Happy Winter Solstice Everyone!!
Tonight at about midnight the Sun will enter the sign of the sea-goat, Capricorn, and we will finally turn the corner after the long descent that began at the summer solstice last June. From this day forward, little by little, the days will grow longer again. Tonight also marks the beginning of winter and a new three part sequence of zodiac signs: Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. By the time this sequence has finished it will be spring again.
Today is therefore a great day to meditate on the solstice and the sign of Capricorn. In the past months I’ve been delighted to discover the secret astrological influences contained in CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In fact this winter as part of our next speaker series I’ll be giving a talk on the Planets and Astrology in Narnia. If you know the first book, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, then you know the basic plot. A White Witch has put a curse on Narnia so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. However, due to the arrival of the four children through the magic wardrobe, as well as the arrival of Aslan, the snow starts melting, Father Christmas arrives, and spring comes at last. Lewis conceptualized the Witch’s curse, “always winter but never Christmas,” as Saturnine, whereas the coming of the solstice light, Father Christmas, and eventually spring, he saw as Jupiterian.
Going beyond the basic plot, there is a scene in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where Edmund is taken to the Witch’s house, which we could equate with the first celestial house of Saturn: Capricorn. The house is actually a large, frozen castle, and it guarded by midnight wolves and filled with people and animals from Narnia that she has turned into stone. She seemingly lives there alone, in the emptiness and freeze. Her face is pale and white. She is part giant. She calls herself the empress but clearly she has assumed the role through force and cunning.
In many ways, Lewis is comparing the reign and curse of the White Witch to the increasing popularity of materialism, where the view of human nature is a description of what it does and not WHY it does it. Materialism looks at functionality and describes things in terms of what they are made of, but not what they actually are, what they mean, or why they exist. Materialism was to Lewis a great concern. He saw it like the planet Saturn in astrology. Cold and deadening. Functional, empty, and control obsessed. Power hungry and self appointing. Lifeless and pale.
To Lewis science and materialism weren’t evil, but if they were taken too far they would create perpetual winter…a coldness devoid of spirit and soul. For this reason, we celebrate all the different holidays that come at this time of year. It’s at the exact moment when things are darkest and most lifeless and frigid that we recall the light and we fill ourselves with warmth, friends, family, faith, gratitude, gifts, and cheer. But isn’t it interesting that we do this celebrating most intensely as the Sun enters the celestial house of Saturn? Doesn’t that seem sort of unfair to Capricorn…like as soon as Capricorn gets here we’re just instantly praying for and celebrating his demise?
What is the usefulness of Capricorn or Saturn? Of course there are many, but let’s focus for today on the idea of morality. Lewis himself once argued that the most powerful argument for the existence of God, aside from the beauty and intelligence of the Universe around us, was the presence of a sense of “ought” that lives within us. Though Lewis admitted that it’s hard to pin down an exactly clear and universal sense of what is moral and what isn’t, he was adamant that each of live with an internal sense of how we ought to live. He noted that despite the claims of moral relativists, there is a rather universal sense of inner conscience that we each live with, and this moral compass directs us away from selfishness. The law, in other words, is self-evidently “good” and yet it requires a certain effort on our part. Lewis didn’t believe that moral law was something we made up, or that it could be reduced away by materialist descriptions. At the same time, Lewis noted that humans struggle to keep to that inner voice of guidance or goodness, and in many ways suffer as a result.
In a very simple way, this sense of inner moral guidance is also Saturn. The failure to comply and the misery and suffering that result are Saturn. The inner sense of oughts and shoulds that guide and direct our actions are Saturn. The consequences of moral or immoral choices, the “karma,” if you will…also Saturn. The fact that so often, if we’re not making excuses for ourselves or others, this sense of what is true or right in any given moment is incredibly clear, straight forward, and simple…all Saturn.
Yet Lewis also remarked that if this “law” was all there was to the higher/divine power, then we would only have something like a just but abstract “mind” behind and within everything. Lewis didn’t like this conclusion, and his interest in the Christian God stemmed from his observation that even though humans fall short of the inner “law” of goodness, all the time, we also very much desired to be let off the hook, to forgive and be forgiven, or to be granted a kind of essential immunity. And for this reason, Lewis admired the story of Jesus, where the impersonal/cosmic law of goodness becomes personal, becomes human, and in that sense validates our need for some basic immunity (we fall short but it’s okay!). And again, on a mythic level, regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, this is why we emphasize the Bodhisattva like qualities of charity and compassion at the winter solstice. For this is a time of year for us to each reflect on the world and its shortcomings, to take stock and rededicate ourselves to the hard work of moral and spiritual devotion. At the solstice hour we say to ourselves, “I’m going to do a better job of being kind, affectionate, present, unselfish, etc.” But we can only do so by forgiving ourselves and others, letting go of the past, and showing charity.
I think sometimes the very idea of there being a somewhat inflexible, inner moral law is offensive to us. As though the very idea is too perfectionist to begin with. This is understandable. If we looked at the reality of our moral compass in terms of blame or not being perfect, then the inner law thing would be a real drag. Just like Saturn can be a real drag. But what if instead of looking at the inner law in terms of blame or falling short, we looked at it in terms of the most beautiful image of ourselves, our lives, and humanity itself, that we are capable of creating? What if we didn’t focus on the strictness or missing the mark, but instead just kept our eyes on the goodness and beauty of what our moral compass is pointing us toward? What if we stopped thinking about our failures and just kept up the good work, with good spirits and good cheer? To my mind, this is what the solstice is all about.
Prayer: Help us to recommit ourselves to our inner moral compass…help us to focus on the images of goodness and light that live within us, and help us to do this “hard work” with warmth, forgiveness, affection, charity, and a good sense of humor. Thank you for the year behind, bless us during the year ahead!