Winter Solstice

Within the forest we now stand

Cathedral of the living land

Honouring the sun’s rebirth

Among these sentinels of earth

Linked by roots and branches high

Deepest earth to darkest sky

Standing tall with quiet ease

We find our peace among the trees

Acknowledging the ancient dead

Upon whose land we now do tread

Keepers of this timeless place

Guardians of this sacred space

Witness to our solstice rite

On midwinter’s longest night

Gathered in our circle bright

To birth our vision with the light

Joined in purpose, hand and heart

Of this moment we are part

Spirit moving from within

A bright new phase does now begin

-          Jowen, Winter 2009


Solstice means ‘Sun Stand Still’: here in the Southern Hemisphere, the sun arrives at its most northerly rising point and appears to stay there awhile.  The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night; the sun rising later and setting earlier, as it tracks a lower course through the sky.  Just as the brightness of the long summer days draws us into the everyday world, so the darkness of the long winter nights draws us into the world of our dreams.  The longest night provides a time to focus on the powers that incubate in the darkness such as insight.  Without the distraction of the brilliant external light of summer, we can discover the richness of the deeper layers within us, wherein our magnificent internal light and creative forces abide.

Thus our Winter Solstice Ceremony firstly acknowledges the dark.   We each stand patiently in the darkness clutching our unlit candles in cold hands, waiting for the light to return to us.  Following on from the time of Samhuin, we may say words such as “Let the darkness be felt with our mind and our hearts.  For it is only out of darkness that the light can arise; only when we have mourned the passing of the old that rebirth can occur.  We know well that there will be a new dawn tomorrow, after this the longest of nights, yet often we forget this simple truth in our lives.  When we let go of our longing for the past, we are free to nurture the small still light of hope for our future.”

The bearer of the light into our silent circle is the Mabon, representing the ‘wise child’ within each of us.  The Mabon arises from the union between the individual Ego/spirit and the cosmic/eternal Soul.  The Mabon is thus the enlightened part of our Self, and the Hope of the World, and speaks words such as: “My gift is the gentle flame of hope that every new life brings to this world.”  From a single tiny flame, the Mabon lights everyone else’s candle.  This carries may meanings, including that from One Source of Life, Light and Love, all of us are kindled.

As well as the light, the Mabon also bears the mistletoe into the ceremonial circle with words such as “Take in token the seed of the Golden Bough, sown on the Oak of Eternity”.  Such words convey the mystical significance of the mistletoe, and if Pliny the Elder is to be trusted, this has been understood for ages.  Apparently mistletoe evolved from a vine-like root-parasite anchored in the earth.  Over a long period of time it would become connected to tree stems and eventually loose its contact with the ground altogether.  Ever so gradually, it became an aerial parasite.  Subsequent adaptations involved changes in the structure of its fruit, making bird dispersal more reliable.  Amazingly this process happened independently at least eight times.  Actually mistletoe is only a partial parasite because the majority of the species have green leaves and carry out photosynthesis normally.  Host-parasite resemblance also appears to have been established independently many times over.  It is a feature of mistletoe more common in Australia than any other part of the world.

There are over eighty species of indigenous Australian mistletoe.  They exist in all ecosystems where there are trees.  The most common host genera are Eucalyptus, Acacia, Melaleuca, and Casuarina/Allocasuarina.  The resemblance between host and parasite can be so exact that unless the mistletoe is flowering or fruiting, you won’t spot the difference.  The most remarkable example is the needle-leaf mistletoe (Amyema cambagei) found mostly on ‘river oak’ and ‘forest oak’ (Casuarina cunninghamiana and Allocasuarina torulosa respectively).  Honeyeater birds love this mistletoe and readily carry its seed.  This is our best match with the European mistletoe and oak symbolism, and what a fine match it is, extending the meanings traditionally given to it.

It’s not too hard to see how these scientific facts can be translated into something meaningful to the spiritual aspirant.  As an evolutionary marvel, mistletoe represents the potential of the evolutionary forces of life on Earth.  It demonstrates, in a real way, that it is possible to evolve from an earth-bound existence.  Many birds and some native animals now benefit from the highly nutritious mistletoe; in fact many prefer it to the host.  Its dense leafy clumps make ideal nesting sites for several bird species, protecting them from predators and harsh weather.  Mistletoe is a part of a healthy eco-system which is mutually beneficial.

Mystically speaking it could be said that the Light, the Mabon, and the Mistletoe are one, and that they form a sacred trinity, the physical counterpart of which is the host tree, the mistletoe that evolved so that it could grow on it and become like it, and the bird that carries the seed.  It is right and fitting to speak in a mystical way at this time of year for this is the dark time, when we look within and find the Light, Mabon, and Mistletoe within us.

When the Mabon gives you some mistletoe at the Winter Solstice Ceremony, you can think about these things and what they mean to you personally.  You might like to place it on your altar alongside the candle that the Mabon lit for you, as symbols of your own evolutionary potential.  You could add a piece of evergreen wood such as She Oak to represent the Tree of Life and your ability to navigate it.  With your evolutionary potential in mind, you could set a sacred intent in the form of your next step spiritually.  This is different to your Summer Solstice Dedication in which you state what your contribution to the world at large will be in the year ahead.  At Winter Solstice the light is focused inwardly and it’s more about your spiritual intent.  In dialogue with your Higher-Self, or Potential-Self, you can decide on a personal goal for the year ahead.  Ideally this will overlap with your Summer Dedication and prove to be of mutual benefit.  Just as the mistletoe may have once harboured the dream of raising itself higher and thus becoming a source of sustenance and protection for other life forms, so can we.

–          Elkie

In a Quiet Place

Branch on high

Root delve deep

I touch living bark

The ground is smoke

And I can will myself down


I’m here

In darkness

In quiet absolution

In endless confines

Under the Troubled lands


All around me are forms

Bright and fast

Slow and sullen

Charged with the business of this realm

Which is languid but never still


Dreams rush to and fro

Like wayward children

Seeking those in need

Of confusion or clarity

The fingertips of understanding


Some are here in exhaustion

They are the Trevails

Quietly playing cards

While the Sorrows wrap

Their dark thoughts around them

Like dirty cotton wool


Some sit impatiently

Waiting to leave

They are the Ideas

Resenting confinement in this inert land

Some climb upon the backs of Dreams

And vanish the exits like escaped convicts


Some are always here

Waiting for the Light

That never ventures so deep

These are the Fear

And they murmur to themselves

And avoid all others


Others hold together

To all intents one unit

They are the Love

And when they pass by

I remember a sweetness on my lips

And a delicious aching in my thighs


But I’m here to rest

Accepting all that walks into my realm

To float sublimely


To be nothingness for a while

And ignore cold and old and mould

For there’s nothing material

To tie them to


And to sit with Blessed Forgetfulness for a while

Until the Sun reborn

Rings the bells in these halls

And we move forward

Letting go death for birth again

Fading dark for fledgling light

Closed eye for climbing hand

Cause we go ‘round and ‘round

And ‘round

But never in circles


-Dorenford, Winter 2005