Winter Solstice 2019

Winter Solstice 2019 ©Angela Porter | Artwyrd.com

I’ve been awake since way before dawn drawing this mandala to celebrate the Winter Solstice. I’m looking forward to the increased hours of daylight, though it will be a couple of weeks, or so, before there’s any noticeable difference in the length of day.

It’s been a lovely way to spend the hours as night gradually gives way to the sun. Not that I can see the Sun itself; grey skies and patches of rain obscure the golden wonder of that glowing ball of nuclear fusion.

I created the mandala using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Microsoft Surface Pen and Microsoft Surface Studio.

Winter Solstice 2018

©Angela Porter 2018

Winter begins! It’s the end of one astronomical cycle and the start of a new one. Winter Solstice is one of my favourite days of the year, along with All Hallow’s Eve. There’s always a feeling of excitement on this day that’s associated with ending and beginnings. Time to lay to rest that which is completed to make way for the new that replaces them as the Sun symbolically ‘dies’ on this day and will begin to ‘grow’ again in the days that follow until the Summer Solstice. It’s also a time to be grateful too.

I know there are many endings and beginnings; every moment in our lives is both an ending and a beginning. However, I feel that days like this, where we can focus on this never ending process in a bigger, more symbolic, more formal way, is important. Traditions are important as they bring a semblance of order to our rather chaotic lives.

I spent some time yesterday drawing this mandala to go with today. The dull gold represents the weakness of the Sun, relatively speaking. I’ve included mistletoe, holly and ivy as they’re traditionally associated with this day. I’ve also added berries as symbolic of the fruits of gratitude I carry for all the days since the last Winter Solstice. And, of course, there are plenty of sun-ray-like motifs and patterns. And stars. Plenty of stars, which from a distance look like snow drifting down.

Yes, I can say I’m rather pleased with this mandala. That’s not something I say often as I’m highly critical of myself and my work. But this one I really do like. I like the more graphic nature of the motifs. I like my hand lettering. I like the rhythm and flow of the design with the rings of designs radiating out.

So, I wish you all the very best that comes with the Winter Solstice, for today and all the days ahead of you and yours.

This was created using a Microsoft Surface Pen and Surface Studio along with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and a gold texture purchased via Creative Market.

How I spent the last three days…

I have to admit that I, like so very many others, spent the Christmas period alone (except for a couple of hours playing Trivial Pursuit at my little sisters on Christmas night).  It’s not the first Christmas that this has happened, but it’s one in a very long succession of solitary Christmases.

I feel the pressure from society and the media greatly at this time of the year; the pressure to be in a happy family, showered with gifts and food and company and loving intimacy.

The image we’re sold that we can’t possibly be happy unless we’re part of a big, loving, happy family and in a meaningful, happy, loving relationship is a trigger point for my mood, for unlocking the kennel of the black dog that can nip at my heels all too often.

This year, though, I’m happy to say that the black dog didn’t visit as often or as long as it has in the past many, many years.  Oh, I’ve had my moments, but I’ve survived better than I have for a very long time, most probably 20 years or so.

What helped is indulging myself in my coping strategies – creating art, making music, reading, cat cuddling and generally being creative (which currently means knitting baby blankets for my neice who is expecting twins in 3 to 4 months time).  Also, avoiding social media – facebook especially – has helped too.

Reminding myself that I’m not at the point in my healing journey from the cptsd (complex post traumatic stress disorder) that I experience that I feel able to have healthy relationships has also helped.  It’s a work in progress, the healing that is.

Another sign of my recovery from the trials and tribulations of the cptsd that I experience is that I made a little effort to add some ‘decorations’ for the Winter Solstice/Yule/Christmas season, which include a trio of small, knitted christmas trees, which kept me a little occupied in the days/weeks leading up to this time, as well as knitting and needle felting some bacteria and viruses for a pharmacist I met at an event I attended as a Time to Change Wales champion.

So, now the next event that can cause the black dog to find some strength is New Year’s Eve…

…which I can survive by using my super-power of being creative to help me cope.

The piece of art above has been done over the past 3 days.  The black outlines were drawn first, followed by a base layer of Ranger’s Distress Inks applied with Clarity Stencil brushes.

I then used the Distress Inks as watercolours to intensify the colours in various places as well as to add the colour to the berries/seeds/buds.

Next, I used Cosmic Shimmer’s Iridescent Watercolour paints to add some shimmer in large areas, before adding detailed patterns using coloured pencils (I chose to use my Mitsubishi Uni Pencils for this).

