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Here comes the sun: pagans celebrate the solstice

The shortest day of the year is a busy one for pagans. The winter solstice, which falls on Saturday, will be celebrated by wiccans, druids and shamans nationwide.

Known as the festival of Yule, it is a time to give thanks for ‘‘the light being reborn’’, said Michelle Claire White, from the Pagan Awareness Network.

‘‘Yule is really an opportunity to celebrate earth and rebirth,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s the celebration of both the longest night and the shortest day ... a really great opportunity to acknowledge creation and birth and renewal on a personal, global and cosmic level.’’

After the solstice - at 8.51pm, when the sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky and starts moving back south - the days will grow longer once more.

It may not seem significant in a world where heat and light can be summoned with the flick of a switch. But to ancient societies it was a pivotal time, when people looked forward to the hardships of winter ending and the season of abundance to come.

‘‘It’s the natural turning point of the year,’’ said Dr Andrew Jacob, curator of astronomy at Sydney Observatory. ‘‘It’s something we don't really notice in society these days because we’re so tied to the calendar and the clock.’’


Carole Cusack, a professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney, said the winter solstice was an important event as far back as neolithic times.

‘‘Ancient religion has a strong emphasis on cosmic order, predictability, the [repetition] of natural processes,’’ she said.

‘‘The winter solstice was an essential fulcrum on which the world turned ... that tipping point from the advancing of the power of the dark and the cold, to the gradual recovery of the power of the sun and warmth and light.’’

With Sydney on track for its fourth-warmest June on record, it may seem the power of the sun has barely dimmed, even at midwinter.

Ms White, whose Yule rituals incorporate candles, burning logs and anointment, said natural rhythms had been disrupted.

‘‘The cycles of the earth are changing,’’ she said. ‘‘We’re seeing that in Sydney - the winter this year hasn't come on very strongly. As pagans, we feel it’s really important to be connected to the earth’s cycles so that we can help to heal the land and our relationships with the land.’’

This article Here comes the sun: pagans celebrate the solstice was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.