Today is Winter Solstice. Which, just to be clear, doesn’t always fall on December 21st, but more often than not it does. Today, the Solstice came at 9:58 am CMT.
Solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, meaning ‘Sun standing still.’ On this day, the sun appears to stand still before reversing its direction making for longer days and shorter nights.
This is my holiday. This is the day I look forward to most during this season. The ritual I follow tonight is the same I have celebrated for almost thirty years.
Tonight I will sit in a dark room and sing the hymn, Thy Strong Word Did Cleave The Darkness. Then I will light one candle and read stories of the light coming into the world.
First, from Genesis. Then perhaps how Prometheus gave fire to humans or how Raven stole the light. Or the Russian story of Vasilisa who receives the light from Baba Yaga that destroys her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
But always, always, I will read the Japanese story of the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. This story continues to remind me of my worth. Of the importance of each of us to not hide, to not give into sorrow and shut ourselves away. It reminds me of the light that lives within each of us and how necessary it is to let our lights shine in the world.
Then I will listen to music, starting with two songs: Coming Out of the Dark by Gloria Estefan and Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. And as the songs play, I will wander through my home lighting candles in each room and then pop some champagne.
Whatever you do today or tonight, I wish you a blessed and joyful Solstice. May you –unique and wonderful you – shine for all the world today and in all the days to come.
Amaterasu’s Story – by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
No one is alive anymore who can remember the time Amaterasu Omikami, the Great Woman Who Possesses Noon, took Herself into the Cave of Heaven and refused to come out. But to those who know the story, every mirror on Earth is a reminder of that tie and of the glorious moment She stepped again into the open sky, sending Her surge of strength and will again through all Life.
In those beginning times, the spirit of every living thing was called its Kami. The Kami of the mountain was lavender and long. The Kami of the trees was great and green. Animals had Kami in the shapes of swords and cups. Fish and flowers had Kami. The Kami of the rocks and the rivers were silent and calm. All the strength of these Kami poured forth from the Great Mother Sun, Amaterasu Omikami, and in Her honor was woven the great pattern of the seasons of the planting and the harvesting of rice.
Amaterasu had a brother named Susanowo. Susanowo ruled the ocean, but he was jealous of the greater power of his sister, Amaterasu. Because Amaterasu knew of his ill feeling, She was suspicious when one day her brother sent word that he was coming to visit. Though She had a feast prepared on the day Her brother was to arrive, Amaterasu also armed Herself with a quiver of ten thousand silver arrows and a giant bow of beaten gold. She planted Her feet firmly and awaited Susanowo.
Some of the Queen of Heaven’s tension melted when She saw that Her brother came bearing gifts and speaking of trust and loyalty. Together they ate, and, after the meal had been cleared away, Amaterasu covered Her brother’s hands with Her own. “How glad I am you’ve come in friendship,” said Amaterasu, Her eyes shining. “I was worried you’d come otherwise.” Susanowo loosed his hands and bowed low to his sister. “Amaterasu Omikami,” he said, “Let us forget the past. I have nothing but respect and admiration for You.”
Late into the night they talked of their love for each other, their plans for the future, and the joy of their relationship. Finally Amaterasu bid Susanowo good night and went to Her cave to sleep.
Her brother, however, did not go to bed. Instead, he sat alone at the huge table, sipping sake wine and growing increasingly angry as he compared his own power to that of his sister. The wine he was drinking slowly kindled his resolve to show his sister who was really most powerful. In the next few hours, Susanowo tore drunkenly throughout the Plain of Heaven. He piled mounds of dirt in the irrigation canals so no water could flow to the rice paddies. Not satisfied, he stomped on each and every plant until the fields were covered with broken and dying stalks. Then he took up the excrement of animals and humans and smeared it in Amaterasu’s celestial weaving house where the heavenly women wove the sacred tapestries.
In fear and anger, the Gods and Goddesses went to wake Amaterasu. When the Shining One saw what Her brother had done, a pain stabbed Her heart. Her hands hung limp at Her sides, and Her mind pictured the dinner they had shared and the words of trust and endearment they had exchanged.
“Susanowo!” Amaterasu’s voice filled the Plain of Heaven like light suddenly fills a dark room. Susanowo staggered into his sister’s presence, pulling a piebald colt on a rope behind him. He spat on the floor of the celestial palace. Amaterasu put Her hands behind Her back. “Susanowo,” She said again, “You wrong me. But I ask only that you sleep. Leave off, brother. Sleep.”
Susanowo answered by pulling the sword from his belt and whirling to plunge its blade through the heart of the colt behind him. Before the eyes of the entire heavenly court, he heaved the dead colt through the window of the palace and into the celestial weaving house below. There the carcass struck and broke the looms and sacred threads and sent several of the heavenly weavers to the Land of the Dead.
A cry of rage escaped the throat of Amaterasu Omikami. She ran from the palace and back to Her cave. Once inside, She pulled the great door tight behind Her and locked it, shutting away from Heaven Her warmth and light and plunging even the realm of Susanowo into darkness. The Gods and Goddesses of Heave caught Susanowo, punished him, and banished him from Heaven. But without Amaterasu to light the Plain of Heaven, there was only darkness. The Kami of the rice withered. The Kami of birds and animals, mountains and trees turned to gray ghosts. Life without Amaterasu was impossible.
The Gods and Goddesses gathered together to discuss how they might restore the precious Amaterasu Omikami. How to tempt Her from Her cave? How to let Her know that Susanowo had been sent away? “We must moan and grieve outside Her cave. We must shout to Her of our dead,” said some of the deities. “No,” said others, “We must remind Her of the joy She brings. We must dance for Her.” And so it was that the Dance of the Mirrors was planned. All of the ghostly Kami of the world gathered up what little strength they had left and pieces of shiny mirror. With the help of the Gods and Goddesses, they collected themselves outside the door of Amaterasu’s cave and began to make a joyful noise. Songs and jokes flew, weakly at first, and then, as the Kami began to take strength from each other, more strongly. A dance bloomed, and deep inside the Cave of Heaven Amaterasu heard the voices of Her people.
When Amaterasu cracked open the door of Her cave, a slit of Her brilliant light lit the night. When the Kami felt the surge of Life they had longed for, the dance became jubilant. Amaterasu listened and then poked Her head outside the cave. At that very moment the mirrors of all the Kami reflected back to Amaterasu her own stunning beauty and Amaterasu stepped all the way out of Her cave and into the open sky.
Once again the Kami of the mountain grew lavender and long. The Kami of the trees was once again great and green. Animals again had Kami in the shapes of swords and cups. The Kami of the fish and flowers and rocks and rivers were alive once more.
On that day the strength of all Kami poured forth from the Great Mother Sun, and in Her honor was woven the great pattern of the seasons of the planting and the harvesting of rice. And so it is to this very day.