During December and January, many of us wake and leave the house in the dark and return home long after sunset. Barely seeing daylight is a struggle for me, which is why lights and candles are my favourite decorations during the winter. And, it seems, I’m not the only one with a penchant for light in the dark months. The ancients were at it, too. Maeshowe in Orkney is a 5000-year-old Neolithic chambered tomb, and it’s aligned so that at midwinter, the setting sun shines right into the doorway.
Which, of course, made me wonder what’s inside that tomb that needs the light….
She woke in utter darkness to the scents of damp grass and water falling from the sky in a thick sheet. That wasn’t good. Rain meant clouds and here, on the edge of the world, clouds were thick, dark grey, and persistent.
She couldn’t control the weather, but she knew that this most secret and sacred part of the year needed clear skies. She… needed clear skies.
Nothing good ever came from thick clouds that hid the sun on this day. She needed the power of the sun to clean the air, purify the water, and replenish the soil. It was the task she’d been given at the beginning of time. A task she’d performed faithfully for thousands of years.
Then men had come to their world. They had chained her, had buried her under a mound of stone, had commanded her to sleep… and yet, she woke on this day.
Woke to perform her duty determined not to give in.
Her task came from a higher power. One spurned by the tribes now ruling the land, or so it seemed. Part of the reason she’d not given in was that she didn’t believe the new rulers had altogether abandoned the old ways. They were afraid of the power inherent in earth and sky, they sought to tame and master it. But in the end, in some small way, they acknowledged they held no dominion over the greater forces.
Why else had they built her prison so that the light of the dying sun fell on her face on the shortest, the most sacred day of the year. The sun’s final sacrifice, its final gift, kept the land safe for another year if she could but perform her task.
She opened her eyes and trained her gaze on the doorway of her prison. The skies were grey, the light dim. She watched anyway, praying to the earth and the sky, waking the elements around her, readying them for the magic to come.
All she needed now was the light to power the ritual. The one ingredient in the ancient magic she had no control over.
She prayed while the rain fell. Prayed while the wind rose up and blew it away. Prayed with all her might while the skies lightened, the clouds parted and the sun appeared.
The deep golden disk sat low over the horizon. It cast long shadows over the land.
She didn’t care.
What light there was, was enough. She called forth the magic and sang her ritual as she had done since the beginning of time. She felt the power flow from her song. Felt it spread across the land from horizon to horizon.
She sang until exhaustion claimed her and then, cocooned in warmth and the golden glow from the setting sun, she took one last breath and settled to sleep for another year.