Neolithic Mythology, Saturn, & the Winter Solstice

Saturn with the baby New Year

The Saturn Myth

The day that Sun slides into the sign of Capricorn is the day that is celebrated as the Yule, the symbolic rebirth of the sun god. Many myths and legends surround this day, this solstice a rallying point for pagan and Christian beliefs. Digging deep into the lore of Neolithic peoples, our direct ancestors, is the story of Saturn, the planetary ruler of the sign of Capricorn. The primordial god, Uranus, ruled the earth, with the Earth Mother as his consort. Uranus was a god of instinct, his actions ruled by his passions rather than reason and in fear. Though Uranus came every night and covered the earth, mating with her, he hated the children she bore him. He imprisoned his children in the earth where they caused Gaia pain. Gaia fashioned a sickle from flint and begged her sons to attack their father. Only one, Saturn, would agree to help his mother in her plot. This flint sickle was a powerful symbol of the harvest tool utilized by our agrarian ancestors.Saturn attacked his father with the sickle and castrated him, stealing his procreative power thus transferring it to himself.

This coup of Saturn with his sickle represents a shift from living instinctually with the earth, as nomadic hunter-gatherers to working the earth in settled agricultural communities. It also signaled a shift from bicameral awareness, where our early human ancestors perceived their own thoughts as promptings from the gods, to the type of individualized self-awareness that we have now. This complex process necessitated the development of a framework in which society could work. Where before as hunter-gatherers individuals worked for survival as part of groups, as farmers, humans evolved the need to retain the cohesiveness of community while assuring the autonomy of individual action. Thus traditions, how things were always done, became important, as well responsibility and duty to family and community. All of these are Saturn themes.

Celtic Mythology of the Solstice

The entrance of the Sun into the sign rule by Saturn had a special significance to the ancient Celts.

In the Celtic lunar calendar this event happens at the end of the Month of Elder, called Ruis (sounds like “r’ uhish”).

Solar events, signifying the masculine and lunar events corresponding to the feminine principle had equal importance in the complex mythology of the Celts. The day before the ingress signified the death of the old Sun, which then became the prisoner of the King of the Underworld. The New Sun was born on December 22 as the child of the goddess Ceridwen, the goddess of wisdom. The Sun was regarded as the son of Ceridwen, and the God Celi, an incomprehensible spirit from whom all life came.

Another story of Ceridwen runs concurrent with the story of the birth of the Sun, which reveals more of the underlying meaning of the birth of the sacred child at the winter solstice.

Cerwiden by Christopher Williams

Cerwiden by Christopher Williams

Part of Ceridwen’s story goes like this:

“Ceridwen had a magical cauldron that could make a potion granting wisdom. The mixture had to be cooked for a year and a day. Morda, a blind man, tended the fire beneath the cauldron, while Gwion, a young boy, stirred the concoction. The first three drops of liquid from this cauldron gave wisdom; the rest was a fatal poison. Three hot drops spilled onto Gwion’s hand as he stirred, burning him. He instinctively put his hand in his mouth, and instantly gained great wisdom and knowledge.

Ceridwen chased Gwion. He turned himself into a rabbit. She became a dog. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She turned into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, he turned into a single grain of corn. She then became a hen and ate him. When Ceridwen became pregnant, she knew it was Gwion and resolved to kill the child when he was born. However, when he was born, he was so beautiful that she couldn’t do it. She threw him in the ocean instead, sewing him inside a bag of sealskin. The child did not die, but was rescued on a British shore by a Celtic prince named Elffin; the reborn infant grew to became the legendary bard Taliesin.”

Gwion represents the non-initiated soul, one, who in the service of the Goddess of Wisdom, is reborn as a “divine child replete with knowledge”. It suggests that wisdom is ultimately received from an acceptance of feminine knowledge of the divine essence of the cycle of life.

The divine child remains hidden from us, however, until December 24, the first day of the new lunar calendar of the year. The time during the divine child’s birth and this day is known to the Celts as the nameless day. This day that falls outside the thirteen sign, twenty-eight day dichotomy of the lunar calendar. It is sacred to the Queen of the Underworld, Arianhod. It represents the part of feminine wisdom that always remains concealed.

Helena Paterson, author of “The Celtic Lunar Zodiac” says of people born on this day:

People born on this ‘nameless day’ have a cosmic spiritual awareness-time travelers, akin to Australian Aborigines whose dreamtime reflects an evolving creation and creator.

The dark was considered the time of seeding, while the light was time when new growth emerged and matured. For the solar cycle the solstice points and the midpoints of the solstice points were considered important. While each of the midpoints of the solstice was considered part of the cycle of female fertility, the solstice points were celebrations of the cycle of death and rebirth of the male Sun god. The male Sun god carried great responsibility, for it was his light and his vitality that ensured the continuance of the community. At the autumn equinox the sun god symbolically passed into the underworld where he waited until the Celtic New Year, that which we know as Halloween, to couple with goddess of the underworld to seed the New Year. Yule is the triumph of the light over the dark when the male Sun god is reborn as a child of the great goddess to grow, mature and carry on his work of insuring the fertility of human activity upon the earth.

More than the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice marks the time of the revelation of the timeless nature of the cycles of life. It tells the story of rebirth of the human spirit, the archetypal spiritual acolyte in all of us, to seek the lessons and the wisdom of the year to come.

Saturn image published under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.

Image of Cerwiden published under a Creative Commons license from Wikipedia.

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2 Responses to Neolithic Mythology, Saturn, & the Winter Solstice

  1. Pingback: Astrology, History and the Winter Solstice: Our Christmas Traditions | Astrology Explored

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