Here in the great white north, we've entered the Rauhnächte; the darkest nights of the year. In addition to the holiday references, I’ve always found the heart of winter to be a magical time. However, days filled with darkness can weigh heavy on some - perhaps this is why so many winter festivals focus on light.
Long before the first Noel, northern cultures lit bonfires during the winter solstice. Diwali and Hanukkah are festivals of light. The joy of Kwanzaa is celebrated with candles, the Persian festival of Yalda is dedicated to Mithra, the goddess of light and across Europe Frau Holle,
the Dark Grandmother, flies across the skies in her heavenly sleigh before becoming the Weisse Frau or White Lady, associated with rebirth and often represented by a star at Epiphany. Lighting up the darkness is a long practiced human past-time … but is so much light a good thing?
Electricity allows us to work late into the night. Evenings are illuminated by televisions and smart phones. Burning the candle at both ends has created a malaise of burn out, even in our children, keeping us out-of-balance with the rhythms of nature.
The cadence of winter is meant to slow us down, inviting rest and incubation in a womb of darkness. Another name for the winter solstice is the hibernal solstice. Do you see the clue? Deep winter tells us to hibernate; to settle in to the healing stillness we carry within; a metamorphosis that actualizes naturally in the dark. In darkness plants germinate, wounds heal, brains solve problems, and hearts transform grief into compassion.
In his book Anam Cara, John O’Donohue writes, “The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”
So this winter, after your celebrations of light, when darkness falls - turn inward. Savour the deep, nourishing stillness that waits to be found within the darkest nights of the year.