The Broadly Guide to the Winter Solstice

Tonight is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and a significant event for pagans. Here is how to properly celebrate it—be it with wine and the annual cow slaughter, with Tarot cards, or with passionate sex magick.

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Dec 22 2015, 10:30pm

The winter solstice, also known as Yule (yes, like the log), is the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year and the day the sun is at its most southern point, as seen from earth.

The winter solstice welcomes the beginning of the waxing year, the perfect time to get your shit together and focus on what you want to grow and manifest as the days grow longer. This year's solstice is especially potent, as it falls during the waxing phase of the moon, which is the phase during which the moon's light grows, as it progresses from new moon to full moon. As the light of the moon and length of the days increase in unison, we should focus on what we want to manifest—a simple form of imitation magick known as Sympathetic Magick.

Some witchy history

Although the winter solstice has been celebrated in some shape or form for thousands of years, was the way the Celts chose to partake in the festivities is exceptionally noteworthy: Stonehenge was the place to be for the good old Celts, come solstice time. Stonehenge itself is strategically aligned to frame the winter solstice sunset. In the Celtic culture, the winter solstice also marked when the cows were ready for slaughter and the wine and beer was ready to be consumed—cheers to that.

Nowadays, different neo-pagan groups honor the solstice along with the changing of the season, or the "Wheel of the Year." In Wicca, which is loosely based on the practices of the ancient Celts, Yule marks the beginning of the reign of the Oak King (think fertility god), which he seizes from the Holly King (think hipster Santa Claus). The Oak King and Holly King are archetypes—or different faces—of God. This solstice marks a change, a return to light and a shift in the energy of mother earth herself. Once he starts his reign, the Oak King is said to rule until Midsummer, or Lithia.

What about now?

Since the winter solstice falls so close to New Year's, it's the perfect time for some deep and heavy self-reflection. The old adage "out with the old, in with the new" seems wildly appropriate here. Although some classic authors on Witchcraft and Wicca think that celebrations like the solstice should be observed and not celebrated—meaning that now is not the time to cast any spells—the solstice seems to be the perfect sort of gateway to some radical, mystical magick making.

Create an altar

If you're dead set on conjuring up some energy and making the most out of the solstice, fear not. As each day grows longer and we see a return of the light, it's important to focus on what we want to grow in the upcoming season.

A good way to use tonight's energy is to create an altar, which is is the politically correct term for a collection of pretty things that make you feel your feelings. Creating an altar is like a cosmic shopping cart that you don't have to pay for! Seasonally appropriate altars are always a plus: Gather some mistletoe for love, some pine needles for abundance and longevity, and some snowflakes if you're feeling extra wintery. Collect things that represent what you want more of this upcoming year, and arrange everything in an aesthetically pleasing manner somewhere you will see often. Meditating at your altar to charge your intention even more.

Write your truth and set it on fire

If you've never written down your feelings in a letter and then burned it, you're truly missing out. A really great way to hone in on the energy of the solstice is to write a list of what you want to let go of and set it on fire. Then, do the same thing with what you want more of and burn that, too. (You can find a great ritual at the Numinous, if you're so inclined). This is also super fun to do on New Year's.

Tarot, yeah

If you're more inclined to listen to the universe, using a deck of tarot cards to work with the solstice is probably your best bet. You can draw a single card if you're really into listening to the forces at play, or you can dedicate a whole reading to set your intention to the upcoming year. Take time to sit with your cards, ask for guidance this upcoming winter, and listen: It often takes stillness to find the seeds that need to be sown.

Magick is supposed to be fun, so don't be embarrassed about it. Do a yoga class with an intention to manifest, work some candle magick, or make a sigil. You can even do some sex magick, solo or not, and focus on what you want as you orgasm. (Fear not: Sex magick doesn't have to be anything scary, it's simply another way of releasing the energy created to serve a purpose, in this case through an orgasm.)

Don't forget that the winter solstice itself is the darkest day of the year. And, contrary to popular belief, darkness does not mean evil! Yule is the perfect time to sit and own your shadow self. Although we are often told to live in our light, we can't do that until we've mastered the darker parts of ourselves as well. This solstice, invite your demons in for some sweets. Learn from your darkness, and focus on what you want the light to bring you this upcoming winter.