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Winter Solstice 2010 – Cernunnos

December 19, 2010

Winter Solstice Gateway

This year the Winter Solstice approaches not with Fairies riding downy flakes to perch on fir trees and holly bushes. This year the turning of the year comes creeping through fog, wrapping trees, deer, and time itself in a muffled blanket. The silence is so dense I can’t hear my footsteps and I understand what it is like to be lost in the universe.

I walk through the alien, gray landscape searching for the place I have in mind for building the Yule fire tonight. I want to lay the stones for the fire ring and get the wood in place while there is still daylight but in this fog, the path I seek eludes me. A holly bush peeks pointed leaves towards me, crimson berries offering a moment of colored relief, and I pause to pay homage to the Holly King whose reign is about to end.

Perhaps it’s my momentary honoring of the Holly King’s presence. Maybe, by stopping to acknowledge the cycles of life, I’ve brought myself in harmony with the shifting energies around me and found my way into the Wildwood. In any case, the fog thins for a moment and the pathway is clear before me. The clearing I seek is just ahead. As I approach, I feel a presence and take my eyes off the path.

He stands in the swirling mists, an ethereal vision, antlers reaching for the sky as his ears turn toward me and his muscles tense, ready to flee. I know this stag and he knows me, so I greet him, my voice soft as the fog, hoping he will recognize me and know there is no danger. I named him “Cedar” a few years ago because he rubs the moss off his new antlers in the summer on a cedar tree. Although he has come many times to eat grain from the bowls I put out for his clan, today, as he stands proudly in the mist, he is not “Cedar.” I have come face to face with Cernunnos, Lord of the Wildwood and Guardian of the portal to the Otherworld.

Cernunnos is the great symbol of life feeding life. As the stag, he is the hunted; as Lord of the Forest, he leads the hunt. He is born at the Winter Solstice, appears in Spring as the budding young son of the Goddess, then becomes her consort in the warmth of summer, as life explodes everywhere around them. He gives his vibrant life to the Earth and leads the Autumnal journey to the Underworld and returns to the Earth from which he was born. Seeds of light released from his decaying body quicken Earth Mother’s womb with a new Sun once again and he is reborn at the Winter Solstice. As the sun stands still at its furthest point from us in the Northern Hemisphere and begins its return, Cernunnos emerges from his travels underground, signaling the continuation of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

I am honored with his presence for only a moment; he mists thicken and obscure my view and when I can see again, the stag has melted into the forest. This has been a foreshadowing – the seeds that will sprout into new life still slumber deep in the ground and it will be months before their green hearts emerge into the light. But the stag’s spirit now wanders the woods again and I know, because I trust the cycles of nature, that where the stag’s hoofs walk, the green will return.

Whether we mythologize this turning of the Wheel as the emergence of Cernunnos from the Underworld, the victory of the Oak King over the Holly King, or the birth of a Savior, the message is the same. We are buried in the depths of darkness and our spirits yearn for the spark of light. We have been pulled inward as far as we can go and, although quiet contemplation is still called for through the storms of January, we now have hope. The light will return, seeds will emerge from the ground, trees will sprout new leaves, and a new stag will be born.

None of that is here yet. On this shortest day, longest night of the year, we have only a foreshadowing, like the stag materializing from the mists – and the warm life inside us – to cling to. But it is enough, as it has been since humans first wandered from their warm, equatorial eden to the fluctuating climates of the North. So we share the warmth of a smile, adorn our homes with light, reach into our stored harvest to create a feast. Most important of all, we reach for each other. For mere mortals, survival in the dark and the cold is impossible alone. The stag may be a solitary wanderer through the woods but as I follow the path home, I find the rest of the herd gathered in the meadow, busily grazing – together.

Bright Blessings to you and yours. And keep it lit.

–Bridget Wolfe

The Winter Solstice this year coincides with a full moon AND a lunar eclipse, visible everywhere in North America (assuming the sky is clear). Eclipse begins at 1:33 EST (10:33 PST), Dec. 21, 2010.

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