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People soak up the sun after its rise at the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge, in southern England, as access to the site is given to druids, New Age followers and members of the public on the annual Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, 2012.
Winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. A time of ending and new beginnings as now the days will slowly begin to lengthen again. For Pagans, Solstice is symbolically the night when the Sun Child is reborn out of the womb of Mother Night. For the Mayans, this year marks the end of a 30,000-year calendar cycle. For pop culture, somehow this has become the end of the world.
We might laugh at that idea, but then something stops us. This year, we’ve seen the skyline of New York grow dark. We’ve suffered record droughts, floods, enormous storms: all the predictions of the climate change scientists coming true. Deep inside we sense that we are, indeed, approaching some kind of end: the end of our current way of life, fueled by cheap oil and the illusion that we can endlessly and thoughtlessly exploit the living systems of the earth without dreadful consequences.
We desperately need to make an end of our destructive practices, lest we leave our children a world that is at best impoverished and at worst, uninhabitable. And yet we often seem paralyzed, knowing what we need to do and unable to marshal the will to do so. Maybe the Mayans can help?
Twenty years ago, my husband David Miller and I spent our honeymoon at Tikal, exploring the Mayan temples and the ancient ball courts. He became fascinated with the mythology and archaeology, and my go-to for insight into the myths and the shift is his book, “The Cosmic Ballgame, What 2012 and Mayan Creation Mean For Us.” The Popol Vuh, the Mayan Creation myth, reflects a deep shift in culture and belief, away from the era when the Singing Garden Boys honored the Grandmother, to the time when the Cosmic Ballgame Warriors took control of her cycles of time, the calendar mysteries and the power they represented.
Now Grandmother demands her due again. No longer can we maintain the myth that we control nature. We must learn again to respect her balance and constraints, to live with humility—a word whose root is ‘humus’. We need to get back to the garden, get down and get close to the earth! Only then can we effectively make the big changes that we need—in our technology, our energy systems, our food growing systems, our economies, our communities.
And yet underneath all these shifts lies ultimately a change in consciousness, a shift in our world view. May this Solstice mark an end to the era when we saw the world as a bunch of dead, separate stuff and ourselves as isolated actors, and the beginning of a new day when we understand the world as a web of relationships. We are all Grandmother’s children, all interconnected in the dance of sun and moon and soil, of birthing and growing and reaping, of death decaying into fertility and new life.
When we make that shift, we engage the great forces of creativity and resilience that move through the universe. I firmly believe that what we need to do is doable. Germany with its gloomy skies already gets a fifth of its electricity from solar power! The world abounds with inventiveness: a light powered by gravity, solar films, wind generators that tremble like a leaf, a generator that runs on urine invented by four African teenage girls. The Singing Garden Boys—and Women!–of permaculture help Cuba transition away from oil when the Soviet Union collapses, restore the desiccated loess plateaus of China, reforest the Sahel.
Let us for one moment imagine that new era—how it would feel to come together and say “Yes! Yes, we are going to stop the stupid and destructive practices that are destroying the world, and all work together to make this shift right now! We will phase out coal and oil and close down the poisonous tar sands, and instead put the resources into ways we can meet our needs that will regenerate the natural systems around us. The sun, the wind, the water, the elements of life will give us power, and we will use it to build the new systems that will take us into a living future! Nature will be our model and our teacher, no longer our prey. Together we will shape a world that may have less stuff to waste but will offer us more beauty, more health, and more time to enjoy our deep connections with one another.”
If we commit to that world, if we put aside our fear of change, our clinging to old models that benefit a few while destroying so much, if we allow ourselves to dare to believe in a world of balance, justice, beauty and love, we can create it. May Winter Solstice 2012 mark the moment when we make that shift, within ourselves, within our communities and our larger culture. Then, truly, will the old world end and a radiant new era be born.