my winter solstice w. starhawk

15 years ago while living in san francisco i participated in a pagan/wicca winter solstice ritual with starhawk and her community. and even though it was a little tacky and VERY californian – of course! – to this day this remains my favorite and somehow the most appropriate way to celebrate the dreaded winter holidays. mainly it was a celebration of the longest night of the year, a farewell to the sun of the old year and welcoming of the sun of the new year. very simple. no witchcrafty hocus pocus. just a bunch of us celebrating the end of one cycle and the start of a new one.

this is how i recall it:
in the evening shortly before sundown people gathered near ocean beach, a long stretch of city beach facing west. there were about 200 of us. some people did intense rituals in the circle of their covens. others were just standing around watching the sun approach the horizon. when the sun was about to dissappear into the ocean, starhawk gathered everybody around and said a few words, a few invocations, a few chants. then almost everybody got naked and ran into the freezing cold ocean to wash of the old year, while watching the sun “sink” into the ocean. on the beach people had set up big fires so we could warm up after this physical ordeal.

traditionally the solstice night was considered to be a sort of vaccum between the old and the new year. people would stay up all night and hold a wake for the old year, taking inventory, letting go of the old and preparing themselves for the new year to begin.
so later that night about 15 friends of mine met at the huge loft space where some friends of mine lived to do a ritual. first we ate a great meal. then we turned off the lights and got into a circle. all of us stripped out of their clothes. so we sat there in the dark, naked, in a circle of good, trusted friends. the idea was to hold a cleaning ritual. it was time to let go of all the old hang-ups. everybody was encouraged to express their darkest thoughts and feelings. after a timid start things got very intense. people cried, ranted, screamed, shivered.
then the idea was to stay up all night, to keep wake for the old year. but i feel asleep and did not make it. in the morning, well before sunrise, we got up and walked up to corona heights, the most beatiful hill in the city facing east, where we waited for the sun to make its grand entry. when it did come up people howled and screamed, some prayed, most hugged, whatever.
this whole ritual felt very archaic and totally real. logical even. natural. i wish i had friends here in switzerland to do such a thing every year… but unfortunately the swiss wicca i know about is way too esoteric and i never connected with them.

a word about starhawk: even though wicca is not my “spirituality” of choice, i really respect starhawk for her inspiration. her approach is very down to earth, political, feminist, deep ecologist, direct-action oriented. its not about being all esoteric and mysterious. its about real people trying to get in touch with the cycles of the year and themselves. very simple. very real.
as i looked around starhawk‘s website i found this great essay with her thoughts after the election.
Ride Out to Meet Them: Some Post-Election Thoughts
so even up until today she is keeping it real… and radical. respect!

edit: sunset in switzerland today: 17.25 sunrise tomorrow morning: 7:20 [despite the different times neighbor Mütz at bernergazette claims…], so if you see us staring at the sun somewhere around these times you’ll know what we’re up to…

About Jan Zuppinger

Jan Zuppinger has been writing this blog since 2002. He likes to grow vegetables. He likes to eat them too. He has opinions on everything, but sadly no one cares. Jan Zuppinger is not joking, just joking, he is joking, just joking, he's not joking. *click.