Winter Solstice: Here Comes the Sun Today is the shortest day of the year, which means things start getting a little lighter tomorrow. A look at the practice of celebrating the winter solstice.
NPR logo

Margot Adler on celebrating the winter solstice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17494400/17494372" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Winter Solstice: Here Comes the Sun

Margot Adler on celebrating the winter solstice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17494400/17494372" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ALISON STEWART, Host:

All right, Margot, for those who don't know, you're actually a Wiccan priestess, is that correct?

MARGOT ADLER: Well, yes, sort of.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: So how did you get into paganism?

ADLER: And I got very, very inspired, I think, by the ecology movement, and I was kind of looking for a nature religion, and then I started figuring out, well, who was a druid. And I kind of was wandering around and I just got very inspired. And I also love ritual, and I wanted to figure out a way to do a lot of rituals.

STEWART: So the winter solstice - that's a big deal for you?

ADLER: So in the same way, the winter solstice is that day that has universal significance. It's not tied to any particular culture. It's the day where the, you know, it's the shortest day, and the sun comes back. And for thousands of years, even Neolithic people sort of worshipped - oh, my God, is the sun going to disappear? And then it starts, the days get longer. And there's a reason to celebrate that, to celebrate the sun.

STEWART: Back in the day, the Neolithic day, what did people do? What was part of the ritual?

ADLER: Well, I have no idea what they - I don't think anybody knows...

STEWART: I'm not suggesting you were there, Margot...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I'm just saying you might have...

MIKE PESCA, Host:

Wiccan (unintelligible)...

ADLER: Well, I can tell you, but I think what people did, I mean, I can tell you what I did...

STEWART: Okay.

ADLER: And then at certain point, we just lit a candle and you sort of meditated on the light, and then we started lighting candles more and more and more and more and we started singing to the light and it was just that kind of a thing.

PESCA: Now, when you said 40 women, is that by design, decree or your male outreach councilor is not doing his job?

ADLER: No, no, no, no, no...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ADLER: No, actually, I grew - I got into this in a very mixed men and women grouping. But this particular group that I have an affinity with that are all old friends of mine, we've been meeting for the last 15 years and it happens to be a group of women. But there's nothing that says that you can't have as many of these celebrations with lots and lots of men as well.

STEWART: So people who celebrate the winter solstice, this sort of Mecca-like trip, I've always understood this is Stonehenge?

ADLER: Well, actually, there are a lot of places. And matter of fact, I just discovered that Newgrange, Ireland, which is one of those old, you know, kind of burial tomb kind of places where the - on the winter solstice, the light illuminates the whole place, there's now a Web site and you can actually go on the Web and see it live. And it happens in Newgrange. The solstice, first of all, is like 1:08 a.m.

STEWART: Yeah.

ADLER: So, it's, you know, Saturday morning. But for two different nights, if you go around three in the morning - so it's eight-something in the morning Greenwich Mean Time - you can go on this Web site and apparently you can watch the sun slowly illuminate Newgrange.

STEWART: That is very cool. So what's the history behind Stonehenge, do you know that?

ADLER: Well, no one - the truth is that very few people really know. There's all kinds of controversy as to what happened at Stonehenge, how the stones got there. As a matter of fact, you know, there's a lot of mythology that the druids have something to do with it, but most historians say that's hogwash. It's pretty unclear what actually went on...

STEWART: Why is it a magnet, though, to all sorts of solstice celebration?

ADLER: Because it does have roots in the Neolithic and it clearly is an ancient pagan site and so it's become - and modern druids. All kinds of modern druids have celebrated there for hundreds and hundreds of years.

PESCA: Most of my knowledge of Stonehenge, you know, comes from "Spinal Tap," and that's what I recommend. People use it as a source. But there's one thing here that we've been saying solstice. I don't know if we've been clear. Everyone says today is the winter solstice, but it's sort of shorthand because the solstice is one moment.

ADLER: It's one - it actually means sun standstill. That's actually what solstice means, and it's actually that moment before it goes sort of the other direction or at least the day start getting longer. So it's only one little moment, right?

PESCA: Right. And so we called it whole day. Now, is there something with eggs standing on their ends?

ADLER: There's a myth...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ADLER: But I'm not - I thought that was in the spring. I thought that was the equinox...

PESCA: Oh, maybe the eggplants...

ADLER: I thought that was just with...

PESCA: ...I'm not sure.

ADLER: The word superstition is a wonderful word. It actually means remains because it is the remains of older beliefs.

STEWART: Is there a connection? Can you make a connection for people between Christmas and the winter solstice?

ADLER: Absolutely...

STEWART: Please do.

ADLER: In fact, I think most researchers would say that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December. But they took those old - they took the fact that people were doing this kind of stuff in the winter solstice, and I guess they changed the S-U-N to the S-O-N.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: The world of certain Margot Adler.

ADLER: Right? No, renewal, whether you think it's the renewal of Jesus or the renewal of the sun, you know, not so much difference.

STEWART: If there's someone who is listening to this right now, who wants to know more about this and is trying to figure out, well, maybe I want to do something tonight. Is there any sort of, you know, although we put a Christmas tree up, we sing Christmas carols, we drink eggnog, is there any sort of specific ritual they might want to follow that you would recommend - sort of a beginner's guide to celebrating the solstice?

ADLER: Well, I think that, unfortunately, the truth is that most of the things that they do for Christmas - the gift giving comes out of the Roman Saturnalia. A lot of the stuff - with the mistletoe comes from druidic rites. All of those things that they were already doing - deck the halls with, you know, boughs of holly, that's all pagan solstice stuff. So all they have to do is that part of Christmas and they're there.

STEWART: Margot Adler, you were the author of - let me get the correct name - "Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess - Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today." Did I forget to ask you anything about the solstice, which is very key?

ADLER: Not that I can think of for this very moment, except that have a wonderful solstice.

STEWART: Well, you too.

PESCA: Good solstice to you.

ADLER: Yeah. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "LIGHT IS RETURNING")

U: (Singing) Light is returning even though this is the darkest hour. No one can hold back the dawn. Let's keep it burning. Let's keep the light of hope alive.

STEWART: I think I've walked into something and I'm not sure what.

PESCA: We'd like to thank the cast of (unintelligible) for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: We have an interesting note about Newgrange in Ireland. I am going to read this because Angela, our producer, researched this and I want to put her hard work to use. Okay. Newgrange is a Stone Age tomb dating back to around 3200 B.C. - thousands years older then Stone Hedge. At sunrise, during the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight shines through the tomb's passage and lights up the chamber for 17 minutes. People come from around the world to bathe in the light. It's supposed to have some sort of healing energy, and there's actually a lottery to get one of the 100 spots.

STEWART: 08, Eastern Time, Saturday morning or 10:08 tonight, West Coast Time, we're going to link to that Web site with the live, live Web cast of the Newgrange winter solstice that Margot told us all about. You can find it at npr.org/bryantparkblogs.com.org.something. Find us.

PESCA: You know how the Web works.

STEWART: Yeah. Google it.

PESCA: Come on, people.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.