The war on solstice has been underway for millennia. Partisans of solstice are fighting back.
I am not referring to the astronomical event. With the winter solstice, of course, we experience the longest night and the shortest day, and afterward, the days grow longer until the summer solstice arrives, and then grows shorter, until the next winter solstice. I am referring, instead, to solstice as a cultural phenomenon, to the ways it is celebrated, contested and invested with meaning.
For millennia, the cultural observance of solstice has involved religious beliefs and practices rooted in seasonal cycles and focused on nature as the source of existence, and sometimes also, related to creative divine beings. But cultures deeply conditioned by Judaism, Christianity and Islam (the ‘Abrahamic’ religions that trace their origins to the prophet Abraham) have viewed such perceptions as idolatrous and dangerous. Nature-based religions, the West’s religious mainstreams have generally contended, can lead people away from the one true God. Those involved with them should be converted, and if necessary, suppressed, for they are both spiritually and socially dangerous.
Efforts to suppress nature-based beliefs and practices have been tremendously successful. Temples associated with pagan folkways, natural cycles such as the solstices and equinoxes, or celebrating fertility and rebirth, have been physically razed and invested with meanings supportive of monotheistic belief. Those who believe that there are spiritual beings or forces in nature have been denigrated as primitive and superstitious. Attacks by more powerful individuals and groups have led many to abandon nature-based spiritual traditions.
Nevertheless, for several centuries in the West, there has been a gradual resurgence of such spiritualities, although these are often appearing in new, more modern forms. In recent decades, this trend has been gathering momentum. While some involved in contemporary nature spiritualities believe the natural world is full of spiritual presences, or that god or other divine beings are behind it all, many profess no such belief. For them, one can be agnostic or atheistic while expressing awe and wonder in the face of the mysteries of the universe and a deep appreciation for the ‘miracle’ of life. With contemporary nature spirituality, both sensory experience in nature and scientific understandings foster a belief that nature is sacred and that all life deserves respect if not also reverence. ‘The Symphony of Science’ offers one creative example of how such spirituality can be expressed in music videos.