Winter Solstice falls this year in New Zealand on the 22nd June at 10.51pm. The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.
Every year the Sun traces out a circular path in a west-to-east direction relative to the stars (this is in addition to the apparent daily east-to-west rotation of the celestial sphere around the Earth). The two points at which the ecliptic and the equatorial plane intersect, known as the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and the two points of the ecliptic farthest north and south from the equatorial plane, known as the summer and winter solstices, divide the ecliptic into four equal parts. These cycles were familiar to Greek astronomers, but it wasn’t until Hipparchus that a method of using the observed dates of two equinoxes and a solstice to calculate the size and direction of the displacement of the Sun’s orbit was established. Hipparchus (190BC – 120BC) was a Greek Astronomer and Mathematician.
No one is really sure when the first festival or ritual celebration for this time of the year occurred. But we do know that it has long been recognized and honoured in some of the world’s most famous monuments and by many cultures.
• The New Grange burial mound in Ireland’s County Meath is surrounded by megalithic stones set in what archaeologists believe to be astronomical position to the Winter Solstice. The Stone Age monument dates to around 3200 B.C., making it 500 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and a thousand years older than England’s Stonehenge.
• Stonehenge megalithic stone circle in Wiltshire, England has long been associated with the solstice and equinox cycles. Once again, there is evidence of ancient people recognizing these times of the year not just from an astronomical perspective, but in terms of spiritual reverence as well.
To the Welsh pagans, the winter solstice was seen as the time when the young Oak King and the old Holly King battle for supremacy, just as they do at the midsummer festival where the Holly King wins the campaign. The Holly King reigns until the start of winter (the beginning of Yule) when the Oak King is reborn and prepares to battle the Holly King for rule over the land once more. The lyrics for the Christmas carol “The Holly and The Ivy” are all about this ancient belief.
Yule is deeply rooted in the cycle of the year, it is the seed time of year, the longest night and the shortest day, where the “Goddess” once again becomes the “Great Mother” and gives birth to the new Sun King. In a poetic sense it is on this the longest night of the winter, ‘the dark night of our souls’, that there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World.
To the Maori the winter solstice period signifies the reappearance of the Pleiades. This period is called Matariki (little eyes or eyes of god) after the Maori name for the constellation Pleiades which reappears in the tail of the Milky Way during the waning moon of June and signifies the turn of the season. Matariki is the food provider, and brings reason to celebrate, feast and dance. Interestingly enough the same re-appearance of the Pleiades was celebrated by the Greeks at winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.
These various seasonal gatherings help to carry us through the dark time of the year. In this darkness there’s a melancholy that can be overwhelming without the promise of a new beginning. It’s normal to feel that tinge of sorrow at life’s endings, here at the dying of the year. Many cultures celebrate with parties and holiday gatherings to remind us that we’re all in it together. We long for a sense of belonging, being part of a tribe, feeling that deep bond of family.
In Taoist and Qigong traditions the body is seen to mirror all cosmic events. This observation refers to the microcosmic (internal) and macrocosmic (external cycles). The internal cycle refers to the flow of energy along the Functional and Governor meridians. Along these meridians there are energy centres which are in accord to acupuncture points and in some traditional views these points also relate to the orbit of the sun around the earth, with the 2 solstice and 2 equinox points relating to important functions of the body.
The winter solstice relates directly to the Ming-men point (GO 4) on the Governor channel, this point is also called “The Door of Life” and it is situated between the L2 and L3 vertebrae. It is the mid-point of the kidneys and it is where the kidney point is concentrated. The left kidney is Yin representing the winter and the right kidney is Yang representing summer with Ming-men being the balance between the two. The Ming-men is the harmony point containing Yin power. Energetically as the chi flows out from the left kidney towards the right it passes through the Ming-men. This movement is equated to the winter solstice and as it flows out to the right kidney it signifies the first spark of light that marks the beginning of spring.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine this spark of chi or light rises to feed the spirit which resides in the heart, giving it life and helping to ground the soul’s purpose in this life.