A Winter Solstice shot by Jim Johnson from the plains near Hecla, South Dakota
Winter Solstice began at 12:08 AM this morning
While doing some reading and meditating late last night, I came across something new to me. Solstice comes from the word solstitial, to stand still in Latin. This explains a phenomena I noticed in the day and night lengths on the calendar for the next 5 to 6 days, that is, they remain about the same; the sun seems to stand still, to pause at it’s northern apogee, then slowly begin to slide more toward the south, granting a slighter longer slice of daylight with each arc of change.
In the same reading I also discovered that the Zuni and the Hopi both have men whose duty is to mark the reemergence of the sun. The Zuni man does it with a low, deep moan. When I read this, it gave me a chill. Imagine a situation where the sun begins to hide longer and longer each day; the days and nights grow colder and the plants are long dead. The only food comes from stores and animals caught in the hunt, but they are leaner too for their food sources have diminished. The longer dark brings families together around fires, the smoke spiraling toward heaven emphasizes the blackness outside; the fear the sun may never return. A priest who knows the heavens climbs to the peak of a village structure or a sits on a mesa one night late in this season. Based on faith and knowledge, his familar voice fills the air, a wailing that recognizes the grief in your fear, yet its persistence, its calm creates hope within you. You know he has seen, in his spirit life, the promise of the sun to rise and rise and rise, bringing again the warm days. What a moment.
Last night I also realized that this is my holinight, not a holiday, or even a holiseason, but a particular night, a special night, a night filled with holy wonder. As John Matthews said in his book, The Winter Solstice, the quiet of Christmas, that moment in the dawn when commercial activity has ceased, children shiver eagerly in their beds and no one moves, is the later adaptation of the Christian community to the stillness of this Solstice night. It is a calm we need all year, one we can drink in with our senses in these 6 nights while the sun stands still.