Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice 21stJune

Despite Winter Solstice being an astrological event firmly entrenched in the realms of science, it has forever been associated with a plethora of myths and legends that tangle and entwine themselves across cultures and continents. The seasons, their role in an abundant harvest, the pull of the moon and the position of the stars were all of critical importance to ancient civilisations. We followed the stars to find our way as we traversed land and sea, we planted by the seasons, guided by the phases of the moon. Before modern science began to unravel the mysteries of the universe, we looked to the heavens with wonder, and explained the miracle of it all with tales of gods and monsters, and love and war. Winter Solstice is symbolic of those most primeval of all battles -that of good over evil, darkness over light. The rebirth of the sun.

In Greek mythology, Winter Solstice is associated with Demeter, whose grief when her daughter Persephone was abducted caused the earth to go into winter. In ancient Persia, as part of the religion known as Zoroastrianism, Persians believed the God of Light was born on Winter Solstice. In Italian folklore, Le Befena is a Goddess who rides a broomstick on the longest night, and leaves gifts for well-deserving children. There are stone monuments and temples all around the world, created thousands of years ago by lost civilisations that are said to line up perfectly with the sun during solstice such as The Temple of Karnak in Egypt, Newgrange in Ireland and, most famously, Stonehenge. At the sunset of Winter Solstice, the sun lines up to shine between two giant monoliths of Stonehenge. It is thought that the Neolithic people responsible for building the iconic structure thousands of years ago celebrated solstice around the stones with feasts and festivities. In New Zealand, you can experience a taste of Englands Pre-historic monument with Stonehenge Aotearoa, situated in the Wairarapa.

In New Zealand, Winter Solstice ties in with Matariki, the Māori New Year, when the cluster of stars known as the seven sisters (or ‘Pleiades’ in astronomical terms) become visible on the horizon at dawn. It is a time to celebrate the harvest, and food gifted by nature, such as seafood and birds. It was believed that the brighter the stars, the better the forthcoming crop. Those that have died in the year past are remembered. This star cluster has significance in other cultures as well – and forms part of the constellation of Taurus the bull. In Greek mythology, Pleiades were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. The God Zeus placed the sisters in the sky, immortalising them forever. Their appearance was said to mark the beginning of a smooth sailing season.

Whatever our beliefs, it is easy to forget how just magical our night skies are. How amazing that night after night the sun slips beyond the horizon, and the sky turns into an ever-changing, ever-shifting mass of infinite glittering beauty, all watched over by a moon that pulls our oceans and lights our skies as if by magic. If we can learn anything at all from our ancestors, it is not to lose the childlike wonder of looking up into forever in absolute awe at the miracle of it all, and to feel the connection with something bigger than us.

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© 2016 Claire Inkson. All photographs copyright Claire Inkson

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