Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of December 26th, - January 1st, 2009

Happy Holidays

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  Since the earliest days of the church Christian nations have generally celebrated Christmas around the time of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

bonfire

Bonfire

  In many pagan countries, this was the time for fire ceremonies, lighting both hearth fires and bonfires in an effort to 'help' the Sun and its warming light make it through these dark and dreary days. The common folk and their celebrations became midwife to the birth of a new Sun and year, wishing it good cheer. Different nationalities personified this time in different ways. For Scandinavian nations the father of the gods, Odin, was the object of veneration. With the Persians, it was Mithras, related to the Irish Mithr. For the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Celts it was Bel. Each of these entities are related to the Sun. It is interesting to note that in Italy the fire ceremonies were not quite as prevalent as they were in the more northern climes, and understandably so. The loss of light and cold are not as extreme in the Mediterranean as they are in Scotland or Norway.

  The other divine personality connected to this time of the year is Saturn, for whom we turn to the Romans. The festival was called the Saturnalia, and it sought to honor the true Father of the Gods. It was a time of universal license and merry-making. Even slaves were permitted to enjoy a thorough freedom in speech and behavior, with masters trading places and waiting on them as servants. The houses were decked with laurels and evergreens, work and business were suspended, and everyone feasted and rejoiced. Presents were given by parents (hey kids!) and friends, while games and amusements were played everywhere.

Saturnalia

Saturnalia

  Those who have celestially studied Saturn's nature do not find this ritual surprising, because as the Lord of Karma, 'all things you do come back to you'. Life sometimes has a way of rotating the wheel, so that at one time you're up and another you're down. The earthly master does not know when the tables might be turned, when he might become the slave. Honoring the god by acknowledging this helps to stabilize the status quo. By playing the slave during the Saturnalia, the master may be allowed to maintain his 'legitimate' position a while longer.

  For those confused by the various gods, the solution is not that difficult. It is the Sun and it is Saturn. The Winter Solstice is the time of the year when the Sun enters the 'territory' of Saturn (Capricorn), making each relevant. The Phoenicians once had strong maritime links with the British Isles, explaining the link between Bel and Mithr. Saturn was the father of Jupiter, as Odin was the father of Thor.

  One might wonder, given the history of Britain compared to the Americas, why pagan ritual seems to have survived so well in the British Isles, while Native and Central American indigenous rituals were so effectively eradicated. When one considers that Christianity arrived after the Romans, and was then visited again by their pagan cousins, the Saxons, Germans and Scandinavians in subsequent centuries, it becomes evident why this strange medley of Christian and pagan rites so interweaves itself with our modern celebration of Christmas.

  The Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Years are all related to the new solar cycle.

  They're close cousins and like to get together for the holidays.

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