A Midwinter Night's Dream
by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
The sun is setting early tonight, and the holiday lights
sparkle through the darkness. We can see the stars
beginning to twinkle above us, and the moon is rising. All though this long night, we and the
moon and the stars call out to our mother sun to come
back to her children.
From time out of mind, tonight is the year’s
darkest night. From time out of mind, tomorrow is the
light’s rebirth. This is the winter solstice, and the
sun stands still tonight. Before there were sun gods,
there were goddesses of the sun—Amaterasu in Japan,
Anahita in old Persia, Bast and Hathor and Sekhmet in
Egypt, Bisal-Mariamna in India, Dia Griene in Scotland,
the Cherokee Kanene Ski Amai Yehi, Keca Aba in Russia,
Paivatar in Finland, Saule and her daughter Saules-Meta
in the Baltic lands, Shamsu in Arabia, Rosmerta and
Sulis in Britain, Xatel-Ekwa in Hungary.1
Tonight, the sun stands still. She is resting in her
journey around our little world. She stands still in the
darkness, and is she resting before her labors begin
again, before her birthday? She stands in the year’s
dark night, and is she dreaming through the darkness?
What are her dreams as she stands still, watching
through the darkness?
For millennia before the birth of a certain Jewish
baby, people celebrated a more vital birth on December
21 or 22. As they took in their harvests, they watched
the days growing shorter, the nights growing longer, the
sun seeming to become weaker. Without our modern
conveniences, without our modern calendars, they knew
that the waning of the year and the moon and their own
lives led inevitably to a rebirth and a waxing. It all
went around. Everything would be reborn. From before the
memories of the eldest grandmothers, light had followed
darkness, rebirth had followed death. That’s why they
painted the bones of the dead with red ochre. It
symbolized blood, our mother’s blood as she labors and
brings us back into the world.
Although that famous Jewish baby was probably born in
March or April, for about 350 years his birth was
celebrated on January 6. About 450 C.E., the date of
Jesus’ birth was moved to December 25 to bring it
closer to the solstice. He thus shares the birthday of a
dozen or more solar gods—Aeon, Attis, Baldur, Chango,
Dionysus, Frey, Helios, Horus, Mithra, Osiris,
Quetzalcoatl, Tammuz, and others. The Romans called this
festival Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, the Day of
the Birth of the Unconquerable Sun.
The sun goddesses were, alas, eclipsed, overshadowed,
conquered, overtaken, put away in dusty old books. They
were left in the shadows by their brighter, fiercer
And so the sun stands still on this night. What are
her dreams tonight?
December is a month of dark magic. Oh, no—do not
think of the so-called "black magic" of puny
and egotistical men. True dark magic is noumenal
in that it engages the intellect, luminous in
that it contains the hidden light, ominous in
that it reveals omens of our future, good or bad. Don’t
think of foolish black magic. Think instead of the
eternal dance of light and dark, and know that as the
seed needs the darkness of winter’s black soil to rest
and germinate, so humankind needs this month of dark
nights to rest and gather strength for the labors of
December was originally the tenth month of the Roman
calendar. It became the twelfth month when Rome’s
first emperor, Augustus, thrust two new months—which
he named after his step-father and himself—into the
middle of the year. Because December holds so many holy
days, the western European Franks (after whom France was
later named) called this month Heilagmanoth, or
"holy month." The Celtic tree month of Ruis
(elder or myrtle) runs from about November 25 to
December 22, when it yields to December 23, the
intercalary day, the day out of time, the
"day" of "a year and a day." On
December 24, the month of Beth begins, Beth signifying
birch, a tree especially sacred to our Great Mother, She
who knows all endings and all beginnings. There is also
a goddess calendar in which the month of Astraea runs
until December 25. Astraea, youngest daughter of Themis,
is a goddess of justice who, when mankind became too
evil, fled from the earth. Some say that she still lives
among the Pleiades.
Here is a list of the holy days of this dark month.
These are the days of the goddesses of light.
