When the Earth’s axis tilts the Northern Hemisphere farthest from the sun’s warmth, we experience the Winter Solstice. Yule, the pagan name for this moment, is the shortest day and longest night of the year.
This time of year filled ancient people with dread as they saw the days getting shorter and shorter. It was a reminder that all our of days grow shorter and shorter and end in death. In Ireland 5,000 years ago, a Neolithic farming community created a tomb that was aligned to the rising sun of the Winter Solstice. On the Winter Solstice, a shaft of light enters a perfectly positioned window in the wall of the tomb and lights up a 60-foot corridor that leads to a basin of ancestral bones.
Tomb of Newgrange:
We don’t know the ritual significance of this ancient archaeological marvel. What did it mean to allow sunlight to touch the memory of the dead on the shortest day of the year? Was it a ritual to revert the course of the sun? Sure enough, the next day the sun begins to move higher into the sky, showing that it has been reborn.
Is there anything we can learn from allowing light to touch the reality of death on the Winter Solstice?
You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will diminish. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is in truth impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes. We will all be added to the basin of ancestral bones at the end of the 60-foot corridor in the Tomb of Newgrange.
On the Winter Solstice, a shaft of light enters a perfectly positioned window and touches this reality of death. Right now, in this very moment, you stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost. This is the light that enters that perfectly positioned window and is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. Everything is present. You’ll journey with the sun tomorrow as it begins to move higher into the sky.
The universal law of impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heart-breaking gratitude.
Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.1
Blessed Yule/Winter Solstice.
1 Adapted from “Life is an Altar,” Falling In Love With Where You Are, Jeff Foster, pg. 17