Of Darkness, Holly, and the Spaces Between Stars
I had planned to post this on Solstice, but life happened in unexpected ways, and I needed more time for thought. A friend died, and thinking on the part of our journeys we had shared, I found myself walking the roads of our times together, connecting the strands of life that lay between in new ways. Winter Solstice is always a time for reflection on the year past, and the one to come. But this year the need to go inward was urgent even before that loss, and exchanging clamor for the sigh of winter trees, I sought renewal in a corner of my state among the hollies, oaks and pines that I know as friends.
We arrived at the woods at sunset, and there was little time to gather symbols of the turning year. This year only a sprig of holly, a small fallen pine branch and my favorite crystal marked my altar, on a hearth by the fire that was, for a little while, the only light.
There is an aspect of darkness that can be fearful, or speak of anger, hurt or sorrow, and sometimes we must journey there to heal the parts of us where those things are held. But there is another dimension to darkness that holds peace, and deep wholesomeness… a place where seeds wait, and life is born. This Winter Solstice seems like a cauldron that holds healing and renewal. Starhawk’s chant, learned long ago ran through my mind as we unpacked: “What is lost to the night? Fear is lost to the night…”.
Time of silence. Time of darkness.
As we stood on the threshold of our little cabin, the earth seemed to pause while the last sunlight faded from the sky, as if swallowed by the brooding dark of the longest night…. “What if the sun does not return? And what guarantee is there that it will?” our ancestors might have wondered uneasily as they kept the vigil of the long night that was at the heart of winter. But such is the energy of this night of the year that old griefs, or the mired events of months gone, seem to diminish as we consider what the light will hold, if…. when… it returns. All things are possible here.
The stillness of the cabin seemed to embrace us, as we rested between awareness of the year that was, and the hidden potential of the unknown future. Waves that precede the event horizon of true magic flowed between and around us; and words, wise for the new year, came unbidden, suggesting a way forward into the new. We are still part of the wild dark, of night in the woods, and the spaces between stars are within us. That silent darkness is a stillpoint that gives rise to our greatest creativity. One of the gifts of Winter Solstice is in the moment when we allow ourselves the stillness of within-time to visit the deep wells of those places. There is a current that runs through all life, and half of it is carried in darkness. That current energizes the potential for all that we may do.
Outside, this Winter Solstice was held in moonlight, awash in a magical field of illumination that seemed to energize both the release of things no longer needed, and new intentions brought from our hearts, echoed to any spirit listening as the presence of the holly by the cabin seemed to lean closer, reminding of the Winter Doorway.
I love this tree, perhaps more than any other save one, for it’s subtle but multidimensional energies, that stand as a gateway into the story of deepest winter — a story of memory, stillness, allowing and hope. It rules the cold, dark part of the year, yet into that dark it brings a gift from summer, as if to light the way. The essence of its amazing scented blossoms call to our own higher energies of Light, bringing forth compassion for ourselves and others, and a more loving way of being in the world. This tree is both a way-shower and a portal guardian, akin to hawthorn in that regard, but her energy is very different. Where hawthorn is said to guard the gates of Faerie, a path fraught with danger for the cavalier or arrogant, Holly’s doorways lead to a lighter realm that feels more protected. And it seems to facilitate a connection to the land it lives in. If you listen to holly with an open heart, you might perceive the presence of the nature devas of the region. They are willing to help us attune to them, if we are humble and receptive. When we are not, it is hard to hear them at all.
Our holly, American Holly or Ilex opaca in the Aquifoliaceae family grows mostly in the southeast of my state in hill country bounded by rivers, and bottom lands. One place where I find them is in a wide region of shale, where they thrive along with pines and oaks, in spite of, or maybe because of the rocky terrain, in rich nutrients laid down by centuries of leaf fall. Historically the leaves of this holly have been used as an eyewash, for skin sores, and internally as a tea substitute without caffeine, or for colds and flu — notably winter ailments. The berries are toxic, used internally very rarely by skilled practitioners, and with purpose. They can cause severe purging with attendant electrolyte imbalance. Holly guards the treasure of her seeds with the boundary magic of prickly leaves, yet its flower essence can overcome our defensiveness and sudden angers, bringing light into the spirit, and helping us to express at a higher octave.
As ruler of the winter part of the year, holly’s evergreen leaves and bright berries speak of the hope of returning light, and fertility in spring. Yet for that to come, the seed must lie in darkness, carried in the womb of earth until warmth and longer days signal that it is time to grow. Holly teaches us of patience too, as her seeds may take up to three years to germinate. Even so with our own dreams. Just because they do not come immediately to fruition does not mean they will not blossom, in time.
Winter Solstice and the cold weeks ahead call to us to plant the seeds of our tomorrows in the still darkness within us, letting them rest in the place of potential, while we nourish the soil that will give birth to our dreams. The ancestral stories of winter offer much to that nourishment, as does Holly flower essence. Once we have planted the seeds, our most creative moments often come when we turn off the noise, and sit in the silent dark, sending love to the place in us that was birthed from the spaces between stars. It is a place where magic lives.