Finally, I added metallic and ‘glittery’ sparkle using Sakura’s Gold Gelly Roll Metallic pen and a Clear Star Gelly Roll pen.

I was rather restrained for me by leaving areas just coloured, not embellished to high heaven and back! The areas I have added texture/pattern to stand out more and it’s not quite so overwhelming.

This could mean my artistic skills are maturing a little.

The most important thing, however, is that I enjoyed the process of creating this large (for me) piece of art. The paper I used is A3 in size, and the drawing is approx 9.5″ x 14.5″.

When I finally figure out how to price my art (any one wishing to offer help/advice/suggestions on this, then it will be gratefully recieved) I may put it up for sale on Etsy.

Season’s Greetings 2016

winter_05_coloured1

Sending each and every one of you all the very best of the wishes of the season. May each of your days ahead be filled with love, joy and all things bright and good!

Thank you to all who have supported me and sent me such kind words too.

Drawn on my Surfacebook, coloured in via Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.

 

Winter Wreath Coloured

The second of the templates I posted yesterday has been coloured.  I went with a cooler colour palette than I would usually choose.

Coloured using Caran D’Ache Luminance pencils and a blending solution was used, which actually brought out the colours beautifully!

I also forgot to mention that these wreaths were drawn in Autodesk Sketchbook on my Microsoft Surface Book.

Crimble card making time again!

I’ve been keeping myself a little busy at times in the past few days making this years crop of Christmas cards.

The materials I used:

  • Kraft cardstock and ready cut 4″x4″ Kraft card blanks
  • Watercolour paper
  • Spectrum Noir sparkle pens
  • Zig clean colour real brush pens
  • Perfect pearls
  • Cosmic shimmer metallic and iridescent paints
  • Nuvo crystal drops by Tonic
  • Sakura glaze pen in black
  • Inktense pencils by Derwent
  • Gold glitter cardstock, matte gold cardstock and mirror gold cardstock from Crafters Companion
  • UHU glue
  • Glue dots
  • White fun foam

And here are the resulting cards; they all shimmer and shine to one degree or another!

Winter Solstice 2011

Today is the Winter Solstice, well the astronomical solstice at least.  The Sun left Sagittarius and entered Capricorn at 05:31GMT this morning and that is the exact point of the solstice.

The Winter Solstice has long been marked as a special time for many millennia.  Our ancient forebears built stone monuments that tracked the passage of the Sun across the sky as the seasons changed; to them it was important to know when it would soon be time to plant the fields so that food would be plentiful once again.

The pattern of observing the Winter Solstice, and other festivals throughout the winter, and indeed throughout the rest of the year, is set in the fabric of our society, though the names of the celebrations, and the precise date of them, have changed over time, and what was once a religious celebration has become, for many in Britain, a secular celebration involving the exchange of gifts, the consumption of food and drink and time with loved ones (though this is not the case for all – let us not forget there are many who have no friends or family or home at this time of year).

There are plenty of places on the world-weird-web where you can find out about the origins of the various traditions that people observe at this time of year in the many cultures that have winter festival.

It has become my own tradition on this day that I spend time in the morning writing in my journal, reflecting on where I have come from and where I’d like to go in the coming months.  Well, that’s the plan, but that rarely happens as my pen gets hijacked by my unconscious mind and lots of things flow onto the paper, many insights and things to consider and ponder, much of which I won’t share with others as it is for me.

Part of my musings I will share concern the passing of time and the meaning we put on various events to help bring order to our lives, and some kind of certainty to the future amid all the seeming chaos and randomness of our lives.  I realised, that it’s important to me to understand why something is celebrated or why a particular traditional activity is done at any particular time of year.

I am finding that as I grow and develop as a person, as a spiritual being, that what I once did no longer makes sense to me; rather than beating myself up about abandoning something that once made sense, worrying that I was being too lazy or turning my back on things, I’ve realised that things do change as I change and understand more.  That is, for me, an important realisation.

Of course, I feel the pressures to conform and I make sure I respect others’ beliefs and traditions and do as they would wish at this time.  However, I have to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my own view of how the Universe seems to work from my point in it.

Another important realisation to come from this mornings musings is that it is most important to remain open  minded about all kinds of things; even though I may have my own views, ideas, theories, experiences, observations and so on at this time, that may change as I experience more and grow and develop.  Being blinkered to other possibilities, to there being no other ways may be what underlies so many of the world’s problems (and greed, never forget the power of greed …).

As I’ve said, there was much more and it made sense to me.  Maybe I’ll share more once I’ve worked through and processed it all.

