Myths Built Around Winter Solstice

Every year as the hours of daylight grow progressively less in the Northern Hemisphere, western organized religions (especially Christian) burst forth during the approach of the Winter Solstice in lavish displays of belief that a one-time-only soul-saving event occurred just for them.  In truth, that which is being celebrated is the celestial panorama that activates the seasons and which has set the pace of life on Earth for millions of years.

Astrological elements are the basis for many portions of scriptural stories, and the two major turning points of the year—the solstices—have been artfully disguised in sacred tales which allowed practitioners of divine deceits to manipulate large masses of people.

The  seasonal change occurring with the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere signals a time of new beginnings.  That change is the meaning behind the word solstice, which comes from the Latin word sol, meaning Sun, and the Latin word sistere, past participle of stit, meaning “to stand.”   The illusion that the Sun moves periodically southward in the winter and northward in the spring is, as we know today, caused by Earth’s axial tilt as it orbits the Sun.  For life in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun appears to reach its most southern point on December 21, and appears to remain in a stationary period for three days time, after which it appears to start moving northward again—on December 25th.  In pre-Christian Rome the 25th of December was therefore known as Natalis Solis Invict, meaning “birthday of the Sun.”

With the approach of winter, the star Murzim  or Murzar (in constellation Canis Major) rises upon the eastern horizon.  The name Murzim is said to mean, “The Announcer,” and it precedes the arrival of the star Sirius, seemingly to announce the greater light to come—just as in the New Testament the character of John the Baptist is portrayed as announcing the coming of Jesus (who declared “I am the light of the world”).

The month leading into the Winter Solstice carried great significance in ancient cultures, and it is from Pagan study of astronomical movements that the observance of Advent was incorporated into Catholic formality—which allows four Sundays to make ready for the light (personified as Jesus) to come back in glory.

In Judaism, the festival of Hanukkah, meaning “dedication” (to light which will be increasing), is observed within the same seasonal period of the approaching Winter Solstice, being celebrated from the 25th of Kislev to the first of Tevet of the Jewish calendar (overlaps December-January).

The connection of the Muslim fast of Ramadan to the Winter Solstice is far less obvious, due primarily to Mohammad’s (or his scribes’) misunderstanding of Jewish/Christian myth that allowed for ceremonial observance of the solstice period.  Being from a desert culture the seasonal change was not such an obvious yearly transitional event as it was to those of more northerly or southerly regions.  In addition, Islam uses a lunar calendar which is about eleven days shorter than the solar calendar that is more widely used throughout the world.  For this reason the Islamic holidays “move” each year.  Nevertheless, the Muslim celebration of Laylat-al-Qadr, meaning the “Night of Power,” is held on the evening of the 27th day of the ninth month of the Muslim year.  Although not as obviously related to recognition of the light phenomenon at the Winter Solstice due to geographic location (desert), the fasting and rites of the Night of Power were inspired by the Jewish/Christian observances of the yearly occasion of feeble light, after which light increases.

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