How does one begin a reflection piece on the year 2020 and the meanings of the Winter Solstice during the holiday season? Do Hanukkah and Christmas even mean anything anymore? What the—Planetary alignments?! The Age of Aquarius?! So much is happening in a short span of time!
Our universes were upended by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The months of quarantine and giving up seeing our friends and family members in person, the business closures and the stagnation of the global economy, the overwhelmed healthcare system, the climbing rates of infection and the death toll… the list goes on. We’ve had to make several sacrifices this year, and for most of it relief feels like it’s fleeting. Just when we think humanity might get a respite from the ravaging effects of this viral disease, we get disappointed again when more waves hit us. It’s like a hurricane and a maelstrom we’re trying to steer through with just a broken oar, several patched up holes in our rickety boat, and not enough life vests to go around.
As I sit here and contemplate what 2020 has meant to me, I struggle to find the right words. I struggle to piece the frayed fringes of my anxiety-tinged thoughts together while stringing these sentences.
For one thing, 2020 is the year I finally found a way to express my own spirituality in my own terms—as a modern solitary practitioner of folk witchcraft who is learning as much as she can about decolonization, analyzing everything she reads before performing a spell, and looking for the magic in the mundane. It’s hard to explain, and my own personal experiences have been so complex when it comes to spirituality, but that’s as simple as I can put it.
My moral compass while navigating the world is still influenced somewhat by the ethical framework that Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism) has given me as a child. I never lost my faith in the divine; rather, I lost faith in a dogmatic patriarchal system that did not fully meet my needs and desire for understanding philosophy and exploring my spirituality. But that’s just me. You might be on a different path, and that’s totally okay, for as long as we agree to be decent human beings to each other and to everyone. Ultimately that’s what matters—how well you treat others and our planet.
As a witch, I’m diving into the meaning of the Wheel of the Year (similar to the concept of holy days of obligation and saints’ feast days within a Pascal calendar for Catholics) and what each sabbat means. The Wheel of the Year represents the change of seasons—the cyclical patterns of nature and their effect on humanity—and celebrations of these changes are marked with rituals and festivals as ways to feel more connected with the earth. One of these sabbats, which occurs during the holiday season, is Yule, also known as the Winter Solstice.
The etymology of Yule is unclear, as it was adapted from several languages, though the general consensus is that it comes from the Old Norse word hjól (referring to the wheel, the renewal of a cycle) or from the Old English yoole which means “feast.” Meanwhile, the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia—the feast of the god Saturn—from December 17-23. Before the arrival of Christianity, European pagans celebrated the winter solstice by decking their halls with boughs of evergreens; merrymaking through mulled wine and songs (wassailing was the precursor to caroling); gifting others in the community with food, utensils, or clothes; and recognizing the liminal threshold between the old and the new year.
From an archaeological and historical standpoint, Jesus was actually born around March or April. Early Christians appropriated the cultural significance of pagan holidays, festivities, and traditions to fit into their own narrative of Christ’s birth and death as a way of infiltrating the pagan communities in the hopes of garnering and converting more followers. Christianity became the official religion when the Roman emperor Constantine proclaimed in 313 that it would be tolerated and once he ordered the convention at Nicea in 325, developing the Nicene Creed recited by Catholics at mass and adapted by other Christian denominations. As history has shown us, the modern Christmas celebration and traditions as we know them are almost indistinguishable from that of the pagan Yule.
I confess that I do not know much about Hanukkah. I do know its significance among the Jewish community as the festival in which the Maccabees prayed for a miracle, beseeching God to sustain their oil lamps for longer than a day while facing battles with their enemies, and they ended up with eight nights of lights as well as triumph.
When I think about these holidays, the main things they have in common are the celebration of lights, of hope returning in times of doubt, of rest and the renewal of energy, and wishes for prosperous seasons the following year. Whether you light candles on a menorah or an advent wreath, burn a yule log, make gingerbread houses or orange and clove pomanders, or decorate your home with wreaths, evergreen trees, and garlands of holly and mistletoe, there is always something special about this season.
There is much to grieve and be sad about, yet we cling onto hope with shaky (sanitized) fingers as we leave 2020. We are beleaguered and weary, worried about what will happen next and if anything will work out at this point. Even though we have new vaccines on the way and new leadership stepping up to face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we still need to be careful.
Most of us will have to celebrate with our loved ones from a distance, navigating the menus of a virtual experience and wishing we were there to embrace them. We all still need to wear our masks, stand six feet apart, sanitize surfaces, and wash our hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. It’s physically exhausting and mentally draining, especially for our frontline essential workers. My heart is with them as I try to do my part in following the guidelines and listening to all of the latest scientific updates to stay well informed.
Yule 2020 also marks a shift in cosmic energies as we leave the cusp, shaking off bits of the Piscean Age and entering fully into the Age of Aquarius.
There must have been a reason why the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia around this time of year; it’s possible that they’ve witnessed for themselves the visibility of planetary alignments all those thousands of years ago. (I could be wrong, but who knows?) I find it fascinating that astrologers and astronomers alike have published articles pointing out the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn during this time. Scientists call it “The Great Conjunction,” and although this occurs every 20 years, it’s the first time in 800 years that one can stargaze and see this alignment with the naked eye. Some people are even going so far as to call it “The Christmas Star” because Jupiter and Saturn will appear almost as if they’re one bright shining entity (maybe Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar knew something when they followed a so-called star to Bethlehem).
As Marion Weinstein wrote in her book “Positive Magic” (see recommended reading list below):
A major theme of Aquarius is that God is within. The goal in the Age of Aquarius will be how to bring this idea into meaningful reality. The choices will involve innovative ways of helping everyone to be happy, secure, and fulfilled, making sure that no one is hungry, exploited, or poor. And this is to be realized, not according to some authority’s ideas, but in response to the basic needs of everyone.
Marion Weinstein first published her book in 1978, but her words still resonate with beams of hope during the time of coronavirus. We need to heal, not just as a nation, but as people. We need to heal ourselves, the rifts in our communities, the rips we created in our environments.
The Age of Aquarius will be a time of humanitarian social change, of spiritual awakening and growth, a rebirth of the mind, and the redesign of solving issues in our communities through more progressive and grassroots methods. A cosmic balancing act will occur between the two planets, with Jupiter representing generosity in leadership alongside health and wealth, while the more reserved Saturn represents dedication, responsibility, and setting limits.
Here’s a fun tidbit of trivia: the words “jovial” and “joy” come from the Roman god Jove, AKA Jupiter.
And by Jove, I hope the universe will be set aright this time around with the planetary alignment. May we be blessed with good health, incoming wealth, freedom and joy, and may we be more dedicated in our responsibilities to advocate for the care of earth and for each others’ well-being.
- “To Walk A Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day” by Alaric Albertsson. Chapter 10: Yule.
- “Year of the Witch: Connecting with Nature’s Seasons through Intuitive Magick” by Temperance Alden. Chapter 10: Yule.
- “The Great Conjunction on December 21 Marks the Start of a New-Age Renaissance” by Shereen Campbell. Stylcaster.com
- “The Biggest Astrological Event of Our Lifetime Arrives on December 21” by Amelia Quint. Allure.com
- “Positive Magic: A Toolkit for the Modern Witch” by Marion Weinstein. Chapter 2: Location in Time & Space.