What this leaves me with is to wish you all the very brightest blessings of the season, the most wonderful wishes for the next cycle of the seasons, no matter how you celebrate or why you celebrate!

Seasons Musings 2011

The end of the Autumn Term is always one filled with very mixed feelings for me, if I allow myself to dwell on things or to notice the differences between myself and others.

I usually am quite different to others in the way I seem to live my life, that’s for sure. At this time of year, with all the messages from the media, retailers and society I feel the separateness even more. The materialistic nature of our society, and at this time of year the materialist selling machine kicks into overdrive.

The main message seems to be that you can’t possibly be happy and loved unless you are in a relationship, surrounded by family and friends and have spent a small fortune on gifts and food and drink and decorations, wear a particular brand of clothes or perfume or aftershave or jewellery, look a particular way (impossible unless you are air-brushed and digitally altered or starve yourself silly) or, or or…

Also, let us not forget the pressure to not disappoint others by not getting them the latest gadget or gizmo or designer clothing or accessories, whether you can afford it or not, and this is overwhelming, unless you are aware of the pressures upon you.

Another message is that if you have this or wear this or smell this way then your life will be magical and ecstatic and filled with love and you’ll be irresistible to others portrayed, others portrayed as the ultimate beautiful people.

The main selling point is that of an ideal partner, family, friends and life; a perfection we can’t possibly maintain except for fleeting moments; life is a series of good times and not so good times, even for the incredibly wealthy. Neither money nor fame bring happiness; if they did, we’d never hear of depressed and suicidal wealthy and/or famous people. No matter what things we own or how we dress or what we do or where we go, they cannot bring inner peace and contentment, not for more than a little while.

We’ve become a society, generally, which says I love you by how much we spend on someone, not by on how we treat others.

It is at this time of the year, when businesses whose business is to get you to part with your money, get you to buy into the belief that nothing says I love you more than spending a lot of money on you.

Am I cynical? Probably. Oh, I know that not everyone is like this, that there are people out there who understand what gifting is about, but the majority have been infected with the consumerism/materialism virus.

Being a long-term single person, one who has blood family that she’s not close to (which equates to having no real family) and friends who have their own families, then this time of year can be very difficult. Add to that the bad memories of the past that can surface as various events or pressures are felt related to this season, and a deep tiredness that saps me of my emotional resilience, I can find it very difficult to cope with this particular holiday.

I associate this time of year with huge childhood disappointments. This disappointment wasn’t with what gifts I had or how much money had or hadn’t been spent – I was always appreciative of the gifts given. No, the disappointment was always connected to my hope that Christmas would bring a wonderful change to my life; that there would really be peace and love and goodwill to all, including me.

It never happened.

By mid-morning the magic of waking and finding the house be-decked with fairy lights and decorations overnight by Father Christmas’ fairies that lived in the central heating system and the surprise of the presents at the end of the bed were replaced by arguments and name-calling, destruction and bullying, which only intensified as the day went on and tempers became more and more frayed by tiredness and food and drink.

By Boxing Day everything was back to normal, the only difference were the twinkling lights, tree, tinsel and trimmings.

Christmas became a season of false hopes and false promises.

That never changed as I went through adulthood. Oh the parties could be fun, but generally ended in drunken fights – verbal or physical – between other party-goers always spoiled them

The expectation of sitting and watching Christmas TV with no conversation after dinner was tedious and boring for me. Or the annoyance at the long ago ex-partner turning up drunk and late for the first Christmas dinner in our new home together. I’d spent all morning preparing and cooking the meal, and by the time he got home it was all dry and over-done. I’d nibbled my way through my food waiting for him (and got through half a bottle of very good port). He wolfed it down, dashed upstairs to be sick and then spent the rest of the day in bed sleeping it all off.

Not all have been sad or bad.

I had a good day a few years ago when I volunteered to help the chef at a half-way house run by the Salvation Army. There were lots of laughs that day.

There was also the year where I ‘rescued’ a friend from a long walk home after his fiancée had chucked him out at 10am on Christmas morning because her son had complained that my friend hadn’t shown enough enthusiasm for the son’s gifts. I ended up cooking an Indian banquet before taking him to his lodgings in the evening.

And last year, heavy snow meant it wasn’t possible to go anywhere, and so the pressure was off me. I spent the day engrossed in art and reading and music.

There’s also my acceptance that Christmas, as a religious thing, means nothing to me. It’s allowed me to be happier at this time of year than in the past. I still feel the pressures from outside.

