The Wheel of the Year has turned once again and we find ourselves at the Midwinter Festival of Light, one which has been celebrated in many mythologies and under many names for eons.
At this time in the Northern Hemisphere, the light of the sun is reborn and the days begin to grow longer, waxing toward spring. Very frequently midwinter is celebrated as the birthday of the Sun God; always, it marks a time of renewal. It is a time of light in the midst of darkness, warmth of spirit and heart to counter the cold of the weather and a harsh world.
In actuality, the story of the birth of the Sun God, the Divine Child of Light, has its origins in the stars of the winter sky. The hours of darkness have gradually increased since the Autumnal Equinox as the longest and darkest night of year, the Midwinter Solstice, approaches. The actual moment of Solstice marks the time when the Sun moves from the sign of Sagittarius into that of Capricorn. At midnight on Midwinter Night, the constellation of Virgo, holding her sheaf of wheat, rises in the eastern sky. And so the Virgin gives birth to the Child of Light in the very depths of the darkness. His light, the newborn sun, will rise at dawn.
The newborn Light will bring growth and abundance—and therefore, life. So it’s not surprising to find that, in the Christian tradition, the Child is born from the House of Bread—Bethlehem’s literal meaning—who is the Virgin holding the sheaf of grain. He is laid in a manger—the small glowing starry cloud of Praesaepe, or Manger/Crib, which is in the constellation of Cancer, the astrological sign of the Mother, the nurturer. He is surrounded by ox and ass— respectively, the constellation of Taurus and the star group Aselli, the Asses, in the constellation of Cancer, with one ass positioned on each side of his Manger.
Three wise men—called kings or magi—come seeking him. The stars that form the belt of Orion, which rises in the southeast on Midwinter Night, were often called the Three Kings. The Kings/Magi, who were said to be astrologers, have come because they “followed his star,” which rose in the East. Was it Sirius, brightest of the stars and associated by the Egyptians with Isis, whose light they followed? Or perhaps a special planetary conjunction that lit up the night sky in the months just before midwinter?
Angels sing to herald this birth—bending low to the earth from their homes in the high heavens. Angel means “messenger,” and stars were looked upon as messengers of the divine. The angels’ song poured forth the message of the new birth—and its accompanying flow of spiritual energies—that ushered in a new era of light, love, growth, and abundance to come. The angels sang of this new birth to shepherds in their fields; the constellation of Bootes, near Virgo, is known as the shepherd or herdsman, while the constellation of Auriga is known as the shepherd’s crook.
And so the sky tells the story of the birth of the Holy Child of Light. At Midwinter, this Light is born again, and will shine forth—bringing light, warmth, joy, and abundance to all the world.
This time of the year is a time of sharing, love, and good cheer. May you all experience these holiday delights of the spirit, which far surpass any material gifts.
© Margie McArthur, 2005-2006; All rights reserved.