Celebrating the Return of Light

The solstice candle in question, lit and veiled in darkness.

Last night, I pulled my super-fragrant solstice candle out of the bubble wrap packaging it had come in. It was a purchase on November 30, 2018, from NaturalWitchRemedies (a store on Etsy that appears to be on hiatus right now) because it looked like a beautiful, sensible, and fragrant candle that I would love to offer to the Sun. I’ve used it for several solstices at this point.

The solstice itself was at about 5 AM local time on December 21, and since I was not keeping vigil through the night, I did my first ritual at ten-something last night before bed. My girlfriend and I were both sleepy and sluggish from the cheesy decadence of our Winter Solstice fondue meal, consumed while watching a B scifi movie. Despite the obvious consequences of doing ritual while tired — a few deer-in-the-headlights moments that made me wish that I had scripted it — it was luminous and beautiful, the presence of the Gods so brilliant that it was as if the sun had appeared at midnight, to speak in poetic hyperbole. I prayed for good things for my family and friends, presented offerings of incense scented like frankincense and bright-tasting tea, and made libations.

As a consequence of becoming more assertive about religion in my daily life, I had registered the solstice today as a vacation day. For most the day, I remained in pajamas, savoring coffee and chocolate while having a long text message convo with one of my sisters. As another consequence of being more assertive, I was the one in charge of my family’s non-ritual Winter Solstice Zoom get-together, so we all had fun chatting. I opened gifts from my mom after the Zoom ended and prepared for a second solstice prayer, conducted shortly after sunset. I repeated the ritual I had done last night with a few changes.

The most essential part of a solstice ritual is the light. My special solstice candle has this function. Especially at the winter solstice, the long-burning light is so comforting and warm. Second to this come other types of offerings, which vary depending on the religion one practices, how the solar year fits into the celebration, and to whom one prays. I’ve argued that in American polytheisms, the solstices will likely have more prominence than in other traditions simply due to the eclecticism inherent in intergenerational polytheism where we live.

With that in mind, below I have two mini-outlines to how a simple solstice ritual might go.

A Simple Heliogenna

Some years ago, Hellenic and Hellenistic Syncretic Polytheists started exploring a holiday called Heliogenna in honor of the God Helios, the one who bears the solar chariot. Whether or not a person or group celebrates it depends on their approach to reconstruction and how le or the group constructs the festival calendar. That said, a simple celebration can be done in conjunction with ordinary household practice or as a standalone.

One will need 1-2 candles, something to use for a libation (such as wine, water into which honey has been dissolved, tea or tisane, and so on), and (optionally) incense.

  1. Perform a brief purification. The simplest is to clean your hands and then to sprinkle consecrated saltwater on oneself.
  2. Pray to Hestia. Her Orphic hymn is really nice here. Something like this may suffice: I pray to you, O Hestia, Goddess who is the foundation of the Kosmos and the foundation of the home. O glorious Goddess with well-oiled hair, fiery and sustaining, come into this home. Accept this offering that I give you [of light, if lighting a candle], you who receives first and last, and be well disposed towards us. Spondé, O Goddess. Make a libation into a receptacle of some kind.
  3. Pray to Helios. For my own ritual, I used the prayer to Helios for Heliogenna on p. 115 of The Far-Shining One: A Devotional to the Spirits of the Sun. First, light the flame and say something about how it is being lit in honor of the winter solstice. Then, give the offerings — incense, libations, and whatever you have for him — and recite the prayer. One may also say something heartfelt about seeking the God’s blessings in the new year.
  4. Silence. Resting in the silence after prayer is a beautiful thing, and I encourage this.
  5. Thank the Gods. Make a closing libation to Helios and Hestia, thanking them. Extinguish Hestia’s candle with a small statement of gratitude, and allow Helios’ candle to burn for as long as you can safely attend to it.

The Ritual I Did

I’ve been exploring mindful eclecticism ever since the Hellenistic Polytheistic Syncretism stuff of last summer, specifically to find the right fit between the place where I belong (being a devotee of Apollon and practicing Hellenic-style rituals to the Hellenic Gods), my upbringing in Neopaganism, and family history, the details of which I don’t think I can articulate on this blog in a well-ordered way, at least not yet.

Solstice offerings burning.

I started worshipping Sulis a bit last year, a solar Goddess associated with the healing springs of Bath in the United Kingdom. I went to Bath when I was in my late teens, and for a short while, I had a bottle of healing water from the site (don’t ask me what happened to it over the course of so many moves, it’s been, like, fifteen years). I started occasionally making salutes to the sun in honor of Sunna shortly after that as very low-key offerings, as I had no real plan for escalating the prayer version of “casually waving at a Goddess” because I was still sorting through my thoughts. It’s possible that I have a soft spot for, like, all solar deities.

  1. Brief purification. Sprinkled saltwater.
  2. Prayer to Hestia. I pray to you, O Hestia, Goddess who is the foundation of the Kosmos and the foundation of the home. O glorious Goddess with well-oiled hair, fiery and sustaining, come into this home. Accept this offering that I give you of light, you who receives first and last, and be well disposed towards us. Spondé, O Goddess. I lit both her main candle and the oil burner’s candle; I gave her a fragrant oil blend in an oil burner and a libation of chilled tulsi.
  3. Prayer to Nyx. Because it’s the darkest night, I felt that a prayer to her was appropriate. She received patchouli incense and a recitation of her Orphic hymn.
  4. Solstice candle. Here, there was a prayer to Helios, Sunna, and Sulis.
  5. Prayer to Helios. I used the prayer to Helios for Heliogenna on p. 115 of The Far-Shining One: A Devotional to the Spirits of the Sun. He received frankincense.
  6. Prayer to Sulis. I found a prayer on the Internet that I’m not that satisfied with, so I may write my own or figure out if there is anything to her in a devotional chapbook. She received tea-scented incense.
  7. Prayer to Sunna. I gave her two prayers from The Far-Shining One on p. 22 and 23. She also received frankincense.
  8. Silence.
  9. Thank you, Gods. I prayed for good things for my family, friends, and community, and then I made a closing libation to all of them.

Hestia’s candles have been extinguished by now, but the solstice candle is still burning — it’s so, so fragrant — about two feet to my left.

Happy Solstice, everyone. May the season to come bring you good things.

☀️

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