Tonight will mark the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, here in the north. Many different indigenous traditions observe this night as a sacred night and a holy time. This was an important holiday for folks living in Northern Europe because the winter was long, dark, and cold and the lengthening nights of darkness seemed to be endless. So traditions developed around the winter solstice, including practices around healing that was the most potent this time of year and beliefs that certain rituals were necessary to call the life back to earth. Ancient Celts, believed that on this night the great Goddess labored all night to give birth to the Sun God. They believed that staying up all night on the winter solstice and honoring this labor was a key to ensure the return of the sun and that their people made it through the winter.
So what does this mean for a modern earth lover living in California in 2013? Most of us don’t have to worry about perishing in the winter out here and we can grow food all year long here in the bay area. Does this lore and these traditions make any sense in this context? I believe they do. The winter solstice is a powerful time when the energies of the earth and stars align to take us deep within. The energy of winter is the energy of turning inward. Many of the plants, even here in the bay, have drawn their energy back down into their roots and into the earth. The night of the solstice is a night of transformation. It is the time when we dive the deepest into the darkness and emerge again towards the light.
One of my favorite things to do on the solstice is make medicine. Since the energy of this night is to go deep into the places that are hidden or kept out of the light, I like to make medicine that has this energy about it already on this night. One plant that I will likely make into medicine tonight will be Comfrey. I like this plant a lot for diving into the depths of the shadows. Comfrey helps us to illuminate that which we keep hidden from ourselves or others. Comfrey holds you gently and can support you to break through the fear that is in the way of knowing and loving yourself. This plant can also help for folks who are afraid of being consumed by their sadness and grief. Comfrey allows us to move towards our sadness and grief and open up to moving these emotions through.
You might think about making a tea of Comfrey tonight and sitting and meditating on with this plant and the energy of the longest night of the year. Are there elements of your shadow that you can open to seeing tonight? If you are gathering in community, you might try drinking Comfrey tea together to dive deeper into the energy of the night.
If a plant to dive into the darkness seems like a bit much right now, you might consider working with a plant that is connected with the summer solstice. Chamomile is a lovely plant that you might already have in your cabinet. Chamomile is a very sunny plant that helps us connect with the sun’s abundant light. On the darkest night of the year, you might try sitting and meditating with Chamomile and connecting with the abundant light of the sun in the midst of darkness. What is it like to connect with lightness and sunshine during the darkest time of the year? Does Chamomile have wisdom to offer you about how to connect with light when you are overwhelmed by darkness?
The last plant I’m going to mention is one that most certainly is somewhere around you right now. Mistletoe. I love this plant, and not just because I love kisses. Mistletoe has been used magically for generations. It’s most well known as a protective plant and as a fertility herb. First off, I want to say that this plant is often poisonous so please don’t ingest it. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which means that it lives off of other plants and can not grow in soil. One of the plants that it grows on is the revered Oak tree and so ancient Druids believed this indicated the plant’s holiness and had very specific rituals for harvesting Mistletoe. It’s a potent plant for protection and some folks think that it’s protective qualities are the reason that the tradition of working with Mistletoe around the Solstice has carried over to Christmas. If you are thinking of exploring Mistletoe’s medicine, I don’t suggest consuming it in any way. Explore the medicine of this plant through placing some on your altar or holding a piece of it close to your body and meditating with the spirit of the plant.
What medicine does it make sense for you to make tonight? What plants are calling to you as the mother labors for the longest night of the year? What are the plants that remind you of your connection with light in times of darkness? What is the wisdom lying deep within your darkness that yearns to be seen on this winter solstice?