Darkest before Dawn ~ waiting for Sun Return
In the middle of all the excitement and glitz of the approach of Christmas, I’ve noticed something. My own mood has plummeted to below the bedrock and every task seems to take ten times the effort. I’m tired and feeling generally unwell most of the time and the entreaties of others to feel the Christmas spirit is failing.
Even writing this is a huge effort. I question whether it’s worth making an effort at all to write posts any more, at this time of year. Is it worth bothering to do anything much? It took me till mid morning to have a shower and get dressed. I’ve no work on at the moment, and even if I did have, it’s as likely as not that it’d be a massive expenditure of energy to get to it each day.
I made myself walk into town, which is about two and a half miles away, and I began thinking about it as my legs swung along, and I came to a shocking thought.
Winter. It’s always been this way.
Our ancestors even a hundred years ago dreaded winter, because a poor harvest and a long winter meant that making it through was a huge achievement. The Christmases we see in art from Victorian times were usually those of the well-to-do. The poor often shivered, starved and sometimes froze to death during winter.
Go further back, to pre-industrial days, and the picture gets grimmer. The old and the very young would often not make it through a winter, and food had to be carefully rationed to try and ensure it lasted till the spring.
Further back still to our stone age ancestors and you can see that instead of being a cosy time of candles and roaring log fires, it surely must have felt endless. Monotonous food, often poorly preserved, leaky homes, sickness, freezing conditions with blizzards than might last for days made winter a time to dread.
Those memories are stored in the collective unconscious of all peoples whose ancestry is rooted in the chill of the north, and those who are sensitive to them feel them seeping through into our conscious minds as anxiety and fear and dread. In Britain and Europe, the news is packed with reports of financial institutions and governments on the brink of bankruptcy (“The grain store is overrun with rats, the apples have rotted- we’re going to starve!” whisper the ancient voices). The news is not good about the environment either (“The mammoth are gone, what will we hunt now?” say the ancient voices). The weathermen give us warnings of bad weather and high winds (“I smell snow on the wind; it will be a bad winter,” comes the voice of a lost elder)
And instead of huddling in front of our fires and telling stories, we stare at our TV screens and computers and we are alone with our fears.
I feel like I am on an inexorable downward slide and I am. So are many. I’m hoping that many of you reading are nodding and thinking, yes, that’s me. Not because I want anyone to be unhappy but because, you know, it makes me feel a tiny bit better to think I’m not alone in this.
Behind me stand the shadows of my ancestors, whispering in my genes and in my inner ear and telling me things I cannot quite hear. They’re telling me I’m going to go down still further yet.
And then it will stop.
My ancestors, the more distant ones anyway, waited at this time of year, for the midpoint, the point at which the sun will not get any lower or the days any shorter. The point at which the land stands poised and silent and waiting. And then and only then will the slow climb towards the lighter days begin again. The Solstice is not just a calender point, but is a vital, psychological and spiritual moment where we know we have reached halfway. Yes, there will be fouler weather and colder frosts and heavier snows still to come but we have reached halfway. Yes, it will be months before we feel warm again, and before we see flowers bloom once more.
But we have made it to as dark as it will ever get and from now on, little by little, the light is coming back, two minutes or so more every single day.
The Christmas Carol The Holly and The Ivy probably is as ancient a winter song as there can be, for all the Christian verses, at its core are two things that take us back to what the Solstice is: “Oh the rising of the sun and the running of the deer.” The sun comes back and the deer (to hunt, presumably) are there too. We can celebrate because of these things. We can come together and tell stories. Whether we do so in physical gatherings or via social media is not important. But what is important is that you are not alone. Our common humanity means that we have a better chance of finding understanding for what we have to share.
So, as I wait for SunReturn, I shall seek to make more light, tell more stories, bind the people of my tribe a little closer and watch the sky.