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Winter Solstice

Today in the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice, aka Midwinter, aka the Shortest Day. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you will probably have noticed that science isn’t my strong point, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of what that means you’ll need to look elsewhere, sorry! I did try researching this – that is to say, I took a look at Wikipedia – but the article lost me after a sentence or two. Briefly, the Solstice is ‘an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. It occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun.’ Although the day has been given the name of the Solstice that alignment of the poles is actually at 10.23pm UK time. I don’t think there’s much to see though: unlike an eclipse, there is no obvious visible sign. So now you know – don’t say I don’t enlighten you! And I’m pretty sure that those poles to which reference is made have nothing to do with dancing – or maybe dancing is the order of the day? To be safe don’t quote me on that, just in case……

My interest in this day is its significance in a cultural and spiritual sense. Apparently this goes back as far as Neolithic times, when it was seen as the most propitious time for planting their crops and mating their animals – I wonder what those cave paintings were like? This time of year is important in many cultures, dating back long before it was appropriated by Christian faiths as ‘Christmas.’  The Wikipedia article also tells us that the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” (winter solstice) holiday called Yule, amongst many names. Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath and the Yule log are directly descended from ancient Yule customs. The underlying theme is how important this time of year is in the natural world, as a time representing rebirth and the beginning of more fruitful seasons.

While I was playing around on YouTube the other day looking for new Christmas songs to share with you, I came across one of their playlists which introduced me to modern day music – some of it pagan – celebrating this time of year. As you might imagine, much of this is what would be termed ‘folk music,’ though there were elements of jazz and heavy metal in there too. I knew nothing of this before, but my interest was piqued. I’ve dabbled a little further and have added some of these artists to my Apple Music library, as I rather enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. I thought this might be of interest to you, too, as I’d bet a fair amount that most readers will know no more about this than I do! So here are just a few examples. Firstly, from a guy based in Brighton, here in the UK, known as Damh The Bard:

There’s a warmth to his voice which I find appealing: his words give a very good explanation of what the pagan midwinter season is about, and draw the comparison with Christian beliefs. An interesting song.

This is far from just being a British thing, though. I also came across an Australian pagan band called Spiral Dance, who played gigs here with Damh The Bard in 2017: small world, eh? This is from their 2006 album The Quickening:

Again, there is a real warmth to the voice of the lead singer, Adrienne Pigott. This style of music is beginning to grow on me!

Moving across the pond to the US I came across this one from Denise Jordan Finley:

That is from an album called Solstice. According to her bio Denise is very much involved with the church, so I think it would be wrong to describe her as ‘pagan,’ but this illustrates well for me how inter-related these apparently different sets of beliefs actually are. And her voice is a thing of beauty, putting me in mind of Jacqui McShee, of Pentangle – in my eyes, that is high praise!

My final selection takes us slightly further north into Canada. The Wyrd Sisters are very much under the radar, selling albums direct from their website and at live shows, festivals etc. The song features on Leave A Little Light, the first of their six albums, all of which were issued independently and seem to be unavailable except via their website. Again, like Denise Finley, I’m not sure that they are fully into the pagan tradition, but the lyrics of this ‘carole’ very much are:

That’s my final selection for this dip into the hitherto unknown – to me, at any rate.  I recognise that this has been a superficial introduction to some music which is representative of customs going back thousands of years, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I had found, and to encourage you to think about the meaning of Yule. As I have said, I have only just got going with this style of music, and have no doubt that someone more versed in it would ridicule my lack of knowledge. But it interests me, and has broadened my musical horizon, and that for me is no bad thing. I hope you have enjoyed this too, and that you also will follow it further: I suspect that we have much to learn. And if you have more than my limited knowledge do please comment and share it.

See you again on Christmas Day, for my final collection of seasonal songs.

