The Magical Winter Solstice:
Origins and Ancient Knowledge
In the annual cycle something extraordinary and magical happens, a cosmic event that has always assumed a high symbolic value in all the forms assumed by the Primordial Tradition.
Solstitium, means ‘stationary Sun’ and on 20/21 to 23/24 December, it seems that the Sun, in its apparent motion, comes to an astronomical halt near the Southern Cross constellation.
On the 24th night, the Sun seems to resume its ‘path’, each day a little more upwards until the Summer Solstice.
“On Christmas Day, the Sun, in its annual motion along the ecliptic – the maximum circle on the celestial sphere that corresponds to the apparent path of the Sun during the year – comes to its lowest declination at the southernmost point of the Earth’s eastern horizon, culminating at noon at its lowest altitude (at that time, that is, it is at the Zenith of the Tropic of Capricorn) and manifesting its minimum duration of light (approximately, 8 hours and 50/55 minutes)”; having reached the southernmost point of its orbit and recording the shortest day of the year, it resumes, from this moment, its ascending path. “
A date, that of the Winter Solstice, is not only astronomical but also esoteric.
There is a myth that at the moment when the Sun reaches its lowest influence on the Earth, a Green Ray departs from the depths of the Universe and crosses the Earth itself for an instant. It is the Ray of Pure Spirit, of the greatest contact of the Material with the Higher Forces.
The Winter Solstice, appears, in rightly different forms, to the spirituality of all world religions.
“Let us not forget, in fact, that this event began to be celebrated by our ancestors, for example at the megalithic constructions of Stonehenge, in Great Britain, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, in Ireland, or around the rock engravings of Bohuslan, in Iran, and Val Camonica, in Italy, already in prehistoric and protohistoric times.”
It also inspired ‘Fragment 66’ of the work of Heraclitus of Ephesus (560/480 B.C.) and was allegorically sung about by Homer (Odyssey 133, 137) and Virgil (6th book of the Aeneid).
That same phenomenon was invariably expected and magnified by all Indo-European peoples:
the Gallo-Celts called it ‘Alban Arthuan’ (‘rebirth of the Sun god’);
the Germans, ‘Yulè’ (‘wheel of the year’);
the Scandinavians ‘Jul’ (‘sun wheel’); the Finns ‘July’ (‘snowstorm’);
the Laplanders ‘Juvla’;
the Russians ‘Karatciun’ (‘shortest day’)’.
Few know, in fact, that around the date of 25 December, almost all peoples have always celebrated the birth of their divine or supernatural beings:
in Egypt, the birth of the god Horus was celebrated and his father, Osiris, was believed to have been born around the same time;
in pre-Columbian Mexico the god Quetzalcoath was born and
the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli;
the god Bacchus in Greece, as well as Hercules and Adonis or Adonis;
the god Freyr, son of Odin and Freya, was celebrated by the people of the North;
Zarathustra in Azerbaijan;
Buddha, in the East;
Krishna, in India;
Scing-Shin in China;
in Yucatan the god Bacab;
in Japan the sun goddess Amaterazu;
in Persia, the warrior god Mithra, known as the Saviour, was celebrated and in Babylonia, the god Tammuz, the ‘Only Son’ of the goddess Istar, was born, represented with her divine son in her arms and with a halo of twelve stars around her head.
“In Roman times, on a date between 21 and 25 December, the rebirth of the Sun was solemnly celebrated, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Day of the Christmas of the Undefeated Sun, after the introduction, under Emperor Aurelian of the cult of the Indo-Iranian god Mithra into the Roman religious traditions and the building of his temple in the Campus Agrippae, today’s Piazza San Silvestro in Rome, which was practically included within a broader cycle of festivities that the Romans called Saturnalia, festivals dedicated to Saturn, King of the Golden Age, which, from 217 BC onwards and after subsequent reforms introduced by the Romans, were celebrated on Christmas Day. C. and after later reforms introduced by Caesar and Caligula, extended from 17 to 25 December and ended with the Larentalia or feast of the Lares, the tutelary deities charged with protecting crops, roads, cities, and the family.”
Roman myth has it that the mysterious Janus, the Italic god, reigned over Latium when Saturn arrived there from the sea, who could be understood as the divine manifestation that creates and recreates the cosmos at every cycle, the one who crosses the waters, that is, the night and the confusion-chaos following the dissolution of the old cosmos, to arrive at the new shore, that is, the light of the new cosmos, of the new creation; as René Guénon argues, there is some analogy between the Roman god and the Vedic Satyavrata, evidenced by the common root sat, which in Sanskrit means the One.
