Newgrange, Ireland at Winter Solstice
In Latin ‘Solstice’ means “the sun stands still”. The image heading this post is of Newgrange at Winter Solstice in Ireland. It is a huge tomb mound built in Ireland around 3200 B.C., about a thousand years before Stonehenge.
A tunnel facing the solstice sunrise runs to a main chamber, and a small window bathes the chamber in solstice light for 17 minutes. This feels mystical.
I could offer the science around Winter Solstice, present theories on the people that built Newgrange, or talk about how this day is celebrated around the world.
But instead, my offering this darkest day of the year (Northern Hemisphere) and lightest day of the year (Southern Hemisphere – save it for July!) is a magical Winter Solstice story for children. I have to say that I was enchanted…..
“A group of little Faeries huddled in their home deep under the roots of a giant oak tree. They were safe and snug in their tiny underground cave lined with dandelion fluff, bird feathers, and dried moss.
Outside, the wind blew cold and the snow fell softly down to cover the ground. “I saw the Sun King today,” the faerie named Rose said as she pulled her mossy cloak tighter about her. “He looked so old and tired as he walked off through the forest. What is wrong with him?
“The great oak said he’s dying” answered Daffodil.
“Dying? Oh, what will we do now?”, Little Meadow Grass started to cry, “If the Sun King dies, our little plant friends will not grow. The Birds will not come and sing again. Everything will be winter for ever!” Lilac, Dandelion and Elder Blossom tried to comfort their friend, but they were all very sad. As they huddled together, there was a knock on the tiny door.
“Open up, Faeries,” called out a loud voice. “Why are you hiding instead of joining us in our Solstice celebration?” Rose opened the door and the little gnome Brown Knobby pushed inside, shaking the glistening snowflakes off his brown coat and hat.
“We are too sad to celebrate,” Daffodil said wiping her eyes, “The Sun King is dying, haven’t you heard?”
“He is dead you silly Faeries.” Brown Knobby’s round dark eyes sparkled with laughter. “Now hurry, or we’ll be late for the celebration!”
“How can you be happy and laughing?!” Elder Blossom stamped her little foot and frowned at the gnome. “If the Sun King IS dead, it will be winter always. We will never see the Sun again!”
“Silly little child-Faeries.” Brown Knobby grabbed Dandelion by the hand and pulled her to her feet. “There is a secret to the Winter Solstice. Don’t you want to know what it is?”
The Faeries looked at him in surprise. “Secret?” they all said. “What secret? We are only new little Faeries, you silly gnome. We’ve never been to a Solstice celebration before.”
“Come and see. Come and see. Get your capes and come with me.” Brown Knobby danced and jigged around the room. “Hurry, Hurry, don’t be slow! To the Sacred Oak Grove through the snow!” He danced out of the door and disappeared.
“What did that gnome mean?” Rose asked as she gathered up her cloak of dried rose petals held together with cobwebs and lined with goose down.
“I don’t know, but the Lady lives in the Sacred Grove.” Meadow Grass pulled on her hat.
“Perhaps if we go to see the Goddess, She can explain what Brown Knobby was talking about”.
The Faeries left their snug little home and trudged off through the snow toward the sacred oak grove. The forest was dark with only the light of the Moon shining down through the thick fir branches and bare limbs of maple and hawthorn. It was very difficult for them to get through the snow because they were very, very small. As they waded through the wet snow and shivered in the cold wind, they met a fox.
“Where are you going, Faeries?” the fox asked.
“To the sacred grove,” they answered, they were cold and shivering.
“Climb on my back and I will take you there swiftly.”
The fox knelt down so the Faeries could climb up. Then he raced off through the dark.
“Listen!” Lilac said as they neared the Grove of Sacred trees. “Someone is singing happy songs. A LOT of someones.”
The beautiful music carried over the cold, still, moonlit air. It was the most beautiful music the Faeries had ever heard. The fox carried the Faeries right to the edge of the stone altar in the center of the grove, then knelt down.
“Look!” said Elder Blossom as they slid to the snow covered ground. “There is the Maiden and the Mother and the OLD Wise Crone, and many other Little People.”
“They are all smiling and happy,” said Lilac as she looked around at all the creatures.
“All the animals are here too,” whispered Dandelion. “Why are they all looking at the Mother?”
The Faeries moved closer to the three Ladies seated on the altar stone. The Mother held a bundle close in Her arms, smiling down at it. The Maiden reached down and took the Faeries gently in her Hands. She held them close to the Mother so they could see what She held.
“A Baby!” the Faeries cried. ” A new little Baby! Look how he glows!”
“He is the newborn Sun King,” said the Maiden smiling.
“But Brown Knobby and the old oak tree said the Sun King was dead,” the Faeries answered her. “How can this little baby be the Sun King?”
“That is the great secret of the Winter Solstice.” The Old Wise One touched the baby’s cheek with her wrinkled hand. “Every year the Sun King must come to the sacred grove during the darkest days of winter where he dies. I take his spirit to the Mother who gives him new life again. This is the way for all creatures, not just the Sun King.”
” You mean everything lives and dies and lives again? the Faeries looked down in wonder at the baby Sun King, nestled in the arms of the Mother.
” Yes, Little Ones,” answered the Old Wise Crone. “There is never an end to life. This is the great mystical secret of the Winter Solstice.”
The Faeries laughed because they were so happy.
“I think the little Sun King should have gifts,” said Rose. “I will show him where the wild roses bloom in the early summer.”
“And, I will teach him to call the birds and listen to the songs of the wind,” exclaimed Dandelion.
“When he is older and stronger, ” said the Mother, “then the flowers will bloom at his touch, the birds will return to sing their songs, and the air will be warm from his breath, and winter will be gone for a time. Then the Sun King will run and play with you in the forest.”
The little Faeries sang to the Baby Sun King, songs of the coming spring, the sweet smelling flowers, the bumbling bees, and all the secrets of the forest. And all the creatures within the sacred grove sang with them. Then the fox took them back to their snug home under the roots of the giant oak tree where they dreamed wonderful dreams, waiting for the warmth of spring and the fun they would have with the little Sun King.”
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Gaye Abbott, Wildly Free Elder, 12/21/22