Yesterday was Winter Solstice and the night before last, those of us in the Americas were treated to a total eclipse of the moon. I awoke at 1 AM, saw the moon was shining brightly directly overhead, that it was a windy 22◦ and went back to bed for an hour. Then, I bundled up against the cold night, wrapped in a Renaissance period woolen cape, scarf, mittens and lots of fleece underneath. At the height of the eclipse it was wonderfully dark and yet the red moon held her own against the sun’s diminishing light. Surprisingly, the Canada geese on the creek were throwing a fit, squawking in frustration while flying overhead: I could hear them even though I couldn’t see them. Apparently geese fly at night during full moons and I can only surmise their confusion at not seeing their reflections on the water because of the eclipse. Unexpected darkness throws all of us into momentary bewilderment.
This astronomical phenomenon combining a total eclipse of the moon with the winter solstice hasn’t occurred since 1638 according to NASA and won’t happen again until 2094, long after those of us who lived through this one will be gone from this planet. We all know that during the solstice, we experience the longest night and the shortest day of the year; as the days begin to lengthen, it is also associated with the rebirth of the sun. Watching the eclipse during the solstice, I was awestruck as the sun’s light returned to the moon’s face, the perfect analogy of rebirth. “It’s a ritual of transformation from darkness into light,” says Nicole Cooper, a high priestess at Toronto’s Wiccan Church of Canada. “It’s the idea that when things seem really bleak, it is often our biggest opportunity for personal transformation.”
It seems fitting that the winter solstice and a full eclipse of the moon should occur simultaneously in the last two weeks of a year that was full of unanticipated endings and new beginnings for me. This past year I was forcefully removed from a home I’d spent years nesting in, my marriage ended abruptly, my husband lied and stole all of my belongings, and my dreams of the future ended in a nightmare so implausible that my nights are frequently haunted eight months later. And yet through it all, old relationships were forged and made stronger, new friends were well met, new experiences enriched me and a new spirituality, long forgotten and lost, reminds me of the things most important in life. That’s not to say that I’m no longer an atheist, I am. But just because I do not believe in any deity, doesn’t mean the world isn’t full of natural spirit and energy and beauty beyond human comprehension. Enjoying and consciously participating in the natural cycles of the year brings peace and simplicity to life.
I celebrate this dark season and appreciate the opportunity to hibernate, to savor hot chocolate, warm woolens and wood fires, to catch up on my reading and writing, and to mediate with grace and thanks for all those things and people that make my life worth struggling for. “Gratitude is always in season,” says Grove Harris, “and attending to the sensual pleasures of the winter is a useful way to ward off seasonal complaints.”
As the cold deepens in the northern hemisphere, I look forward to spring with each lengthening day. The cold dark nights and gray hued days will not last forever and in that knowledge is a message of hope. The spring will bring only a few more endings but it will also bring a lot more beginnings. Out of this dark year, my personal transformation is emerging and I am revitalized by the promise of a soulful, loving, simple future.