Return of the Sun God

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By Valentina Diaz

Star gazing or astronomy has been the people’s window to heaven and with that their connection to the all-knowing since ancient times. One of the better known astronomical events is the Winter Solstice, celebrated on the 20th or 21st of June in the southern hemisphere and 21st or 22nd in the northern hemisphere.

Thousands of people celebrated this year’s winter solstice all around Australia. In Melbourne these celebrations were held in mid-June, with the customary bonfire, fire twirlers, live drummers, dancers, food stalls, music and activities for the kids. Fed Square, Montsalvat in Eltham, the Collingwood Children’s Farm (adjacent to the Abbotsford Convent) and Brunswick Primary School were some of this year’s venues to name a few.

The winter solstice represents reversal and renewal or rebirth. Set on the shortest day and longest night of the year it has had varied world-wide interpretations from culture to culture, its importance lies in our long-standing economic dependency on monitoring the progress of the seasons regarding food crops.

Evidence of the celebration’s ancient existence and importance are traced back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and can be seen in the well-known rock monuments of Stonehenge and Newgrange.

Sun Gods the world over such as the Roman Helios or Sol Invictus were worshipped and revered at this time of the year.

Saturnalia was a festival of lights (hence the fire tributes) leading to the winter solstice and was characterised by a public banquet, gift giving, role reversals/role playing, feasting and sacrificing the odd suckling pig which signified an offering to the Earth Deity.

The 12th century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar Salibi notes that the Christians appropriated Dec 25 as Jesus’ birth as it was already a known Pagan celebration of the birthday of the sun, the order of precedence is of debate as we can imagine. In ancient Rome Christians did indeed adopt the image of the Sun to represent Christ.

In Pagan Scandinavian and Germanic culture Yule or jul as in God jul which means merry Christmas, the winter solstice is celebrated on the 25th of December (as they are in the northern hemisphere) and is where many of our own Christmas traditions originated.

In China and East Asia this time of the year is known as Dongzhi (the extreme of winter), and was celebrated as an end of the harvest festival.

Historically farmers and fishermen take time off from work to spend time with their families and enjoy a lavish meal. At these family reunions they often make and eat tangyuan which are brightly coloured balls of glutinous rice cooked in a sweet or savoury broth.

In Australian Aboriginal culture the Sun God is female, and is called Walu and it is she who lights a fire each morning which we see as dawn and carries it through the day.

A stone arrangement found in Victoria, half way between Melbourne and Geelong where the Wathaurong people once occupied, called Wurdi Youang is a sort of Aboriginal Stonehenge.

Part of the arrangement indicates the setting sun at equinox, summer and winter solstice. It demonstrates the star gazing tendencies of these people as other ancient people did the world over. Sadly their traditions, customs and language were banned by missionaries over a hundred years ago so the Wathaurong people are uncertain as to its absolute relevance but it appears to be perhaps the oldest acknowledgement of our relation to the cosmos existing to date.

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