The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites such as Stonehenge in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.
The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.
Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstitially based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay’s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades is permitted to enter Mount Olympus (his domain is the underworld so he of course does not get accepted any other time). Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia’s slave and master reversals.
Deity of the Day
Handsome God of Desire and Manly Good Looks. Has a very high squeee! factor.
For reasons we won’t go into, APHRODITE turned his mother Myrrha into a pregnant myrrh tree. When it split and the baby was revealed, APHRODITE was enchanted. “Ooh, he’s gorgeous. I’m saving him for later”, she decided.
So she put him in a box and checked him in at the Underworld Bank Vault under the care of PERSEPHONE, who took a quick peek and had the same thought.
When ADONIS grew old enough to be ‘Gods Gift to Women’, PERSEPHONE refused to hand him over. The case went to arbitration and CALLIOPE was asked to bring about a settlement.
Her final judgment was this: For four months of the year, he would live with APHRODITE. Then she must hand him over for four months with PERSEPHONE. For the remaining four months the choice was up to him.
As APHRODITE was the first to find him, she had the first go. Using her girdle of desire, she declared that ADONIS loved only her and PERSEPHONE could take a running jump.
So PERSEPHONE took a running jump to ARES (who was very struck on APHRODITE himself) and said: “Your fancy woman has got herself a mortal lover. And you don’t stand a chance, he’s absolutely gorgeous!”
ARES was furious, and being of a boorish disposition, changed himself into a boar and killed ADONIS in a hunting accident. This resulted in much hair-pulling and scratching and shrieking in Olympus.
Eventually ZEUS decided it was time for a bit of peace. He declared that ADONIS was not totally dead, but could spend six months with each of them.
So now APHRODITE has him in the spring and summer, and he goes down to the Underworld for autumn and winter. This is why everything fades and gets miserable during the winter months. So the Underworld would seem a good place to choose for a winter break.