Off The Mat

Winter Solstice; A Classic Story

AshtangaYogaOBX — December 26, 2013
Off The Mat

Happy Winter Solstice everyone! Be blessed to know that sunlight will be increasing from now until the Summer Solstice in late June.

Due to our scientific advancements, we are now aware of what causes the Seasons. The earth's spin axis is tilted with respect to its orbital plane. When the earth's axis points towards the sun, it is summer for that hemisphere; when the earth's axis points away, winter can be expected. The tilt of the axis is 23 1/2 degrees.

It has only been recently that we have developed the technology to observe and understand this. Have you ever thought about how our ancestors might have explained such things?

Our ancestors were fond of telling stories. These great stories are medicine to humanity, offering knowledge, hope, entertainment, inspiration, and wisdom. The problem with stories sometimes is if you take them literally. Let the stories sing to you….here is one of my favorite Winter Solstice stories and perhaps a way our ancestors could make sense of their world…

I would like to tell the ancient Greek myth about the Goddess Persephone and her Mother Demeter, Goddess of Grain and Fertility…

Demeter was a proud and happy Mother who looked upon her daughter Persephone’s budding youth and beauty with contentment.

Persephone was in her maidenhood frolicking among a field of flowers when she came upon the most enchanting flower she had ever seen, the narcissus. When she went to pick it from the ground, the earth trembled and split in two as Hades, the God of the Underworld, came and snatched the beautiful maiden from her happy space. Hades had fallen in love with the maiden and wanted to make her his wife.

Demeter, Persephone’s mother, fell into deep sorrow, as the pain of the loss of her daughter grew inside her heart. The happiness of Demeter was of great importance to everyone, for she was the Spirit of vegetation itself.

Into deep sorrow she continued to fall and hence the plants ceased to grow and the Earth fell barren and cold. So grave was Demeter’s sorrow that eventually something had to be done.

Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods, was sent to the Underworld to see what he could do to restore balance amongst the world. Much to his surprise, Persephone had adapted well to her new life. She was a steadfast wife to Hades and greeted everyone as they entered the Underworld.

While in the Underworld, Persephone ate a red pomegranate. This simple act had great significance, as it bound her in some ways to the place she was in. It was believed that if one was to eat food in the Underworld, they could never leave. She had tasted the fruits of life.

Hades knew that his wife must return to her Mother. He kissed her and spoke of his deep love and sent her back to Earth with Hermes.

Upon her arrival, Demeter’s heart filled with joy and the Earth began to sing again, but, as Demeter looked deeper into her daughter she saw she had changed. No longer was she the innocent young maiden she had once known. Persephone had grown into a wise Queen. She could see the red stain upon her lips and knew that she would never be the same again.

With all things revealed, the Gods and Goddesses made a compromise that would bring all forces into balance. Persephone was to spend half the year with her Mother upon the Earth. This is Spring and Summer when the birds sing, the Sun shines, and vegetation flourishes. She would spend the other half of the year with her husband Hades in the Underworld. This is Fall and Winter, the time when the face of death reigns upon the Earth. This, hence, brings balance upon the Earth--Life, Death, and Rebirth and thus the cycle goes on and on…

Our ancestors were not wrong. Our modern science speaks to the mind and reason, but these precious stories speak to the Soul. Let us preserve this great wisdom. This story speaks to us with deep and penetrating timeless themes; the cycle of a woman’s spiritual growth, the love of mother and daughter and the change that occurs when she meets her husband, death as the unavoidable passage we must all take, the balance it brings, and the growth that ensues in its wake. It offers us a symbol and manifestation of the vibration of the Universe, which the old Yogis say is creation, preservation, and destruction, which is Aum.

Love to All Beings.

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