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  1. December 23, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    Clive,
    My knowledge of Solstice this year has been greatly enhanced by not just you but also Netflix’s Sabrina! I feel enlightened.
    Always funny living in Aust to see the celebration of Winter Solstice as our temperatures move well into the 30Cs and the days are long and sunny.
    I have sampled your Solstice selection and well check the artists out in more detail. Some look very interesting and are not part of my playlists (yet).
    Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 23, 2018 at 11:45 pm

      I’m not sure which of those is the more reliable source, and I wouldn’t put any bets on it! Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you enjoy digging further into the music – the Australians deserve your time, at the very least! I’ve listened to more of these artists where I can – the Wyrd Sisters are a bit hard to find – and I like what I’ve heard so far. Merry Christmas to you too. Or should that be Good Yule? 😊🎅🎄

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 23, 2018 at 11:48 pm

        Following the Sabrina logic – Good Yule.🎃👿😂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. December 21, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    A veritable feast of song and science, Clive! Although I am Canadian, I haven’t heard of the Wyrd Sisters (shame on me). I’ll come back to this again and again throughout the holidays to hear all of the music. This is a very enjoyable post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 21, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      Thank you, Diane, I’m really pleased you enjoyed it so much. I did say they were under the radar, so I think you can forgive yourself: their website is ©️2006 and makes no reference to their sixth and apparently final album, which according to Wikipedia was released in 2008. They sued – and lost – over the use of their name in one of the Harry Potter films. That was decided in 2010 and they are reported as being liable for $140,000 in legal costs plus an amount for damages which has not been made public. I guess that may have caused their demise!

      Like

  3. December 21, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Great post,
    I recently wrote about the solstice at
    https://thesciencegeek.org/2018/12/14/december-21-2018-the-solstice/

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 21, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      Thank you for this – I was hoping someone who knew what they were talking about would help me out. Your post is very interesting, and I’m glad to have read it – even a non-scientist like me understood it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. December 21, 2018 at 11:27 am

    This half way point (on both sides) is of interest to loads of bloggers today 😎
    The weather here in Melbourne has been up and down for weeks – neither one thing nor the other. Wet to the point of flooding – dry to the point of early (much too early) bushfires. Sunny days are all I long for – warm is good too. Like that today until the rain came down about 5pm!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 21, 2018 at 11:32 am

      I’ve already added my little bit to blogworld! I see what you mean about your weather – it seems to have attacked today’s Big Bash game rather dramatically. Not what we Brits expect of your summer 😉

      Like

  5. December 21, 2018 at 11:25 am

    The Wyrd Sisters’ song is gorgeous. (So are the others, but this one really grabs me.) Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 21, 2018 at 11:29 am

      Thank you, I’m glad you like it. It is gorgeous, isn’t it? I was rather taken with them all, for different reasons. Sometimes, the suggested playlists on YouTube really are worth looking at!

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 1:06 pm

        I’m sure you’re right but I’ve been too much of a contrarian to try them. Plus I tend to think of the computer as work, so I stay pretty focused. That’s both good and bad.

        Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 1:11 pm

        You’re allowed to use the computer as a toy too! I’m retired, so ‘work’ is just a four letter word to me anyway 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 1:46 pm

        I’ve run out of reply boxes, so this belongs below. I’m retired too, as if no one pays me for the work I do, but work sort of makes sense of the world for me–to the extent that anything does these days. And an assortment of jobs I had wrecked my wrists and the computer aggravates the problem, so I really don’t want to know that anything on the computer’s worth pursuing for its own sake.

        Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 1:55 pm

        I see where you’re coming from, that can’t be easy for you. I hardly use a computer these days, the iPad does most of the things I need – apart from embedding videos in blog posts, for which I have to boot up the laptop. I’d imagine a tablet would be easier on your wrists too, but I guess you’ve already tried that!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. December 21, 2018 at 10:49 am

    I’m pleased the days will get longer after today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 21, 2018 at 10:50 am

      I just hope they get better: dull, damp and blowing a hooley here!

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 10:51 am

        Sunny but windy here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2018 at 10:52 am

        Clearly there are advantages to being nearer the North Pole today!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. December 21, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Many thanks for reblogging 😊

    Like

  1. December 21, 2018 at 12:54 pm

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