The Spirit of Solstice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASolstice Carole by the Wyrd Sisters

The fire is burning,

The long night draws near,

All who need comfort are welcome by here.

We’ll dance ‘neath the stars and toast the past year,

For the spirit of Solstice is still living here.

It’s the Winter Solstice; the longest night of the year. For eons people have celebrated this day as a time to count their blessings and to celebrate surviving through another cold, dark winter.  A season to rekindle hope and faith as the dark half of the year gives way to the light yet again.

My favourite tradition of the Solstice is the lighting of the Yule log, for there is something in my makeup, perhaps the faint echo of my ancestors still alive in my DNA, which is stirred by the simple act of making a fire and tending to its warmth.

I didn’t realize how much I need the comfort of a fire as essential to the nurturing of my soul as a hot bath, living in nature, and growing my own food until I lived on a hobby farm in the woods for five years.

The house I shared with my sister was small and nondescript but it was the diminutive cast-iron stove that made it the most amazing home I’ve ever lived in and one I still pine for since we moved two years ago.

We kept a pot of water on the stove scented with eucalyptus oil, or clove and cinnamon. And during the frequent power outages, it was the little wood stove that heated a pot of soup and another of hot water for washing and our morning coffee.

The crackle and pop as the flames consume wood has the mystical power to ward off the spirits of darkness and depression that seem inevitable when daylight is short and the snowdrifts are over my head.  My favourite place to be was reading a good book in front of the fire or just watching the flames dance and the embers glow as the fire drew me into silence and contemplation.

Most people prefer a gas fireplace over a real one because there is no muss and no fuss.  With the simple flick of a switch flames appear and warms the room.  They even work when the power goes out.

But it’s not for me, because the muss and fuss are as important to me as enjoying a fire; waking to a cold house and cleaning out the excess ash from the firebox, crumpling the paper, stacking the kindling just so, the scratch of a match and the curl of smoke as the fire comes to life, the smell of hot cast-iron as the stove heats up.  I relish all these things about a real fire, even splitting the logs and hauling in wood.  There is something magickal in these mundane activities.

The snapshot of memory I call forth when I’m forced to turn on the electric heater because of the cold and damp seeping up through the floor of my basement apartment is of snow and fire and the dark hush of a winter’s night on the farm.

After I’d put the chicken’s to bed for the night I would stop under the three hemlock trees that stood halfway between the barn and the house. From this vantage point I could see into the living room window where the fire burning merrily in the stove.  The absolute velvet of the night sky pierced with starlight, the smell of cold and ozone in the night air, the soft whisper of snow falling and the sight of that warm little room gave me such peace and contentment.

This holiday season I am surrounded by two generations of family and a menagerie of furry four-legged companions.  In a few days we will be joined by yet another sister traveling all the way from Australia to spend time with us at Christmas.

As the evening draws in on the longest night of the year, the candles are lit to ward of the dark spirits; their flickering flames a reminder to have faith and hope, even at this the darkest hour.  The evergreen tree takes pride of place in the living room, a symbol of continuity and life everlasting.

There are brightly wrapped presents below the tree for all the ones I hold dear, small tokens of my gratitude and best wishes.

And despite not having a Yule log or a hearth to burn it in, the spirit of solstice is definitely still living here.

To watch the Solstice Carole Video click here

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