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Winter Solstice Symbols

There are many symbolic teachings connected with the winter solstice. One of the four major pillars of our solar year, the solstice represents everlasting life and light. And to this end we have the various decorative images and objects that embody this concept.

The best known is the evergreen ‘tree.’ This symbolically is the ‘tree of life.’ When decorated with lights, it becomes the ‘tree of life (knowledge) and light (fire).’ This is the outwardly imagery of a fundamental spiritual truth. The evergreen (immortality of our soul) ‘tree’ (spinal column) of ‘light’ (spark/star-light of God) is within us. And crowned with an angel reveals the purpose of our life on earth—to spiritually evolve our soul (increase the vibratory essence of our spark/star-light of God) and when we pass-over, we ascend back to heaven as an angel.

Another important symbol is the evergreen wreath. This represents the eternal circle of life (the serpent biting its tail) and may reveal to us that time is not linear but circular. The Yule log, mistletoe, and holly all have symbolic meanings based on immortal life and light. And then there is Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. This is the jolly ‘old’ man of the season all decked out in red bearing gifts. His mode of transportation is a sled pulled by eight reindeer. Oh, that’s right, there is a ninth named—Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. And his entrance into our homes is down the chimney ever so bold.

Santa in reality relates to the first shaman-priest. The magical reindeer refer to the shaman’s animal guardian and guide, who assist him or her in their ascent and descent of the World Tree—think chimney.

We look to these first shaman-priests to discover the roots of the ‘tree of life/knowledge.’ Connected with the ‘tree’ is one of our earliest myths—the ‘theft of fire.’ This was humankind’s first attempt at controlling nature through knowledge. In short order the earliest religious guide and leaders, the shamans, having received a great gift of spiritual power and knowledge—fire, realized that nature could not really be controlled, but could only be harmonized, through a partnership of the people and the great Earth Mother.

In a ritual and ceremony of forgiveness for the ‘theft of fire’ (think of a lightening struck tree), the shaman would select the ‘proper’ tree, decorate it with gifts and, with the community looking on, set it on fire. And thus, the shaman became recognized as the ‘keeper of the fire.’ Accordingly, this yearly ceremony took place on the longest night of the year—the winter solstice.  

Today, we are the recipients of this great legacy—one of fire, spiritual knowledge, and the realization that humanity is in partnership (not a stewardship) with nature. But not only has Christianity usurped nature and the winter solstice, it has also cast fire, light and knowledge as evil:

It seems highly peculiar that, unlike several other religions, the Judeo-Christian religion chose to portray the gift of fire, light, and knowledge as evil. The Lightening-Serpent, Loki, Prometheus, and Lucifer should have been seen as man’s friends, but instead were portrayed as Satanic opponents of God, while humanity was called sinful for trying to gain knowledge. This was typical of monopolistic ancient priesthoods, which tried to keep outsiders from competing in matters of power and knowledge. They required a safe-and-obedient status quo, and tried to destroy all (even men like Jesus of Nazareth) who encouraged people to think creatively and independently, autonomous of the control of Synod or Curia.[i]

During all seasons, we must remember our freedom to think for ourselves and to recognize our gift of creativity. And as well, we must never loss sight of the goodness of all—the divinity that is in all things.

[i] Tony van Renterghem , When Santa was a Shaman, p. 28


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