The ancient Celts believed the new day began at sunset, as do modern pagans, Jews, and some Christians. Similarly, the ancients celebrated the new year on Samhain, October 31.
I love this idea. I love the idea that there is a period of dark gestation prior to the actual birth. The ancient new year celebration was followed by a quiet time, a time of going within, of considering and planning and dreaming forth the rest of the year… and then, at the winter solstice, the first glimmers of returning light are noticed. We start to stretch, even as the days may grow colder, they are also longer… an interesting metaphor yet again. The sun begins to warm us; there might be a little thaw, the portent of what will come. Soon, rivulets of water appear when previously all was frozen. The birds return. The warmth… the excitement… the burst of life… and then, the summer solstice… a faint first reminder that everything changes, everything comes to an end. A great blaze of heat and energy… then something cools, the trees explode in a colorful feast for the eyes; glorious and trusting, leaves whirl to the ground. Animals scurry, gathering into their nests what they will need… for the dark time coming.
For the dark, like the light, always returns. But I believe what the ancients knew was that the dark is a growing time, too. We discount that in modern times, or worse, we fear it and try to rush through it, run from it, and therefore miss its gifts. Especially true here in North America, where using the dark time to burrow into one’s soul rather than rush to the shopping mall is practically heretical. In North America we like happy. We like bright and shiny. I’m not terrific at that, not one of nature’s frolickers.
As someone who has spent considerable periods of time in emotional darkness, it does my soul good to consider the truth that even in deepest winter (emotional or otherwise), when the metaphorical light seems far off, and life seems cold. . . still, something valuable is growing, and taking form. In other words, instead of being a time of desolation and fear and isolation, the darkness can be nurturing, full of comfort, rest and dreaming.
It’s true, the days are infinitesimally longer here on the northeastern coast of America where I live than they were last week. The new thing growing wiggles its toes but, happily, there’s still a number of weeks in which to dream and let the new, whatever that may be, take form. It might even be a new novel.