Winter Solstice – Trees of Light

“The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” – Joseph Campbell

Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice. Wiltshire, England.

The Winter Solstice is symbolic of the archetypal mother “Earth,” giving birth to the “Sun,” who is also her “son.” It is a time of rebirth in the circle of life that corresponds with the seasons of the year. The winter solstice brings a sense of mystery, hope and joy. The darkness of the longest night gives way to the beginning of a new solar year.

The winter solstice will be celebrated on December 21st, 2019, in the Northern Hemisphere, where 90% of the earth’s population lives. The word solstice comes from the Latin word, sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.” This singular event has become one of the most ancient and sacred astronomical celebrations in human history. Our ancestors created stories and customs to celebrate the Winter Solstice as the “return of the sun” in the great “wheel of life.”

So how did our ancestors know the exact moment of the winter solstice?

Trees provided the ability to observe and track the movements of the sun and moon by the shadows they cast. Eventually repeating patterns of light and dark were seen.

sundial with tree

These patterns inspired early cultures to create wooden pillars made from trees. They became sundials and cosmic ladders that connected humans on earth with the sun, moon and stars. Eventually megalithic earthworks made from trees, earth and stone became living calendars that accurately marked the moment the Winter Solstice occurred. This inspired the creation of time itself.

Stonehenge earthwork – Wiltshire, England.

8500 BCE – Pre-Stonehenge – a prehistoric land mass in Wiltshire England. The stone structure we see today was completed around 2500 BCE. New evidence suggests that Pine Trees were erected as poles on this site as early as 8500 BCE. In 2009, English archaeologist David Field, discovered that pine trees had been cultivated at Stonehenge for their straight, pole-like features.

Goseck Henge – Photo by: Ralf Boutragel

4900 BCE – Goseck, Germany – The Goseck Henge is the oldest official solar observatory in the world. On the winter solstice, the sun can be seen to rise and set through its southern wooden gates. There were hundreds of similar wooden henges throughout Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic between 4900-4600 BCE. They all share the same features of a narrow circular ditch surrounding a circular wooden wall. A few large gates are equally spaced around the outer edge with a center point.

A grove of pine trees – gymnosperms.

Pine trees – are conifers in the genus Pinus and the family Pinaceae.   All pine trees are gymnosperms (naked seeds.) Gymnosperms have lived on earth for 250 million years. Their counterpart, the angiosperm (enclosed seed), didn’t appear on earth for another 100 million years. Pine trees are often called evergreens or fir trees because they tend to stay green year round. The word “Pine” in Latin is pinus. Related to the Proto-Indo-European word peyh and the Sanskrit word pitu, sap, juice, resin. As a verb the word “pine” means “to long for.”  

Pinecone, Siskiyou Mountains, OR. Photo by Laural V Wauters.

Pine cone – “Cone” in Greek and Latin is “conus” meaning pinecone, or shaped like a cone. Pinecones are made up of overlapping scales that are spirally arranged in the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Ratio of symmetrical proportion.

Pineal gland – is named after the Pinecone. It is a small pinecone shaped gland located at the top of our spinal cord and linked to our ability to perceive light. The Pineal gland plays a central role in the regulation of our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle associated with natural periods of light and dark. It is also considered to be the biological retina of our Third Eye.

The prefrontal neocortex of the brain (located behind the forehead) serves as the lens or “third eye” which sends “light frequencies” to the pineal gland to “receive.” The pineal gland is connected to the heart/soul where it is understood. In essence, this process reminds us to see with our hearts instead of our eyes by connecting with our inner wisdom. For this reason the Pinecone has been a sacred symbol throughout history in many cultures around the world.

Pinecones from the Cedars of Lebanon.

The Cedars of Lebanon – were highly prized by all cultures for building temples and ships. Many stories were written about them. The most famous is Solomon’s Temple.

Stone relief of King Ashurnasirpal II and Apkallu (genies) tending the sacred Tree of Life. Palace in Nimrud, Iraq. Neo-Assyrian, 870–860 BC.

855 BCE – King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria is depicted tending the Tree of Life (conifer) while the Apkallu (wise sages) are pointing pinecones at his pineal gland. The solar disc of the Sun God Anu/Shamash is hovering directly over the tree like a guardian angel.

Eagle-headed Apkallu tending two trees. Stone relief from the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II. Nimrud, Iraq. 870–860 BC.

