Return of the sun
During pre-Christian times winter solstice was celebrated by countless different tribes across the northern hemisphere. In the agricultural world all pagan celebrations took place at the same time no matter what was the culture or the spoken language. This is why all pagan holidays celebrated in Europe take place at the same time with different names. People´s lives were connected to the land and to the change of seasons. Winter Solstice was an important event. It is the time when the sun is as far from the earth as possible and for many people of the past it meant that after winter solstice each day sun would get closer to the earth.
Compared to many other cultures celebrating winter solstice in Finland was rather small. In ancient Rome Winter Solstice was called Saturnalia in honor of the god Saturn. God of harvest and fertility. Winter Solstice was also celebrated by several tribes in Central Europe, Southern Europe, Baltic Countries and in other parts of Scandinavia. In Celtic mythology seasons are created by two nature gods: the oak king and the holly king. These two brothers were always competing with each others. They met twice in a year around Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice. During Summer Solstice Holly King won his brother and darkness would last longer each day and during Winter Solstice Oak King was the winner and there would be more day light each day. In ancient Egypt Winter Solstice was celebrated to honor the sun god Ra. He was believed to get ill during the winter and return back to his strength in winter solstice.
Colors of Winter
In ancient Finland biggest festival was Kekri which was a harvest festival that took place in the second week of November. Kekri was the highlight of the year and it was the "old" new year. Winter Solstice was also celebrated but it was not as big celebration as Kekri. Element of Winter Solstice was the earth and it was believed that during the winter earth was in deep sleep.
There are several colors connected to winter solstice:
Red is the color of goddess, life and blood.
Green symbolizes ever green trees, also health and wealth.
Gold represents the sun and the stars. It is also connected to summer, warmth, riches and several deities.
Silver represents the moon, winter, snow, mysteries and dreams.
In Finnish pagan wheel of the year Kekri began a time period called Jako-aika (the dividing time). Jako-aika was the darkest time of the year when all spirits, demons and dead could walk among the living. Winter Solstice was the highlight of Jako-aika. Time when these spirits were most dangerous. If sun appeared to the skies it was only up there for a moment. Many times people were afraid to leave their homes during winter solstice. Old folks stayed inside and told stories to the children. Stories from their childhood, legends from elves, gnomes and mythical creatures. Good food was part of the celebration and it was believed that during winter solstice one could stay up all nigh eating if they wanted to. Food was also taken outside to the spirit tree and was left as a sacrifice for the elves. People burned lots of candles and torches to keep evil spirits away. Custom that is still practiced in modern day Finland without any special spiritual meanings. Plays and games were part of winter solstice. It was a festival celebrated together with the family. Divination and fortune telling were also part of the festivities. Especially next years crop and possible births and marriages were popular subjects of divination. In Finnish language December Joulukuu(Christmas month) was known as Talvikuu (the winter month) all the way till 17th century when Lutheran church ordered Christmas to become a mandatory holiday for people to celebrate.
Louhi Goddess of the Moon and Winter
In Finnish folklore goddess Louhi was honored during winter solstice. Louhi was the goddess of magic, witchcraft and shamanism in ancient Finland and one of the most powerful deities in Finnish pantheon. Like many goddesses around the world because of her associations to witchcraft and especially to the power of womanhood Louhi was demonized by the church. Same happened to goddesses such Baba Yaga, Ragana, Hekate and Morgan Le Fay. Original name of Louhi was Loviatar. Her name is derived from Finnish expression langeta loveen which was a state where shaman entered into trance. Loviatar is believed to be the first goddess of the moon in Finnish mythology. Another aspect that ties her especially within the female powers (though she was worshiped by both male and female shamans) was that lovi is old Finnish word for vagina.
Mother of Wolves
Louhi´s sacred animal was the wolf. An animal who shared many of her qualities love for freedom and independence. Wolves are very family oriented animals. Since Louhi originated from Saami goddesses she was originally part of a bigger family union. Unfortunately same way as Louhi was demonized by the church so was the wolf. So called "wolf-hate" in Finland started in 18th century and the church paid for hunters to kill wolves. This was part of movement to convert people into Christianity and at the same time prove that the church had control over the nature same way it had control over the people.
Interestingly enough before church interference during winter solstice in Finland lambs were sacrificed for the wolves. It was believed that by doing this in the coming year wolves would not attack livestock.
Louhi represents deep wisdom and understanding. If you feel connection to Louhi or any other goddess of witchcraft Winter Solstice is excellent time for working with them and getting to know them. In Finnish folklore Winter Solstice represents sleeping earth and time of rest. If holiday season is stressing you out this is great time for self-examination and meditation.
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.