First of all, let me wish you a happy Solstice and Merry Christmas. This week I had experienced several sort of Winter Solstice celebrations. Our yoga tribe did a special “yoga session” with externals introducing us to laughter yoga and some Japanese dance, before we had a Christmas lunch. In the evening of the 20th, I was invited by Iranian friends in Nagoya to join their celebration of Yalda Night. It reminds me to Yule or Christmas celebration. As Aunt Zelda in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale” reminds us, Christmas night comes from Yule or the sabbath celebrated to welcome the winter at Winter Solstice.
I actually like this period of darkness, because it gives me an excuse to do less sport and drink more hot chocolate hehe. I read this text recently on a social media and could only agree:
Life is being drawn into the earth, painlessly descending into the very heart of herself. As we as natural human animals are being called to do the same, the puss to descend into our bodies, into sleep, darkness and the depths of our own inner caves continually tugging at our marrow. But many find the descent into their own body a scary thing indeed, fearing the unmet emotions and past events that have been stored in the dark caves inside themselves. This winter solstice time is no longer celebrated as it once was, with the understanding that this period of descent into our own darkness was so necessary in order to find our light. This is a time of rest and deep reflection, a time to wipe the slate clean as it were and clear out the the old.
A time for the medicine of story, of fire, of nourishment and love. And trying to avoid alcohol, lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, bad food and consumerism.
Yin, the force of passivity, darkness and inner-travel
Some weeks ago I was looking for a title for a proposal for an academic article where I want to shed light on the importance of unlocking or lifting up feminine values in environmental studies. As I reject the essentialist notion that care and connection with nature are inherently part of womanhood, I decided to use the idea of yin and yang. Yin is the dark force, which is connected with the underworld. Or as Stephan Feuchtwang according to wikipedia in 2016 wrote:
Yin is the receptive and Yang the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both men and women as characters, and sociopolitical history (disorder and order).
Pomegranate, a fruit of a new year
In the book “Around the World in 80 trees” the tree for Iran is the pomegranate. I also associate it with the Ancient Greek myth of Persephone, and why winter (and fall) exist. Winter solstice has to be the saddest night for Demeter, goddess of agriculture, because her daughter would be in the underworld. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld. Eventually, he was persuaded to let her free, but he has still one last trick. It is known in Ancient Greek mythology that if you ate in the Underworld you could never leave. So before she left, he gave her a few pomegranate seeds to eat. You have to know that pomegranate is also the symbol of Hera, goddess of marriage, and Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, so you can understand why Hades picked this fruit. Later, in the Great Mysteries of Eleusis, that would be known as the Sacred Marriage, which was celebrated together with the birth of her holy child Iacchias especially during this time. You can guess why we celebrate also the birth of Jesus in this time. Persephone ate six of these pomegranate seeds, and it was then decided she would stay 6 months a year in the Underworld (fall and winter) and the other six months with Demeter (spring and summer).
Pomegranate, a fruit of feminity
For thousands of years, the pomegranate has also been a fertility symbol. Its blood-red juice and many seeds could easily turn it into a metaphor for the womb. Some scholars with interest for pre-patriarchal traditions in Greece, believed that the colour of this fruit was associated with women’s blood. As feminity is also associated with yin and darkness, I am again not surprised why I was eating pomegranate at the Yalda Night Celebration this week.
To my delight, I got a Facebook invitation for this Iranian event. Yalda Night reminds me to Midwinter, or Yule (the Celtic name) that my ancestors celebrated. This is how my Iranian friends described it:
Yalda Night (aka Chelleh Night) is an ancient Iranian event on which the longest night of the year —i.e. winter solstice which usually falls on December 20, or 21— is celebrated. Historically, this event dates back to 502 BC when the majority of Iranians were followers of Zoroastrianism.
On this night, families get together and celebrate the arrival of winter by eating pomegranates, watermelons, a variety of nuts, tea with sweets etc (well, eating and drinking seems like a reasonable way of surviving the darkest night of the year, doesn’t it?). They also sing, dance and recite classical poetries especially those by the 14 c. Persian poet Hafez.
They used to sit around a Korsi (a similar item to kotatsu, which many Iranian households don’t have nowadays) and tell stories to defeat the darkness by enjoying each others’ company through the long cold night.
Hafez (1315-1390), according to ,the Encyclopedia Iranica, was born in the beautiful city of Shiraz, and is the most popular of Persian poets. If a book of poetry is to be found in a Persian home, it is likely to be the Divān (collected poems) of Hafez. Many of his lines have become everyday proverbs, and there are few who cannot recite some of his lyrics, partially or totally, by heart. His Divān is widely used in fāl, i.e. foretelling the future by interpreting a randomly chosen poetry. I also had to pick a poem, which was according to my heart about grieving about what is lost, especially now, and then letting go.
I felt so in peace when I listened to the poetry. Also during the songs and the drum play. Although I am normally not able to sleep the night before a flight, I slept like a rose for 7-8 hours, before I took a flight during the shortest day of the year, to northern Europe, where I want to recharge and reflect about what I learned and unlearned in the past year.