This week saw the passing of the Midwinter Solstice and, with it, a tangible sense of relief in my household. The solstice marks the extreme in the Earth’s annual orbit around its ever-benevolent Sun, where the days finally begin to lengthen and lighten. This might be scant consolation for those in Northern Europe who will barely notice the initial difference in the length of short days and long dark nights, but observations over millennia have given us good reason to believe that the sunlight is coming back.

And we’ve also made it through another festive season in which many cultural traditions celebrate the passing of midwinter in a wide variety of formats. Way before Christianity made a play to appropriate the major pagan festivals to their own socio-political agenda, the Ancient Romans were kicking it up in their Saturnalia, a week long alcohol marinated bender with attendant gift giving. Sound familiar?

The Romans also held the last regular observances of the Mithraism mystery school, the “Festival of Sol Invictus,“ which celebrated their unconquered sun god once he’d prevailed over the forces of darkness at the winter solstice. Elsewhere in Northern Europe, ancient pagan folklore celebrated the winter solstice defeat of the Holly King, representing the waning sun and darkening year, by the Oak King, symbolising the waxing sun and the return of longer days.

In Germanic and Norse traditions, the festival of Yule, typically a period of twelve days starting on the solstice (widely recognised as having founded the later Twelve Days of Christmas), was a time to honour the return of the sun and the promise of warmth and fertility. The ritual of lighting a carefully selected, decorated large Yule log to be kept burning by community members throughout the festival was key and is still practiced. The ashes were believed to hold protective and purifying qualities and were held back for rituals for the rest of the year. As the log burned, the flames symbolised the return of the sun and the triumph of light over darkness. There’s a theme emerging here, no?

But let's not keep it too Eurocentric, the Japanese winter solstice, Toji, is celebrated with feasts of specific foodstuffs. In Iran, the festival of Yalda Night celebrates the triumph over darkness theme with family gatherings and feasting, while in Peru, the Inti Raymi celebrations honor the Incan sun god Inti, featuring colourful processions and rituals.

Despite the diversity of tradition and geography, the few examples given here of the many available commonly recognise the solstice as a pivotal moment in our annual planetary cycle, embodying themes of renewal, light, and the triumph of warmth over winter’s chill.

As we approach the start of 2024, might this week’s Cancer Full Moon provide a focal point in which to invite the themes of renewal and light into our lives? As lustrous Lady Luna reflects the illuminating light of Sol Invictus onto our every thought, word, and action this week, the start of a new year affords us a clear opportunity to reappraise 2023, learn from the highs and lows we have created for ourselves, and resolve to create an entirely positive outlook for 2024.

That’s not to suggest, in some candy coated fashion, that a quick rejig of one’s perception is going to remove all the challenges in our lives overnight. Shit happens, but we do, nonetheless, hold a huge degree of personal power in how we perceive the poo. Under this Cancer Full Moon, the conscious choice of positive thoughts, words, and actions could be read as our very own midwinter victory over the darkness in our lives.

Light must come from inside. You cannot ask the darkness to leave; you must turn on the light.

(Sogyal Rinpoche)

The concept of divine light is a recurring theme in many wisdom traditions. It can often come across as sounding a bit woolly, but the theme originates from an early human perspective of sun dependence and worship, progressively taking on the symbolic representation of spiritual illumination and enlightenment.

Spirituality is recognising the divine light that is within us all. It doesn’t belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone.

(Muhammad Ali)

Great spiritual teachers spoke of perceiving the light within everything as a route to experiencing the true unity of existence - enlightenment itself. In recognising the animating spark in all things, they suggested we could find ourselves aware of the inviolate connection of all existence, essentially perceiving no real separation between self and any other aspect of the collective whole - our greater self. To care for the ‘other’ as if it were self therefore becomes an informed action of self-interest.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

(Jeshua Ben Joseph)

Modern living sets all sorts of ludicrous parameters for negative self judgement. We are surrounded by unrealistic concoctions of 'success' defined by omnipresent consumerism. We try to be perfect partners, parents, friends, lovers, employees, and spiritual practitioners while referring to an entirely unhelpful comparison culture that fosters competition and a sense of inadequacy rather than celebrating individual uniqueness and personal growth.

We are kept from the experience of Spirit because our inner world is cluttered with past traumas…. As we begin to clear away this clutter, the energy of divine light and love begins to flow through our being.

(Thomas Keating)

As 2024 approaches, we can opt for more of the same or work in our own lives, through our thoughts, words, and actions, to address the remaining areas of darkness in our lives. In effect, we really do need to lighten up. Every dark thought, whether triggered by images of international warfare and its systematic abuses or comments around the family Christmas dinner table, adds only to the weight of dark thought in the world. It is this well of darkness from which war and its male exponents draw their strength. Let’s withdraw our emotional stress from the equation and, instead, concentrate our liberated energy on thoughts, words, and actions of a wholly positive nature. Instead of hanging around in the darkness, let’s head straight for the light and assess whether what we encounter en route brings benefit to us and those we encounter as we quite literally transform our worlds, one at a time.

The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.


Under this Cancer Full Moon, may I offer a couple of dos and don'ts to help prepare for an awesomely positive set of New Year resolutions to implement in 2024?

Do remember: If there's something to say, then say it with confidence.

Even if you’re not totally sure of the ground on which you stand, speak your truth, and your words won’t miss their mark. It's not likely to come across as brash or self aggrandising. Far from it. People are likely to be grateful for your candid honesty, even if the message is difficult to hear. This applies to bosses and work colleagues, lovers, family, and friends.

Don't forget: If there is love to be made, then make it.

Just as importantly, this is a great week to express how much these important people mean to you and to share direct messages of love, however challenging that may initially appear. Woo, and indulge your partners.

Do remember: If there's a deal to be done, then do it.

The people you love are more than likely those with whom you will want to collaborate in realising your next great scheme, so keep them sweet and hold them dear.

Don't forget: If there's a relationship to build, then build it.

Don't simply rely on the relationships you already have in the bank. Heaven only knows who this Cancer Full Moon is going to bring into your life for the better. It's a wonderful time to meet new friends, so keep your eyes and minds wide open.

Do remember: If there's a personal aspiration worth investing in, invest in it.

These are advantageous days for confidently investing in yourself and your dreams. If others benefit from the investment, so be it; begrudge no one the fruits of their own labours. Give freely; the ultimate returns will be yours. Concerted effort and study will bring rewards (get your mock exam revision underway during the Christmas hollies youngsters).

Don't forget: If there's an issue to be confronted, then confront it.

Our hidden fears are the greatest impediments to our happiness. It's not good practice to ignore the dark side of the moon. Just because we can't see it doesn't mean it's not there and deserving of exploration.

Do remember to shine. If there's a perfect divine light worth sharing, it’s yours.

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, oh let it shine.

(Harry Dixon Loes)