This is a turning point in the year; Christmas more-or-less coincides with the Winter Solstice which heralds a return of the light and the possibility of growth in the coming months. The Solstice brings change and the opportunities for personal growth. The Sun is at it’s weakest at this time, though its strength is gradually reborn and grows in strength over the coming months. It’s a good time to let go of things that have ‘died’ in our life in order to make space for new things to come into our lives. My attitude towards this time of year is one of those things that needs to change, my resilience to the external pressures needs to be strengthened, and there are some things I need to let go of in order for this change to occur.

Despite all the work I’ve done on myself, on how I view things, becoming comfortable with who I am and my life, I still find this time of year difficult. All the comments like ‘Oh, it must be so lonely for you at this time of year, with no one to spend Christmas with’ (what about the rest of the year?) or the avoidance of the subject (by me as well), and seeing people in large groups eating and drinking and laughing and I’m on the outside looking in, or that’s how it feels.

It’s not the eating or drinking that can get me sad, more the lack of human company. However, that is a feeling that isn’t confined to this time of year – it’s an all year round thing.

I know I tend to keep myself distant from people; I’ve been hurt too often in the past. I do need to learn how to risk a little of myself in order to form connections with others. That is a longer term goal than just for one day of the year, however.

I think that this year I will revel in my solitary time, take the time to rest and recuperate, to do nice things for myself, learn to give to myself for a change and look at where I need to learn to accept from others too. It’s time to remind myself that I am comfortable in my own company, that I’m not lonely, that my life has meaning and purpose and it’s a good time to look at what I do have in my life and to be properly grateful for it. It’s a time to find the strength to avoid noticing what is missing according to the fairytale the media weave for us surrounding what happiness is and what we must have to be happy.

Perhaps, it would be a cathartic exercise to write my own version of A Christmas Carol – past, present and future – maybe calling it a Solstice Carol or a Yule Carol. 

The Calendar

Time to change your calendars and diaries over!  Happy new calendar day for MMXI!

The Sun and the Year

It takes the Earth 365.24219 mean solar days to orbit the Sun once.  This is slightly more than our nominal 365 day long year, so every four days we have a leap year, with 29 days in February instead of the usual 28.  This still isn’t quite right, so the last year of every century is not a leap year unless the year is divisible by 400, which is why 2000 was a leap year but 1900 wasn’t.

There are four key points in the Earth’s yearly journey around the Sun.

The Solstices are where the Sun appears to stand still at solar noon for a few days, this means that it is in the same position in the sky at solar noon.  Solstice comes from the Latin sol for Sun and sistere which means to stand still.  Around the 21st December each year, the Sun is the furthest south from the equator in the sky and we in the northern hemisphere experience the Winter Solstice, the shortest day in the year.  Around the 21st June, the northern hemisphere’s Summer Solstice occurs, with the Sun being at it’s most northerly from the equator.  This is the longest day of the year for us.

The Equinoxes occur in between these points.  The Vernal Equinox occurs around the 21st March and the Autumnal Equinox around the 21st September each year.  On these days, the Sun is directly over the equator.  These are days where the hours of daylight and night are approximately equal, and the word equinox comes from the Latin equi meaning equal and nox meaning night.

To our modern eyes, the cycles of the Sun are important in terms of determining the seasons, the weather, agricultural practices and so on.  But that wasn’t always so.

The Moon and the Year

To early man, it was the Moon, with its cyclical waxing and waning that was the more obvious object to use to measure time and all the earliest known calendars are lunar, based on the phases of the Moon.  Indeed, the word month comes from the use of the phases of the Moon to split the year up into segments.

It takes long and complicated sums to link the cycles of the Moon to those of the Sun.  A lunar month is 29.5306 days long, so a twelve month lunar year would last just over 354 days and so is around 11 days out of step with the Solar year.  If we were to follow a lunar calendar, it would take just about 16 years for the seasons to be completely reversed.

Julius Caesar and the 1st January

Whatever the religious reasons may have been to keep to a lunar calendar, it must have been obvious that it was the cycles of the Sun that had the biggest effect upon human activity.  It was the turning of the seasons that determined when crops were to be sown, when they were due to be harvested, when the weather would be good enough to set sail, and for so many other things too, yet the lunar calendar was still in use, with all the problems of errors and corrections that needed to be made until the Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45BC.

Caesar learned of this calendar from the Egyptians.  Legend has it it was at a party thrown by Cleopatra in his honour.  The Julian calendar was based on a 365 day year, with an extra day thrown in every 4 years.  Each year had twelve months with thirty or thirty-one days, except February, and the 1st January was set as the beginning of the year.

