We have just returned from a few days in North Cornwall. The dramatic slate coast of Tintagel, Boscastle and the surrounding area have drawn us back many times, particularly at the winter solstice, when the sun is low and its light pale. There is a beauty in the winter starkness of the North Cornish coast that opens me at a deep level, despite the contracting cold and darkness of the season. I feel a kinship with its jagged edges; its yielding to the elements; the constant presence of the ocean. It’s a landscape that feels very old, toughened and strengthened by the constant onslaught of the Atlantic, sculpted by its moods and movement. The wildness of this place is a sanctuary; the intensity of Cornish light stripping away pretence; the beauty of the land eroding the defences we might construct in order to lessen the impact of our feelings. Here, clarity comes, and in its wake peace or unease, depending on where we truly are with ourselves. This year it brought a strange mixture of both.
We stayed in Tintagel, walking the coast and the magical Rocky Valley and St Nectan’s Glen, revisiting much loved places, sensing the light weaken and shorten as the Solstice drew closer.
Our neighbour kept chickens and I was struck by the cockerel’s premature heralding of dawn. Each morning, long before any discernable light, the cockerel stretched his neck and sung to the dark. It seemed that, despite the evidence, he knew that the sun would soon rise; something deep in his being anticipated it.
At Winter Solstice, we are required to do just this: sing to the dark, trusting and knowing in our hearts that the renewal of light and life emerge from its mysterious blackness. Our Yule celebrations have, over the last few years, been an honouring not only of the rebirth of the sun – of the golden child of promise that resides in each of us – but also of that great darkness from which all life is born.
In our Winter Solstice ritual we call upon the Goddess as Mother of Mystery, Magical Star Mother, Goddess of the Milky Way who has birthed our galaxy, who has set in motion the circling planets around her burning heart the sun; who carries the earth in her womb and the moon upon her brow, and whose starry cloak swirls around her in her spiral dance. She is the Ancient One, the silent depths of space, patient as eternity, unfathomable mystery, and through her ever turning seasons - her cycles of sun and moon - she brings us growing wisdom. With each turning of her silver wheel she shows us new connections, deepening our understanding. She is the Great Spider Mother, glistening web of all creation, the guiding thread that brings us deep into the spiral. She grasps our hands in the blackness and through her maze of dark nights and new dawns, urges us to witness the interconnection, the beauty and diversity of her web. Our faithful guide, our sacred strength and vision, from the soil of the earth and the dust of the stars she has shaped us. At this time and season, she exchanges her Samhain cloak of dark feathers for a cloak of shining stars; stripping back all that shrouded us, until the glow of our souls in the darkness is all that can be seen. No system can explain her; no theory can encompass her. We endeavour always to stay open to her wonder and grace, knowing that she is unknowable and boundless, that she is infinite potential, the true magic of all life. Through her we learn to take the threads of our being and weave the seeming chaos of our lives into vibrant patterns, just as she has spun and woven all life into being. She is the fertile darkness, shot through with stars – countless suns – each a bright seed.
The Solstice is such a hopeful and magical time, and I feel blessed to share it with those I love, both in ritual and in the simple exchange of time and self. Each clear night of stars helps to remind me to step outside of all those comforting systems – all the things I claim to know – to merge, for just a second, with that mysterious darkness, and in its depths feel that spark of light – of innocence and openness – be born within me once again.