Winter Solstice begins around the 21st/22nd December for all of us who occupy the Northern hemisphere.
The term “solstice” means ‘sun stands still’, derived from the Latin word for sun “sol” and “sistere” meaning “to cause to stands still” which describes what the Ancients would have seen from an earthly gaze.
Standing as stargazers, staring into a cosmic abyss, the sun, the visual representation of life’s source and the conscious search for enlightenment, would have begun its descent at the start of the autumn equinox.
Autumn equinox marks the time where sun positions itself lower in the sky each day, hugging that little bit closer to the horizon, leaving us with shorter days and of course longer nights. Winter solstice marks the climax of this descent where the sun is seen at its very lowest point and appears to stay there for approximately three days. After this the days begins to lengthen.
Winter solstice has had significant spiritual meaning for many cultures over the world.
Predominantly it is associated with the rebirth of the sun and with it, light, life, hope and enlightenment. The ancient Greeks celebrated Saturnalia ( a questionable ritual!) in honour of Saturn who is the ruler of the sign Capricorn, under which winter solstice begins...
But What Does This all Actually Mean……?! Astrologically, the sun is representative of our core self, our soul, spirit and divine spark. The sun is the main player in our life story, it is the star of our show, and this may explain why veneration of the sun has been proliferous throughout the ages. The journey of the sun through the zodiac gives us our seasons, and as it meets the solstices and equinoxes we are given an external illustration of our internal souls’ growth in spirituality and its journey towards enlightenment. But no-one said this is an easy journey!
In order for us to experience this enlightenment there has to be some darkness, for all light comes from the darkness and hence why winter solstice is also known to some as ‘The dark night of the Soul’ where the veil between the earthly and celestial realms is thin. Maybe this explains why many people feel low in mood during this time, as we are called to journey inwards, acknowledge our darker or shadow side that it may be transformed as we fill it with the returning light of the world. This is a time to ‘know thyself’, be reflective and take stock of what this year has brought us and what we have done with it, so that we can make plans for the future. This is a very Capricornian trait, as structuring, building, climbing, and laying down foundations is a key feature of this constellations energy. Symbolically, at this time we are celebrating the rebirth of our soul after the initial descent to the deeper, darker side of us. The perfect story to illustrate this is ‘The Descent of Inanna’ Queen of Heaven and Earth to the underworld. How I wish I could break this story down, maybe in another article but, I would encourage anyone seeking to reconnect with their own personal ‘All’ to research the mythology. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven and Earth (known as Ishtar in Babylonian text) but she has no knowledge of the “Great Below”. Her 'ear' becomes open to it, and she is compelled to journey to the Underworld the realm of Ereshkigal her sister. The poem begins:
“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below” “From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below” “From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below”
In Sumerian the word for ‘ear’ is the same as the word for ‘wisdom’. Which suggests the motivation for her journey was to seek the wisdom that she lacked, or maybe even feared! It’s unclear why Inanna ventured to the place from which no-one returns, and of course there are many interpretations available. Inanna gives few reasons in the text except that she has gone to witness the funeral rites of her sister’s husband, the Great Bull of Heaven (even though she played her role in his death!). Inanna was a shrewd deity, and on her ear being open to the Great Below, it could be, that she became aware of knowledge and more so power that she didn’t possess, one that called to her? It wouldn’t be surprising if her descent was another covert operation for acquisition of divinity as she had already used wit, cunning and trickery to obtain the divine powers she already had, from gods more powerful than herself. Her powers were not her own, for when she meet with Enki that great all-knowing god of wisdom, he instructed his servant to treat her like an equal, before she gets him drunk and charms of divine ‘me’ among other gifts. Maybe she is going in search of what is hers, her own innate power, to reunite with her other half, the darkness with the light, that she may be transformed; only she does not know what awaits her!
The power of the dark goddess!!! In preparation for this journey she must give up her earthly power & status, leaving behind seven kingdoms, seven temples and many riches, Inanna gathers together the seven ‘me’ or divine powers and adorns herself. A crown, lapis lazuli beads around her neck, double strand of beads at her breast, a golden breast plate, gold ring, a Lapis measuring rod and line and a royal robe. Very elaborate attire for someone going to a funeral don’t you think! Before setting out, she instructs her sukkal (the closest aid to a deity, counsellor) Ninshubur, to go to the gods if she had not returned after 3 days. This is the three days in which the sun appears to stand still during winter solstice. As she reaches the threshold of the underworld she demands that the gatekeeper, Neti let her in. In the version where she is Ishtar she threatens to break down door so that the dead may outnumber the living!!! Neti goes to inform Ereshkigal, the goddess of darkness. Ereshkigal is Queen of the underworld, a dark, dreary place. Having no loving family or a companion she was given the underworld, unlike her siblings who chose their realms. In some version she was carried off by a dragon and throned Queen. Ereshkigal is feared for she is all-powerful, representing the darker side of our soul, often the most powerful and dangerous part of us that we call on in hard or traumatic times. She is the neglected side of Inanna and the side we forget to nurture, but she holds the knowledge of life, death, rebirth and transformation from the physical to the spiritual. Ereshkigal is the initiator!
