Winter is harsh and difficult. Not for nothing did the Romans call their Winter Solstice festival, “Saturnalia,” ruled by Saturn, the planet which has a reputation of being a hard task-master.While its polar opposite, Jupiter, teaches by supporting us, giving us a hand-up, opening doors, Saturn teaches by removing supports and throwing us back on our own resources. It’s easy to be positive relaxing on a sunny beach in July – but who are we when the temperature drops below freezing, the snowy fields are bare, and icy roads make even going for a walk a dangerous proposition?Like the naked trees outside my window, stripped of their summer glory, we too are laid bare at this season of death, with only our inner resources to sustain us through the nights of darkness.
This year, in particular, many people are finding it hard to cling on to hope in the face of so many global crises, including economic downturns which have led to the loss of jobs and even homes, the failure of climate change talks and the accelerating extinction of species, not to mention the news that leaders of many nations throughout the world have been exposed as weak and self-serving at best, and dishonest and corrupt at worst.
So it is that at the Winter Solstice we look for stories that remind us that, in this world of opposites, the seed of Light is always born in the darkest hour. It was for this reason that the birth date of Jesus Christ, originally set in the springtime, was changed to late December by the Roman church in order to bring it in line with the age-old pagan myths about the return of the Sun after the longest night of the year.
A story that I have always loved is told about the late English novelist and playwright, J.B. Priestley, who had a vision in the form of a lucid dream in which he was fully conscious. He found himself looking down from a high tower beneath which a vast flock of birds were migrating. As he looked on, time appeared to accelerate as if he were part of a movie that had mysteriously sped up. In front of his eyes generations of birds of every known species grew frail and died, to be replaced in a great aerial stream by newborn fledglings who also grew older and died within what seemed like seconds. Priestley was overcome with sadness to see each life pass by without apparent purpose. At this point he thought that it might be better if all living creatures, including ourselves, could be spared this apparently futile struggle. As if in answer to this thought, time moved up another gear causing the birds to rush past in a blur, and within this vast carpet of feathers he noticed a white flame leaping from body to body. He understood this to be the flame of life itself. ‘What I had thought was tragedy,’ he later wrote, ‘was mere emptiness or a shadow show . . . I have never felt before such deep happiness as I knew at the time of my dream of the tower and the birds.’
Priestley’s vision reminds us of the infinite and imperishable creative power of life that underlies the constantly-changing world of appearances in which we live. However storm-tossed we may be on the ocean of life, all things pass and change, while beneath it all, the white flame continues to burn through all eternity.
This Winter Solstice light a candle, and as the flame blossoms into life, attune yourself to the undying White Flame. Feel an answering flame spring into life within the centre of your body. Let it glow and grow to fill your body, encompass your home and family, and send it to all those who struggle in the darkness. Remember that you yourself are a spark of the One Radiant Light that shines through all the worlds, and that you can call upon this Light to illumine all your days and nights and inspire you to be part of the healing of our planet.