Today is Monday, December 19, 2011. The Moon is in Libra, the sign of balance, but in terms of the Sun’s movement, we’re at one of its two extremes during the year. In the northern hemisphere, this is the time of shortest days and longest nights, with the shortest day of all happening later this week: winter solstice (though it is summer solstice south of the equator). This turning point is heralded by the Sun’s ingress of Capricorn at 12:30 am EST Dec. 22.
Actually, there are a whole series of turning points this week. Points of greatest expansion lead to contraction; moments of constriction give way to release. It’s a bit like breathing in its cyclical rhythm but it is happening on multiple scales all at once. Moon, personal planet, minor planet, Sun and season: each crosses a threshold that may be less disorienting than the recent eclipses, but the shifts entailed are still palpable shifts in vital life force.
In the case of the Capricorn solstice, this shift in vital force – in a sense, the Earth’s deepest in-breath before beginning to exhale – has been something to set calendars and myths to. Called Midwinter and Yule (among other names), the winter solstice is one of the quarter days of the year in the Pagan calendar (the others being the summer solstice and spring and autumn equinoxes). Many contemporary Pagan groups also observe ‘cross quarter days’, which occur roughly at the midpoints between the quarter days.
The combination is a mix of early Germanic festivals (the quarter days) and early Gaelic fire festivals (the cross quarter days of Beltane, Lammas, Samhain and Imbolc,). Taken together, they form a wheel whose compass points mark the beginning of each cardinal sign in the zodiac (Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn) with the quarter days, and the midpoints of each fixed sign (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius) with the cross quarters. These are the major turning points of the year on which all of astrology is based; and these ancient feast days have been overlaid with our modern holidays.
The palpable link to natural cycles and turning points may be what really draws so many of us to astrology. Yes, we want to understand our psyches, but when we enter that curious hall of mirrors that our thoughts and behaviors can seem to be, a point of grounding is crucial. That’s the part that lets us know we’re safe, we’re home, we can depend on this art to show us truth — because it links us to Earth’s in-breath and out-breath. In our world of digital and atomic clocks our bodies still recognize the turning of the seasons as meaningful. From there, it’s not far to feeling and recognizing the other rhythms of the solar system – and beyond.
Today is the Sun’s conjunction with the Galactic Center in late Sagittarius. It may seem almost a paradox that the Sun’s meeting with the most expansive, soul-signaling point in astrology would come a mere two or three days before its ingress of Capricorn – a sign ruled by Saturn, planet of limits and structure – and the shortest day of the year. How is it that these two extremes could be so close together? What happened to the rhythmic in-breath and out-breath? The gradual pendulum swing?
Remember that expansion, strangely enough, need not always be externally located. In fact, the most meaningful kind is not. Rather, it’s an inner space that we need to cultivate – space for our original selves within our own lives. This time of year – with its long, dark nights urging us to hunker down and still ourselves – sets the stage for us to hear the call from the GC to the Sun, from Source to soul. That message doesn’t come via radio or Internet or even in conversation at the most Christmas-y Christmas party ever. It comes through us, from within us, because it is us. It’s just that since our senses are highly attuned to our surroundings, we need this seasonal muffling so we can turn inward, breathe deeply, and have something to exhale after the solstice when the days begin to get longer again.
This can take some effort in a culture that is pushing the holiday hype this time of year. And this week, we have Venus and Vesta changing signs tomorrow and then both Jupiter stationing direct and the Capricorn New Moon on Christmas Day – those other turning points mentioned at the beginning. This will all be covered in greater depth this week. Just remember that in the midst of these movements, as you feel yourself reacting to subtle transits and not-so-subtle television ads, there is something deeper and broader you can drop into and make contact with – just with a breath.
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