600 BCE – The Chaldean/Persian high priest Zoroaster believed, “that to know the Tree of Life is to know the soul and its way to heaven.” He was considered a Maji, in the Chaldean/Persian tradition. Maji were astrologers who mastered the ability to travel with the stars. They were also astronomers, mathematicians and philosophers. The Cypress, a conifer, was sacred to Zoroaster as the Tree of Life.

Zoroaster and the Sacred Tree of Life at Persepolis, Iran. 518 BCE.

100 AC – The Pigna (Pine cone in Italian) is a giant bronze pine cone built by Publius Cincius Slavius. It was originally a fountain that stood near the Pantheon next to the Temple of Isis in Rome. The Pigna stood in the courtyard of the Old St. Peter’s Basilica during the Middle Ages. In 1608, it was moved to its present location in a niche of the Vatican.

The Bronze Pigna (Pinecone) at the Vatican, Rome.

The Pine Cone is symbolic of the fountain of life, an emblem of renewal in the Eternal City. The pine cone, and the peacocks on both sides, were synonymous with the Roman god Sol Invictus (invincible sun.)

Soli Sanctissimo Sacrum. Latin: “Sacred to the most holy Sun”. Roman Altar for Sol Invictus. Jupiter, the God of Rome is depicted as the Eagle.

274 AC – Sol Invictus – Roman emperor Aurelian named Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun) the official God of Rome. At that time, December 25 was the astronomical day of the Winter Solstice, that was celebrated as the birth of the Sun. “Natalis solis invictis” means “birthday of the invincible sun.” This became the Roman name for the winter solstice. Since Rome had been fairly polytheistic they merged previous Solar deities into one God. The worshippers of Jupiter (Rome), Mithras (Persian), Apollo (Greek), Horus (Egyptian), Helios (Greek) were now encouraged to focus on the Sol Invictus.

Basilica of Saint Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. Mosaic – 526 AD

339 AC – Constantine experienced a vision of the Roman Eagle being replaced by a cross. This marked his personal conversion to Christianity, even though his mother Queen Helena had been encouraging him for years. Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of Rome. He replaced the celebration of Sol Invictus (Sun God) on the Winter Solstice with the birth of Jesus as the “Son” of God. This day now became known as Christmas. (Christ’s Mass)

392 AC – Emperor Theodosius authorized and participated in the destruction of pagan temples, sacred sites, images and objects of reverence throughout the empire that were not dedicated to Christianity. This plummeted Europe and other parts of the world into the Dark/Middle Ages. The emerging Roman Catholic Church began to impose harsh restrictions on education, writing, art. They denounced any and all knowledge of the natural world.

Madonna of Victory surrounded by the Tree of Knowledge. A branch of coral hangs above the baby Jesus representing the blood of humans and earth. Artist: Andrea Mantegna 1496.

1500 – The Enlightenment encouraged artists, writers and scientists of the Renaissance to begin challenging the church as they pushed open the doors of free thought. Artists begin to paint more freely as they placed hidden symbolic iconography into their art.

1536 – Martin Luther walked through a pine forest on a winters night in Wittenberg. When he looked up he saw thousands of jewel-like stars glittering among the branches of the trees. This inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house on Christmas Day. He wanted to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came.

1582 – Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian calendar. The true astronomical calendar had shifted enough due to the earth’s wobble (precession of the equinoxes) that the original date of the Winter Solstice (December 25th) was now December 21st. Pope Gregory XIII consciously chose to keep the celebration of Christmas on December 25th thus separating the pagan holiday of the Winter Solstice from the birth of Jesus.

Painting by Franz Kruger

1605 – Christmas Trees began appearing in Southern Germany. An anonymous writer recorded how at Yuletide the inhabitants of Strasburg ‘set up fir trees in the parlors and hung roses cut out of colored paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets, etc.

“Happy Christmas” by Viggo Johansen.

1800 – Queen Charlotte the German wife of King George III, set up the first known English Christmas tree at Queen’s Lodge at Windsor Castle.

An evergreen Christmas tree erected next to an Egyptian obelisk originally built in Heliopolis. The obelisk is symbolic of the Tree of Life that now functions as a sundial in St. Peters Square, Vatican City Rome, Italy.

1982 – The first Christmas tree was erected on St. Peter’s Square next to an ancient Egyptian obelisk that represents the Egyptian Tree of Life, originally built for the Sun temple at Heliopolis, Egypt in 2400 BCE.

“All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.” – Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe

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