Finally after weeks of gathering darkness, the turning point has arrived. For millennia humans have honoured this pivotal event and even constructed monumental architecture, such as the passage tombs at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley and Abu Simbel in Egypt, to celebrate the first rays of the returning sun at the Winter Solstice. And just as in Nature the sun is reborn at the Solstice, so it is in mythology around the world that the Virgin gives birth to a sacred son. Mithra was born in a cave of a Virgin in Persia: in Welsh tradition, Rhiannon gave birth to Pryderi; in Egypt, Isis to Horus and in Christian tradition, Mary to Jesus. In Ancient Greece, the festival of the Wild Women was held at Winter Solstice, when the death and rebirth of the harvest god Dionysus was dramatised
Inevitably, according to cosmic law, rebirth must be accompanied by sacrifice, or the offering of a sacred gift. This balancing of the cosmic scales has often been depicted in myth and legend by the usurping of the father by the son: the old king, Saturn, or Father Time, is overthrown by the new king Jupiter/Zeus, ruler of the ages. Going back further still, Saturn also overthrew his father, Uranus, first a revolutionary then a despot who banished his children to the Underworld. So Saturn conspired with his mother Gaia against his father, castrating him and taking over the governance of the world, an event celebrated at the Winter Solstice in Rome through a week-long celebration called the Saturnalia
In cosmic terms, it is the dance of opposition and conjunctions between the outer visible planets that mirrored above what was going on below, and the most auspicious of these were the great conjunctions between Saturn (ruler of time) and Jupiter (ruler of the ages). Many researchers have pointed out that there was such a conjunction in 7 BCE, and this could have been the famed Star of Bethlehem followed by the wise men to the cave in where Jesus lay.
Our own century was also ushered in with such a great conjunction in May 2000. Nine years later, in 2009, Saturn and Uranus then made a series of powerful oppositions symbolising the clash of visionary idealism and the crystallisation of visions into solid structures and forms. This was followed by the Jupiter and Uranus triple conjunctions of 2010 – 2011, continuing to bring about change and awakening new levels of political, psychological and spiritual awareness. Now in 2020 a year-long dance of the outer planets with Pluto (in Capricorn), energised by fiery Mars in its own sign of Aries, culminates at the Winter Solstice with a line up and grand conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius. And that’s not all. Great conjunctions between the rulers of time and the ages occurs roughly every 20 years, staying in one element for a period of around 200, before moving to the next. This year the Great Mutation will occur in air, the ruler of ideas, collective awareness, and all things Internet-based. So, this Winter Solstice, we have a Great Transformation, a Great Mutation and a Great Conjunction all in the first degree of Aquarius!
Bridging the cosmic and the terrestrial is the symbolic World Tree, the axis mundi that links the three worlds. And houses throughout the land currently have their very own evergreen World Tree, complete with a twinkling star on top. Myths describing this ancient symbol stretches across all ages and cultures, but the Norse version is one of the most beautiful and evocative of them all. Here it is Yggdrasil, the sacred ash, that holds the nine realms of the cosmos within its branches and roots. Each of its three roots ends in different worlds where they draw water form different sources, or well, and the dragon Nidhogg continuously gnaws upon them. A stag feasts on the branches, and from his horns flow the waters that feed all the rivers and wells flow. Three Norns protect and tend to the World Tree, caving magic runes into its trunk and weaving a loom that represents time itself. Every morning the leaves of Yggdrasil form a sweet glimmering dew, our memory of yesterday, and it is the sacred duty of one of the Norns to collect the dew and pour it into her well, the Well of Memory, for it is written that if the past is disregarded the roots will dry up. In the centre of her well are two sacred swans, continually creating love, and there are also said to be serpents. Another Norn presides over the flowers that are fed by the sacred waters, and the third assists the flowers to reach out to the future.
So it is by tending the wisdom and experience of the past that we build the foundations for a rich and soulful future. As the wheel of the year turns this Winter Solstice under a great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter (Star of Bethlehem?) heralding in the Age of Aquarius, this beautiful myth shows us how to collect the sweet glimmering due of the past in order to weave a glorious and joyful future for all of the nine worlds of which we are just one part. And one, which the prophets foretold, will bring peace and good will to all men and women.
Image Credit: the Norns tending the World Tree by Ratatoska.