- December 3 – Roman festival of Bona Dea, the Good
- December 4 – Saint Barbara, matron of storms, also
known to the Basque peoples as the Lady of Amboto. We
pray to her for protection against lightning.
- December 8 – Sacred to Astraea. Let us pray for
justice on the earth today. Let us call out to Astraea
to return to our weary planet. This day is also sacred
to Isis, whose titles and epithets were given to the
Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the Persian Anahita, who
wore golden earrings, a golden necklace, a golden
mantle, and a golden crown with hundreds of stars
shining down from it.
- December 9 – Sacred to the Virgin of Guadalupe,
the Aztec Tonantzin, who became the patron saint of all
Mexico in 1737, the Empress of all the Americas in 1945,
and who was canonized in 2002. (Does a goddess need to
be elevated by a pope?)
- December 10 – French festival of Liberté.
Her statue stands in New York harbor, where she holds
her great torch to shine upon the world. Her festival
was originally Roman: Lux Mundi, which means
"light of the world."
- December 13 – Lucy’s Day. Lucy is the family’s
youngest daughter, the virgin who wears the crown of
candles. Santa Lucia was originally Juno Lucina, and
here we are again, celebrating the Lady of the light
that shines in the darkness.
- December 15 – The first of the Halcyon Days.
Alcyone was a Greek goddess whose bird was the
kingfisher. For the seven days before and after the
winter solstice, the seas were smooth and peaceful so
that Alcyone’s birds could hatch their eggs.
- December 16 – Honors the Gnostic goddess, Sophia.
She is not simply a goddess of wisdom, however; She
is Holy Wisdom. She was present at the creation and,
even though Her holy temple in Istanbul has been a
mosque for over a thousand years, She is with us until
the end of days.
- December 18 or 19 – Roman Saturnalia, whose first
days honor Ops, wife of that good old god of the golden
age. Ops, from whom we get our modern English word
"opulence," shared the temple on the Capitol
with her consort and smiled down upon the Romans as they
celebrated their seven-day Saturnalia with
banquets, gifts, decorated trees, freedom, and
topsy-turviness in all things.
- December 20 - In the forests of northern Europe,
they called the night before the rebirth of the sun Madranicht,
Night of the Mothers. Dreams on this night were said to
foretell the coming year.
- December 21 – The solstice is the "womb of
Isis." This day is also sacred to Amalthea, the
nymph who fed goat’s milk to Jupiter. One of the horns
of this generous goat broke off and became the starry
cornucopia, from which nectar and ambrosia were said to
flow. The Greeks also recognized Nyx and Hemera on this
day—Night and Day, whom Hesiod described as nodding
cordially to each other as one passes out of the house
of Night and the other passes into the house.
- December 22 – Sacred to Persephone, the beloved
daughter who went down into the shadowy lands beneath
the earth to bless the shades of the dead and became
their queen. The Celts said that Rhiannon, another
virgin mother, was always reborn with the winter
- December 23 – The only blank day in the Celtic
tree calendar, this day was also the Roman festival of
Acca Larentis. An earth goddess, She was the mother of
the Lares, or house gods.
- December 24 – When Pope Leo the Great moved the
birthday of Jesus to December 25—Christes Maesse—the
Night of the Mothers was moved to Christmas Eve.
Inscriptions honoring Deas Matrones, The Mothers,
survive from Roman times in Germany, Holland, and
Britain, and it is believed that the Mothers were
worshipped by both Celts and Germans as they prayed for
fertility and protection of hearth and home. The old
Persian goddess, Atargatis, was the mother of Mithra,
the Unconquerable Sun. This was the last day of the
month of Astraea.
- December 26 – The month of Hestia, goddess of the
house, begins. Hestia is the oldest of the Olympians and
was never given a human face; her image is the hearth
flame that provided light, warmth, and the cooking fire.
(Although Vesta has been conflated with Hestia, these
goddesses are not the same.)
- December 27 – Sacred to Nut, the Egyptian goddess
whose starry body stretches above the earth to give us
the light of the sun, moon, and stars, which are
contained in Her body.
