Celebrating the Winter Solstice yesterday came as a timely antidote to all the travel and excitement of being in London the previous day. Nothing could possibly be more different from the hustle, bustle, noise and frenetic movement of several million people crammed into a relatively small space. The deserted mountains of Snowdonia thickly cloaked in swirling blankets of grey cloud lay like moody sleeping giants around us. Occasionally the lowering skies wept gentle showers of rain. Everything lay damp… and very still… and very quiet.
Carrying baskets of torches and candles, firewood and goodies, we walked deeper into the woods which now cover the deep scars of what was once one of the biggest slate quarries in North Wales. We headed for our usual spot amongst the birch, willow and oak trees and here we lit our Midwinter fire and our coloured lanterns to hang among the trees.
We came to reminisce about the year just passing; to set out intentions for the coming cycle of seasons; to sing our old, beloved carols and songs; to give great thanks to the Earth and to acknowledge this time of greatest darkness upon our land with the happy prospect of the ‘rebirth’ of the Sun – light, warmth and life -once more upon Christmas morning. Sweet, buttery Solstice biscuits were shared and the drinking horn of scalding hot fruit juice, (spiced with warming ginger and fragrant cinnamon) went around and around our circle as it was passed from hand to hand and lip to lip.
It was a time of deep peace and reflection as we bore witness to the dying of the daylight and entered this darkest time of the whole year, when for three days the Sun appears to ‘stand still’, which is what the word Solstice actually means. It is only on the fourth morning after the Winter Solstice that the period of daylight is measurably longer again by just over one minute. This is the pivotal point of the winter and the year, when the balance tips once more towards the months of spring and summer and the warmth and light.
The woods darkened… the rain pattered… the bright hungry flames of our little fire crackled and danced… across the lake a solitary owl hooted… the last vestiges of daylight ebbed away and darkness fell like a protective cloak. It was time to retrace our steps and go home to where a hearty casserole was merrily bubbling in my Aga oven – all rich brown gravy and succulent vegetables – and the softer lights of candles and coloured fairy lights illuminated the cosy comfort of our hearth.
As I turned to take one last look at the clearing in the trees and the glow of our dying fire, I could have sworn that I saw shadows move towards it and gather where we had so recently stood… time to leave the natural world and its wild elemental energies to its own devices!