The calendar as we know it today was now more or less in place.  It was regular, secular and based on the real movements of the Sun.

Dark Times

Emperor Constantine (d. AD377) imposed Christianity as the major religion of the Roman Empire and he placed the design of the calendar back in the hands of religious groups who were still wedded to the traditional lunar movements for their major festivals.  After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Christian church was the nearest thing to an international controlling committee and the West entered a long, dark time where scientific enquiry was frowned upon at best and considered heresy at worst.

The Gregorian Calendar

By the C16th, the western world was stable enough to attempt to reform the calendar.  The small errors from the Julian calendar had now become noticeable and annoying.  In 1582 Pope Gregory finally announced changes in the calendar to correct these faults and prevent them from happening again, including the 400 year rule for leap years mentioned previously.

He introduced what became known as the Gregorian Calendar, and ordained that 5th October should become 15th October to bring the calendar back in line with the physical world.  This was a much needed and a sensible solution to the problem of the calendar.

However, the changes were not universally accepted, especially in Protestant countries such as Britain.  The changes were declared to be a ‘Popish plot’ designed to undermine their credibility.  For more than a century following this Papal decree, half of Europe was 10 days ahead of the other half!

It took Britain until 1752 to adopt the changes, by which time it had to correct the calendar by 11 days to bring it back into line with Gregorian calendar.   Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, initiated this move by introducing a Bill to correct the ‘inconvenient and disgraceful errors of our present calendar’.  This Bill was signed into law by George II on 22nd May 1752.  Chesterfield’s Act  decreed that Wednesday 2 September 1752 be followed immediately by 14 September 1752 and also that the New Year was to start officially on 1st January.

Winter Solstice 2010

All the very best of the Winter Solstice greetings and wishes to all!

The exact point of Solstice is at 23:38 UTC, which is when the Sun enters Capricorn.   In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the longest night and also the gradual returning of light to the world as the days gradually lengthen once again.

What makes this year’s Winter Solstice extra special is that there is a Lunar Eclipse fall on the same day, for the first time since 1638.  Sadly, it was not possible for me to view the Lunar eclipse as the skies were cloudy here, and no doubt the hills would have obscured my view of the Moon in any case.

In my immediate environment, in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is in it’s annual dormancy and the return of the light from this day on is a reason enough to celebrate the continuation of nature’s seasonal cycle.  With the snow still covering the ground, life having slowed down due to the freeze here in the UK, there’s an even bigger sense of the big sleep of nature.

The Winter Solstice had, no doubt, great significance to prehistoric people, no doubt linked to the uncertainty of seeing life through the harsh winter months.  Evidence for this remains in the apparent alignments of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites such as Stonehenge (Winter Solstice 2010 at Stonehenge) in England and Newgrange (Winter Solstice at Newgrange 2010) in Ireland to astronomical events such as the Winter Solstice.  The lives of these people depended very much upon the seasons and weather and it must have been important for them to mark the cycles of the seasons in some way, just as we do still.

The Feast of Yule was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia.  At this time of year, fires were lit to symbolise the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning Sun.  A Yule log was brought in and burned in the hearth in honour of the god Thor.  A piece of the log was kept to act as both a good luck token for the year and to act as kindling from which the next year’s Yule log was lit.  Ashes from the log were also collected to be spread on the fields to ensure a good harvest that year.

There are many festivals coinciding with the Winter Solstice around the world, as can be easily read about on the web – see for instance Wikipedia.

How will I be spending the day?  Well, not as I would in years past.  Normally, I’d replace my bundle of mistletoe at dawn, burning last year’s old bunch.   This will have to wait for a day or two until I can get out and about!   The mistletoe hung in the home acts as a protection against negative thoughts and deeds.  Burning it releases and purifies that which it has absorbed over the year.  Part of the day will be spent in meditation/quiet thought/reflection on the past year and particularly upon the progress I have made in achieving goals in life and giving thanks for all those people and circumstances which have aided me in my progress, whether they realised it or not, and whether I realised it or not at the time! Sometimes, the people and situations that vex us most are responsible for the greatest progress in our personal development.

How will you spend the day?

  1. Guardian – Article about the coincidence of Solstice and the Lunar Eclipse
  2. National Geographic – Article about the coincidence of the Solstice and the Lunar Eclipse
  3. Winter Solstice at Time and Date.com
  4. December Solstice Traditions at Time and Date.com
  5. Winter Solstice on Wikipedia
  6. Yule on the BBC website