I love Midwinter’s Day. I loved it even as a kid when I didn’t know what the significance was and schools then didn’t bother with earth sciences, not when there were yoghurt pot telephones to be made. I didn’t know the word solstice either, but that didn’t matter as Midwinter is far more poetic anyway.
I just loved the eeriness of the shady light, the onset of dark that begins around lunchtime and the hours and hours of night in which to imagine all sorts of Creatures of the Shadows.
When I was about 10, I read Susan Cooper’s perfect depiction of Midwinter in “The Dark is Rising” and the tingles it sent down my spine firmly cemented the Winter Solstice in my mind as a time of myth and chilly spookiness.
Even now the pale sun that never quite rises, the white skies and the night-in-day feel are able to nudge aside my jadedness and rap me over the head with a spoon labelled “magic”. Midwinter still has a hold over me.
Last year I indulged my love of solsticeness with a trip to Stonehenge in midwinter. Not on the actual day, but as the Ancients were not concerned with quartz precision I decided that didn’t matter.
For the International Year of Astronomy, an astro-archaeology event was held there over three days. A small group of us were given a guided tour of the Stones at night by a group of archaeologists and astronomers. They were firmly of the belief that Stonehenge was designed for Midwinter Festivals, and that Midsummer’s Day was of very little significance to the monument.
To say I geeked out is an understatement. I won’t bore you with the details, if I started I’d still be writing hours later (into the dark of Midwinter’s night…). I have to say though, that standing in the centre of the inner circle of stones under a clear starry sky in the freezing night air is an experience that will stay with me forever. In the dark, the perspective of the circle changes. The stones seem to be leaning in over your head, like being in a goldfish bowl, with added Boding.
Today I can’t match that experience but I have been tramping in the snow. The stillness of the air, the echoing of crunchy footsteps has just about provided me with my quota of eery.
Anyway, I finish with pics of Stonehenge in Midwinter. I’m off to get some mistletoe…