another aspect of Hekate that often gets over looked but would be very relevant to this time of year, that of Hekate Kourotrophos (‘Child's Nurse’), a title that was specifically applied to those who govern childbirth. Torches, one of Hekate’s key identifiers in art, are a common attribute of Birth-Goddesses. Hekate’s association with child birth is a later addition to her attributes (from 5th century BCE onwards) whereas Her torches are part of Her iconography from much earlier so it’s unlikely that a role in childbirth is the reason for Her torches. However, the role of Child’s Nurse is appropriate for Hekate as a Goddess of the transitions. At the liminal time of the Winter Solstice the Child of Promise (identified with the Sun) is about to be reborn, and birth is one of the major transitional points in life. So we can see Hekate as a midwife, not just of the returning sun but whose torches of purification burn away the darkness of the psyche and enable our own rebirth. "