- December 28 – Sacred among the Greeks to the Horae,
goddesses of time. They gave their name to our word
"hour" and they represent both the hours of
the day and the seasons of the year.
- December 29 – On this day, Hathor gave birth to
the sun god, Ra, in his form as a scarab beetle.
- December 30 – Another day of honor to Isis, who is
possibly the longest-worshipped goddess in the world,
from at least the fourth century, B.C.E. until modern
times. Her hieroglyph is the throne, for the pharaohs of
Egypt were said to live in Her lap (as modern women also
live in the lap of the Goddess). Her last temple in
Alexandria was torn down in 391 C.E. and last pre-modern
Isian festival was held in 416. In 1976, Lady Olivia
Robertson and her brother, the late Lawrence Durdin-Robertson,
Lord Strathloch, and his wife, founded the Fellowship of
Isis. Thus is the Great Creatix once more honored and
worshipped around the world.
- December 31 – In Egypt, the day of Nephthys,
goddess of the house, and Sekhmet, goddess of time. As
New Years Eve, this is the night that turns into the
first morning of the new year, and next month is named
after that old two-faced Roman god, Janus. Before Janus,
however, came Cardea, an oak goddess who stood upon the
hinge of the year and looked both forward and backward.
Her daughters were Postvorta and Antevorta. Their Latin
names come from post, meaning "after," ante,
meaning "before," and vertere, the verb
that means "to turn." Divination on December
31 can show us what in our past becomes our present and
looks toward our future.
Beginning with the fall equinox, the year’s great
day tips over into night. As the days grow shorter and
the nights lengthen, bears and other animals seek their
dens to begin their period of hibernation.
Perhaps we, too, would rather rest, would rather not
do all that shopping, not go to all those parties.
Perhaps we, too, would rather sleep the winter away. And
what do we do when we sleep? We dream, and if the
Goddess should speak to us, we find Her magic. We dream
in the dark, germinating like seeds to spring into life
when the light comes back. We dream through the dark to
find our own light, our own soul’s sweet treasure. We
dream through the dark to find our midwinter night’s
dream of light and rebirth and the rebirth of the light.
And as we awaken with the new-born sun, who has been
dreaming her own dreams through this dark night, let us
sing a new version of an old familiar carol:
Joy to the world,
The light is born.
Let earth begin to sing.
Let every heart
Rejoice in the light.
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and earth and nature sing!
I send you my dreams of a blessed and happy solstice
night. Let your new light shine!
© Copyright Barbara Ardinger 2002.
All Rights Reserved.
1 In addition
to the famous Man in the Moon, there were, indeed, gods
of the moon. One of the most famous was Sin, who gave
his name to that famous mountain upon which stood a
- Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D., Goddess Meditations
(St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1998).
- Peter Bogdanovich, ed., A Year and a Day
Engagement Calendar, 1993, Adapted from the works of
Robert Graves (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1993).
- Cooper, J.C. The Aquarian Dictionary of Festivals (Wellingborough,
U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1990).
- Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, The Year of the
Goddess: A Perpetual Calender [sic.]of Festivals (Wellingborough,
U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1990).
- Diana Ferguson, The Magickal Year: A Pagan
Perspective on the Natural World (York Beach, ME:
Samuel Weiser, 1998).
- Nigel Pennick, The Pagan Book of Days: A Guide to
the Festivals, Traditions, and Sacred Days of the Year (Rochester,
VT: Destiny Books, 1992).
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D., (www.barbaraardinger.com),
is the author of Goddess Meditations and Practicing
the Presence of the Goddess. She has two books
scheduled for publication in 2003. Finding New
Goddesses is a book of parody, puns, and humor. Quicksilver
Moon is a novel about a vampire, a coven of witches,
and a far-right fundamentalist preacher. She has
recently finished another novel about a group of crones
and is also working on a book called Let There Be
Beauty. She lives in Long Beach, California, with
her cats, Schroedinger and Heisenberg, plus her
collections of witches, goddesses, and books.
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