O Holy Night

There is much yelping among Christian commercialism in the USA during the Winter Solstice time of year demanding, “put Christ back in Christmas.” The obstinate criticism of the uncompromising (fundamentalist) Christians is that the “birth” of God’s “only begotten son”–often spoken of as “the light of the world”–is maligned when people choose to acknowledge the seasonal occasion with an all-embracing “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Is that demand to acknowledge a seasonal change as “Christmas” an honest admiration of a cosmic truth or is it simply promotional dialog for some narrowly focused man-invented faith system?

The yearly event of the winter solstice was honored as a holy period among prehistory cultures for millennia before the timeframe in which Jesus is assumed to have been born. At the winter solstice the Sun reaches its point farthest south of the celestial equator where it then seemingly hangs suspended for three days before it seemingly takes up its apparent northerly movement. It is actuality the Earth’s axial tilt and orbital pattern around the Sun which causes the illusion of the Sun’s movement. And in conjunction with this view of the Sun’s movement the Earth”s orbital pattern aligns our planet with the constellation backdrop which we know as Capricorn. In Hebrew this constellation is called Gedi, which translates as “the kid’ (young goat), but it can also mean “cut off.” In this case Gedi refers to the Sun’s descent being “cut off” and light will again increase.

The Babylonians refered to constellation Capricorn as “Father of Light.” The seeming passage of this constellation precedes the appearance of constellation Aquarius, and thus that watery star group (Aquarius) came to be occasionally identified as well with the Babylonian god Ea who was said to have warned the mortal man Utnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah, of the impending Flood. Due to priestly confusion of the subtle movement of zodiac figures, Capricorn became associated with the Babylonian half-fish god Oannes who, in Babylonian and Assyrian myths, was claimed to be the founder of civilization. The Philistines and Phoenicians, too, associated Capricorn with their half-fish god Dagon, which is known as Dag in the Talmud. Then, because of the Philistine-Phenecain mixup, the Talmudic Dag became presented as the Judaic messiah. The ancient Greeks associated the sign of Capricorn with Phoebus (from Greek phoibos, meaning radiant), “the bright one,” an artistic reference to the increase of light. Later, somewhere in the timeframe 1200 to 850 BCE, the Greek poet Homer made Phoebus an epithet of Apollo.

The point striven for here is that the Sun’s entry into constellation Capricorn was thus observed throughout prehistory as signaling mounting luminary blessings in the northern hemisphere, and so it was celebrated as also indicating an eventual evolutionary transition for humans into more refined circumstances. In celebration of this, on the night when the Sun had remained three days at its lowest position, the Pagans of antiquity observed a midnight rite called the “Vigil of Light.” The night was called “Mother Night” for at midnight of the winter solstice the constellation Virgo, the Virgin, begins to rise above the eastern horizon with the great star Spica in the seed. The star Spica thus inspired the so-called “seed of woman” in Gospel myth. This is how the virgin mother is tied to so many Savior myths.

Because of the appearance upon the eastern horizon of Virgo at this time of year, this cycle period became a time of joy in expectation of mankind’s higher development. This perception was much too vital for material minded con artists to ignore, and thus was fashioned the myths in which a holy being was born to rescue the world from darkness (evil). Thus, for example, the Persian religion celebrated the birth of their savior Zoroaster on December 25th long before the Christians adopted a similar observance.

Other ancient observances crept into Christian faith as well. The Pagan’s “Vigil of Light,” which was observed on the longest night of the year, was the ceremony of burning the “Yule Wheel”–a ceremony scorned by Christian theologians as “ignorant heathen practice.” But the word yule actually means “that which turns or revolves,” as do the cycle of seasons, so it had nothing to do with some character’s nativity. The symbolic ritual involved construction of a huge wheel made of vegetation which was set ablaze atop the highest hill and sent rolling downhill into a lake or other body of water which symbolized the Sun’s descent into its apparent period of rest. This scored “ignorant” rite displayed a closer understanding of cosmic processes than imagining it to be the “birthday” of an unproven character.

Nonetheless, this “ignorant rite” became the basis for the custom of burning the Yule log in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. This was made acceptable by borrowing the Chaldean meaning of the word yule, which is said to mean “infant” or “little child.” Since the star Spica in Virgo was known to make its appearance at this period of Earth’s orbit, the Chaldeans celebrated the “infant’s” arrival on December 25th. Elsewhere, as in Egypt, the birth of the son of Isis, Horus, god of day, was also celebrated on this date. In Pagan Rome the 25th of December was a day of celebration and was called Natalis Solis Invicti, meaning “the birthday of the Sun”–not an “only begotten son.”

Because the darkest nights were over, the Pagan festivals were joyous in the understanding that the increasing light acted as a “deliverer.” From this we get the “saviors” of various religions. This Pagan understanding was a happy reason for gift-giving, a practice which was carried over in the myth of the Magi bearing gifts to newborn “saviors”–such a Zoroaster, Mithras, Tammuz, Jesus, et al. (The word “magi,” by the way, referred to what we would today speak of as an astronomer.) Today, unfortunately, the reason for seasonal gift giving is reduced to excessive materialism.

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah (or Chanukah), the Festival of Lights, is celebrated at this same general time of year and lasts for eight days. Hanukkah means “dedication,” and is properly the Feast of Dedication–to light–which is celebrated from the 25th of Kislev to the first of Tebet of the Jewish calendar. It too is an out-branching from the ancient Pagan recognition of seasonal increase of light which had been honored with the Vigil of Light. But, like the Christian celebration, no recognition is ever given to the increase of solar light, but celebrates instead an alleged “miracle” performed just for them at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Sun’s benevolent blessings upon all the Earth offers nothing exclusive in it–everyone is blessed indiscriminately–so attention is turned in upon themselves with the claim of a miracle at the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 BCE. Talmudic tradition relates that there could be found only one cruse of pure olive oil–blessed by the high priest, of course–which unaccountably lasted for eight days. And of course Yahweh could not let his chosen ones celebrate in the dark, so that small quantity of oil is said to have miraculously burned for eight consecutive days.

All these faith systems’ traditional claims are rooted in past cultures which flourished in the Northern Hemisphere, but those northern traditions now influence faith system observances even in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasonal changes are reversed. That is why the true recurring solstice event has been tramped down and painted over with self-serving religious claims. Could any organized faith system flourish without their claims of divine mystery and the miracles supposedly performed exclusively for them?

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