Neo-pagan Winter Solstice

I had the pleasure of attending two distinctly different Solstice celebrations this weekend, both involving food, fire and friends, one private & incorporating birthdays as well, and one very public.

I’ll review the public one, as it covers a few aspects of life dear to my heart.

There’s a fantastic group of people called the Phoenix Astronomical Society, who grew out of staff of the now-defunct Carter Observatory, where I was priviledged to work part-time a few years ago. They decided to set up a stone circle in the southern hemisphere, for the purposes of teaching star-lore to the inhabitants of Aotearoa/New Zealand, as well as visitors.

This is the now well-travelled locus of Solstice and Equinox festivals in New Zealand, and is a locus for Pagan groups (Druidic and Wiccan) from all over the North Island.
I’ve been invited many times, (including the historic Autumn Equinox of 2007, with the High Druid of Britain, Phillip Carr-Gomm, in attendance) but for one reason or another not made the trek – so this time, I thought I’d have a go.
There was a bus from Wellington, a dinner afterwards in Carterton, how hard could it be?

Having been advised to ‘rug up warm’, I layered on as much merino clothing as I could find, under my woolen dress, and got off the bus to find a damp afternoon in the Wairarapa, clouds threatening more rain; and a lot of people in cloaks of many colours under umbrellas, being watched by an even bigger crowd of sensibly dressed locals who’d come to observe the pagans. This was going to be interesting!

I joined with my hosts, members of the Grove of the Summer Stars of Wellington, and was duly offered a citronella torch to bear for the procession. Suitably equipped, I followed our leader and processed to the Henge, circling widdershins once before we entered the Henge to ‘hold’ the Southern placement during the ritual. There was an ‘order of service’, celebrants had parts scripted to play, and a flow of serious proclamations of our commitment to peace and care of the earth followed. I didn’t take as many photo’s as I thought I would, as I became caught up in the meaning of the ceremony.
(For a better explanation than I’m fit to give, see the Woolshed, home of the Grove.)

Grove of the Summer Stars banner

Grove of the Summer Stars banner

The ceremony began around 4.30pm, and continued through the dusk to true solstice about 6pm, when despite the overcast sky and inability to actually see the sun set directly over the sunstone, there was a very eery sense of power having been raised and then released in the course of the ritual.

Closing ritual - Druids Pamela and Tom

Closing ritual - Druids Pamela and Tom

As this photo shows, it was quite dark and cold at the end!

Afterwards, we all piled back into the bus & various cars, and headed back to Carterton, where a dinner for about 200 pagans and sympathisers was held at the RSA. After-dinner entertainment came from Richard Hall, one of the Henge creators, who gave a sound presentation about the origins of modern pagan practice, assisted by Pamela from Wellington and Chris from Auckland.
This has to be the best midwinter feast I’ve ever attended, and I’ll certainly sign up for the next one.

Happy Solstice, everyone, and let’s look forward to longer days now that the longest night has passed. Maybe we’ll even see more sunshine than the fitful streaks going past my window today!
More info (and better pictures) about the Henge here.