December 21 is the longest night of the year. Ancient civilizations celebrated its significance. Ever wonder why the solstice is near Christmas? Fear not of the dark because “from the night can arrive the sweet dawn.”
A few miles outside of Collinsville, Illinois and north-west of St. Louis, sits mounds, but not just any patch of hills. These mounds are ancient. Here, you will find evidence of a prehistoric, Native city that was the center of massive winter solstice festivals occurring thousands of years before Ireland’s Stonehenge. Between Illinois and Missouri, are Cahokia Mounds, the largest archaeological site in the United States that shows a sophisticated culture of people called, The Mississippians.
Cahokia Mounds Historical Site is 2,200 acres, yet its original size is estimated to be a six-mile-stretch. According to archaeological digs, the area was once the city of Cahokia, and consisted of multiple-story housing and pyramid-like structures for over 100,000 people. Similar to Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, the mounds perfectly align with the solar system during the winter and summer solstice, and the spring and fall equinox. More importantly, it is not a coincidence that this phenomenon, happening long before the emergence of Christianity, takes place during the Christmas holiday.
But what does that mean? Before I go into it, let me give you a little background about me. I grew up in the Deep South and deep in the Black church. When I began to expand my understanding of spirituality, it started with questions around who we were before this version of Christianity or the religion itself. I would always ask, “What did we practice before the white man came?”
When I began to find out, eagerly, I would tell those who I thought would benefit from the information. In response, they’d say, “Man, get out of here with that mumbo-jumbo mess.” Some laughed, others claimed that what I said and did was of the devil. Then, quite a few dismissed how we practiced and worshiped in ways not found in the Bible. Assuredly, those ways were sacred and sanctified, and aligned with the cosmos. Still today, as a minister in the A.M.E. church and Ifa priest of the Yoruba tradition, the two seem to collide in attempts to reconcile how they are merely spiritual tools that can be used simultaneously and at times, complimentary of each other. That is, if you know the truth behind it.
What is the truth? It is that feeling in your gut urging you to seek more, or to talk about a time when you saw or heard something that a Bible verse, or at least, how you were taught to read it, could not explain. In brutal honesty, people are scared to walk into that knowing as it will shatter their whole life of believing. To think, all that they’ve preached and lived by, what they taught their children, all were nodes to suppress spiritual elevation and knowledge of the world, rather than provide points of liberation. What winter solstice reminds us to know is that “from the night can arrive the sweet dawn,” as the emcee Lauryn Hill says in “Lost Ones.”
For the ancients, the winter solstice’s long night establishes a gradual emergence of the light. In indigenous cultures around the world, the sun was acknowledged as a critical part of life. During the winter solstice, the Earth’s maximum axial tilt to the sun is 23°23’ for a single moment in the year. In the northern hemisphere, the angle of the sun creates a day with the shortest amount of daylight. At Cahokia, structures were built to align so perfectly that 408 miles away in Peebles, Ohio, another structure called, The Great Serpent, looks like it slithers away from the mounds in Illinois.
The mounds at Cahokia and its significance are so old that Native Americans today still work to understand its fullness. Still, the mounds’ creation and who built them are a mystery parallel also to Mayan, Egypt, and Stonehenge structures. Moreover, the closeness of the winter solstice and Christmas is not a coincidence. When Christmas was implemented in Rome at about 300 A.D., it was around the celebration of the local holiday, Sol Invictus or the festival celebrating the invincible sun. From the lens of an allegory, means that through the darkest veils, there will be complete illumination.
Metaphorically, when we are in complete darkness there is a feeling of being lost or the inability to see. Often, this is where many of us remain—in the thought that we cannot see in the darkness nor navigate in it, or even out of it. But that moment is really like being in your mother’s womb. Your ability to sense and see is beyond the eyes, as you become aware of the universe that is of you and around you, it is that moment you are awakened and ready to enter into the light. This is the power of God.
There, in the darkness, once you release the fear of not physically seeing, you begin to touch an infinite sight, which is a wisdom that is so profound that when light emerges at dawn, it pierces the skies with so much power. Then, we are reborn with more wisdom to navigate the world. So again, it is no coincidence that the winter solstice, a re-birthing of the sort, is close to the calendar celebration of the birth of Christ.
Wisdom is better than silver and gold
Have you noticed that leading up to this winter solstice there are a lot of people coming out with their truths—things they’ve been holding onto for years? From nasty experiences to dirty secrets, they’ve been releasing them into the ether to free themselves from the weight of holding onto toxic mess. Or some have simply lived lives where they often bit their tongue, or never fully responded to accusations about them. Even something that might have seemed less abrasive like having the correct answer to a math problem at school or the right answer to fix a job issue, but not speaking on it.
This world can beat you down with lies and tell you that they are love taps. In the thrashing, you are told that those truths, those gut feelings might just be a gassy stomach, or a conspiracy theory plucked from Youtube. For years, we might have acquiesced, even though we knew that was not the case. You just let it go, thinking it was a forgotten history, but it really nudged at you over time. But the dam holding up false narratives must break. This year is different.
The energy around this solstice tells us that the dam of dishonesty, treachery and misinformation can only break when we release ourselves from being bound by them. With faith, you must have wisdom, and with wisdom, you must carry out your life with courage. However, it does not happen randomly. You must have tools to break down the walls you’ve created, like the wise men who looked for Jesus.
In the Bible, the three wise men traveled extensively to find the Christ who had just been born. The popular story says they used the celestial heavens as a map to find Jesus. Evidently, the stars, meaning the planets were their maps. Which tells you that these men were called wise for a reason—they were learned and were most likely astronomers who also were master metallurgists who carried gold and silver that they forged. As well, they were chemists and herbalists who knew the arts of frankincense and myrrh, which also indicates them being religious or at least, practicing the sacred arts.
Underneath the charisma of the Christmas story is that those who were tuned into the universe and had studied extensively. The wise men were poised to find the truth in the birth of Christ, who was located by the stars, and if it were this time of the year, around the winter solstice. To wrap it up, like a nice Christmas present, this winter solstice reminds us that we must now move in our power, which is the rhythm of God, as it perfectly aligns with the rising of the sun and fall of the night.
While the focus was the Christmas holy day, please know that Christianity is just one of many religious observances that have some sort of celestial occurrence coinciding with it. What this winter solstice marks is our power to walk completely in honesty and be courageous to embrace it, speak it, live it, and flourish in it.