“In Latium, moreover, during the month of December, the god Conso was celebrated on 15 December, during the Consualia, the festivities dedicated to the ‘sacred conclusion of the old year’. We note how from Latin, ‘condere’ indicates the action of ‘hiding’ and/or ‘concluding’.
The aforementioned Janus, associated with Conso, then, was the ancient Latin divinity with the “two faces”, “god of time” and, specifically, “of the year” and whose temple, in Rome, consisted of a corridor with two doors, closed in times of peace and open in times of war, which, on the basis of its ancestral meaning, designates “going” and, more particularly, the “initial phase of walking” and “setting out”: it regulated and coordinated the beginning of the new year, hence Ianuarius, the month of January’.
As Franz Altheim confirms, ‘Ianus and Consus, in the Roman religious reality, referred to the beginning and the end of an action’ and equally referred to ‘events fixed in time, but periodically repeated’, those of the eternal return of light at the expense of darkness.
Let us not forget, therefore, how the Roman tradition of the feast of the dies solis novi had its roots, both in the prehistoric past of the Indo-European peoples, to which the Romans and most of the Italic peoples belonged, and in that of its own cultic foundations: Julius Evola reminds us how “Sol, the solar divinity, already appears among the dii indigetes, that is, among the divinities of Roman origins, received from even more distant cycles of civilisation”.
It is fundamental at this point to understand how this solar rebirth represents ‘only’ the symbol of a cosmic regeneration, in which the Sun and the Light are associated with the idea of the immortality of man, who performs his second spiritual birth, developing and overcoming his own subtle state, on the night of the winter solstice, when it is possible to access the deva-yana or ‘way of the gods’ of the Hindu tradition, the ascendant and divine realm in which man, restoring the Primordial Adam within himself, can embark on the path of supra-individual development.
This is the moment when, when night becomes master and darkness total, it is necessary to keep the flame of Faith burning, which in the morning, with the dawn, will become triumphant.
Coming out of the Cosmic Cave, with the Winter Solstice, therefore, one passes from nothingness to unity, geometrically that is, from the sensible becoming, represented by the symbol of the circumference, one passes to the eternal present, which in the one and in the centre is perfectly expressed.
Here is the traditional symbolism of the solstitial gates, which correspond respectively to the entrance and exit from the Cosmic Cave: the first gate, that “of men”, corresponds to the Summer Solstice, that is to the entrance of the Sun into the zodiacal sign of Cancer, the second, that “of the gods”, to the Winter Solstice, that is to the entrance of the Sun into the zodiacal sign of Capricorn.
From an initiatory point of view, the cave, due to its character as a hidden and closed place, represents a moment of total internalisation of being, i.e. the place where the second birth of the initiate takes place, upon accessing it.
The second birth, corresponding in meaning to the Small Mysteries, differs from the third birth, exiting through the solstitial winter gate, corresponding instead to the Great Mysteries.
The second birth takes place on the psychic plane, defining itself as psychic regeneration; the third birth, on the other hand, operates directly in the spiritual order and no longer psychic, in that the initiate must at that point have resolved his individuality, thus finding free access to the sphere of possibility of supra-individual understanding.
Here the initiate relives the three stages of the alchemical process: darkness thickens, dawn breaks, flame shines.
In a macrocosmic perspective, this is symbolised by the Sun’s entry into the zodiacal sign of Cancer, with the Summer Solstice. The Winter Solstice, on the other hand, corresponds, in a microcosmic sense, to the coming into consciousness of true spirituality as it exits into the light.
During this process, esoteric understanding can be visualised as a reflected illumination brightening up the darkness of the cavern: a beam of light penetrating through an opening in the roof of the cavern and generating that reflex illumination, also described in Plato’s myth of the sacred cavern and whose source is the ‘Intelligible Sun’.
In the microcosmic order, as far as the individual subtle organism is concerned, this opening corresponds to the energy centre at the top of the head: the crown chakra, the kether of the Sefiroth.
It represents the seventh level of the chakra system and corresponds to what is referred to in Christianity as the seventh heaven. It is the state of awareness of absolute freedom, the seat of the Creator. According to Hindus, the crown chakra is where Prakriti, the primordial substance, and Purusha, the spirit, the essence, merge.
We conclude this writing by recalling that the cosmic regeneration, of which we have written, is always conceived with the descent and with the help of an avatar, of which Christ the Redeemer is ‘only’ the latest and most shining example:
“The Sun always returns, and with him life. Blow on the embers and the fire will be reborn’.
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taken from the article ‘Dies Natalis Solis Invicti’, Alberto Mariantoni, Identity, 2004;
René Guénon, Some aspects of the symbolism of the fish, in Symbols of Sacred Science, ed. Adelphi;