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January 2, 2012

In the post Holiday Blitz burn-out we all feel a bit crisp. When we sense a loss of control, we get threatened, fearful and cranky. And nothing says a lack of control better when the world is screaming at you to BE MERRY.

This is not just a cultural imperative – the “holiday spirit” is heinously co-opted in a for-profit foray into marketing seasonal sentimentality. Starbucks coffee cups that were unveiled on Nov. 1 declare “When we are together, every day is a snow day.”  We are told truly generous and loving spouses give each other $45,000 cars for Christmas.

In response to this hype, we bloat. Everyone drinks too much and eats unlimited quantities of foods that are virtually immoral at other times of the year. The end of the calendar year is a 6 week worldwide Binge, followed by good intentions. Both impulses convey our desperation to manifest control over our lives – freedom to pollute our bodies, strength to reform them.

But this is nothing new. Our hardwiring short circuits our sense of ourselves and the state of the earth. The ancients anthropomorphized our planet to a female presence, Gaia.  The primal rhythms of Solstice, Equinox, and mid-points between have been the markers for anticipation since humans distinguished themselves from other life forms by their egocentric interpretation of the natural world.

Pagans of every description focused so hard on that anticipation that factual observation morphs into spiritual symbolism. A tilting globe that wobbles creates variations in light and weather that are chronologically regular, but infinitely variable in their small scale manifestations of wind, temperature, precipitation and cloud cover – not to mention life-threatening storms, tide and floods.

Weather is as frustrating to fully understand as cosmic matter – but there is no equivalent to the gigantic fudge factor of Dark Matter to explain a huge storm appearing, not appearing, or tracking in a completely unpredicted way.

When knowledge cannot create accurate prediction, interpretation wells up. Uncertainty breeds the sense that these unpredictables may have a moral or spiritual spin to them. Christ was not born near the Winter Solstice, but non-tropical people greeted increased light with celebration, so “Voila!” early Christian missionaries co-opted the celebration as a tool for evangelism.

We are creatures who use knowledge to undo fear and bolster confidence. This is not religious – we feel good about eating whole grain bread or using “sustainable” building products or taking vitamins, trusting that the unverifiable benefit embedded in each rationally defendable act accrue to some indefinable sense of worthiness.

Christians know Easter is the transcendent Holy Day, not Christmas. Jews know Yom Kippur, not Hanukah, embodies the deepest values of Judaism – but the compelling reality of the darkening days regularly, and somehow happily, giving way to more light made the application of that Pagan happiness a natural fit.

In 1966 Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, knew our culture becomes both celebratory and circumspect at Winter Solstice time. She created an overtly non-holy holiday, Kwanza – a secular construction responding to a spiritual need – self awareness – affirmed by ritual and historic allusion at a time of seemingly hardwired cultural sentimentality. Clearly a successful blending.

But things quickly get murky when simple good intentions extend into a prescriptive retrofit.

Sometimes it’s hard accepting the inherently passive position of observer. Fans of sports teams freely say “We won!” when they have never stepped on any field of play, let alone their team’s. When we judge versus observe, the truth is only a platform for the extension of personal values.

Paganism revels in observation of natural fact, but it ascribes meaning to those facts – it is joyous to behold more sunlight, it is awesome when a magic day where day and night have equal measure happens as anticipated – fulfilling some vague sense that we are participating in the magic versus just bobbing like a cork on an uncontrollable sea . Somehow we find joy in the faux control of prediction.

There are actually those who have created the ultimate extension of our importance as observers – geocentricism, which asserts that the earth, our perch in the universe, is, in fact at the center of all observable cosmic history and movement.

Just like the reduction of the natural world to an interpersonal “snow day” on a Starbucks cup, we all have the genetic sensory sieve that suggests that what we see is put there for our observation. Co-opting inevitable reality in terms we define makes that reality’s ignorance of our existence less diminishing.

When drunk, nuts or in full political bellicosity we are quite sure the world serves our perception. But even the most calm and rational among us can’t think away finding meanings in things that are completely unaffected by any of our prescriptive interpretations.

When we retreat to the solace of geocentricism, personal delusion becomes planetary. When we instinctively presume the world is our oyster we become, in the words of our President “the ones we have been waiting for.”

Narcissism has many faces (literally). It’s a quick trip from vanity to hubris, and the temerity of humans made for our present dominance – and possibly our impending demise – but neither our past nor our prologue has much to do with the Solstice.

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