Ereshkigal became enraged on hearing of Inannas brazen arrival, for much of her light and glory have been to some extent at the expense of her sister. Maybe suspicious of her intentions, I mean who arrives for a funeral dressed in all their slender?! She instructs Neti to close all gates and let Inanna come in one at a time, and remove an item of her “royal garments”. At each gate Inanna is stripped of her seven me which represent her chakras. She protests, but is told:
“Quiet Inanna, the ways of the underworld are perfect. They may not be questioned.” Inanna enters the underworld naked and bowed down low. As Ereshkigal rises off her throne Inanna starts towards it, hardly the actions of someone who has come to pay their respects to the dead, or comfort her sister! The judges of the underworld The Annuna or Anunnaki surround Inanna and pass judgement against her.
Then; “Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death. She spoke against her the word of wrath. She uttered against her the cry of guilt.”
Inanna, the Queen of Heaven & Earth was struck down dead! Turned into a corpse and hung from the hook on a wall. Three days and nights passed and Inanna had not returned so, as instructed Ninshubur set up lament for her, tore at her eyes and her mouth and went to the gods: Enlil, Nanna and Enki. The first two (her grandfather and father) refused to help, in short, they say she got what she deserved. Her grandfather (mother’s side) Enki is moved by her descent he is troubled and grieved and from the dirt under his fingernails he created the kurgarra and the galatur, creatures which had no gender, to whom he gave the water and food of life to revive Inanna.
Enki instructed the creatures: “Go to the underworld Enter the door like flies Ereshkigal, the Queen of the underworld, is moaning With the cries of a woman about to give birth” It then goes on: When she cries, Oh! My inside Cry also ‘Oh My insides When she cries Oh! My outsides Cry also ‘Oh! My outsides The queen will be pleased The creatures heeded his words, bestowed with the gifts of empathy; they descended to the underworld where they found Ereshkigal naked, crying and wailing in pain.
She cried for her insides and outsides, for even though she had instigated Inannas’ death she could not bear it because ultimately, she had slain a part of herself. The kurgarra and the galatur echoed Ereshkigal’s cries and this comforted her, pacifying her pain, it was her first encounter with compassion and she is touched. Wanting to extend her gratitude, she offers the creatures the water and food of life but they refuse only accepting Inannas’ corpse as instructed. Ereshkigal releases her anguish in the form of Inanna, and she is revived by the creatures. From the darkness Inanna is re-born! Winter solstice is a time of celebration, the birth of the physical sun is symbolic of our own spiritual re-birth into consciousness. Often we associate darkness with something bad or evil, but ultimately everything in this earthly realm exist in a state of duality and that includes ourselves and our nature. There is no knowledge of good without bad, no up without down, no love without hate, passion without pain and there is no light without darkness, for darkness gives birth to light, it holds the power of transformation. Hermetic philosophy embodies the maxim “As Above, so Below” to describe the duality of all things. The darkness we are ascending from at this time of year is a representation of the subconscious. In spiritual transformation, light (consciousness) is extracted from the darkness (subconscious). Once awakened the light continues to grow, we have begun the process of “pushing the veil” and there is no return from this! We will continue to push this veil because the need to do so comes’ from the depths of our soul, our soul wishes to know truth and to become enlightened. When the light (consciousness/Inanna) is extracted or re-born from the darkness (subconscious/Ereshkigal) it contains the knowledge and power of light, but also the knowledge darkness. This has been referred to as the knowledge of ‘good and evil’. Although it should be noted, that the concepts of good and evil are relative. One man’s terrorist and all that jazz!!!
The story of Inanna’s Descent is about her journey to reconnect with her subconscious, her other half in the form of Ereshkigal her sister. Ereshkigal has had to endure a lifetime of suffering, isolation & rejection on behalf of Inanna, and enraged by the Queen of Light, who has been oblivious to this she kills her. This is the same as what we experience in our lives, often we push to the back burner the pain and suffering we experience and it exists in our subconscious in the dark aspect in our nature. When I first heard this I was reluctant to agree, I mean who wants to admit that they have a dark side?! But if we reflect to time where we have had to live through trauma, loss or depression we see that there is no other way but up, ascension becomes our only route. That tiny aspect of light becomes strong and once it fills us, often we do all that is necessary to not feel that dark cloud again. Life exists in cycles, we cannot avoid it, and when we can acknowledge this we are ultimately connecting with and honouring our own power of transformation, how would know to pull ourselves up if we had never been down!? The path of sun through the solstices and equinoxes reminds us of this, how beautiful is it that the cosmos has written our spiritual journey in the physical? Inanna/Ereshkigal shows the importance of possessing all sides of ourselves, even the dark goddess and yes, we all have one! It illustrates the path of the sun or light and its spiritual growth and initiation into enlightenment. Within all of us lies a dormant spiritual potential which are not born aware of. We remain asleep to the true essence of all existence including our own. But we all have the potential to awaken our spiritual selves. Winter solstice is a time to reflect on ourselves and strip away all that is unnecessary and that prevents this growth. The divinity which created our universe also exists within us. The divine saviour (Jesus, Mithras, Horus) we see born into the world during the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year is also born within us.
We are the beauty in the darkness.