Published November 21, 2007 by
Winter nourishes the seed sown in the ploughed earth each year; all is wet with the rains sent by Jupiter. Now, let December bring again the golden festival of Saturn.
Farmers were advised to manure the fields, sow beans and gather olives, dig new ditches, clear old ditches, clear vineyards, prune trees in orchards, and plant lilies and crocuses.
We come full circle now, to December, the final month in our year. Twelve months ago, we began this spiritual voyage. We journeyed together to a world where time does not tick away by minutes and hours, but instead moves in a steady cyclical progression through the natural world and the seasons, with the recurring phases of birth, life, death, and rebirth. We moved through the sacred seasonal landscape from the dark, shivering cold of January into the sap-raising, sensual spring months, through the heat of fullness and ripeness in summer to the end, the decline and loss of autumn. We opened ourselves on the deepest level to be strengthened and healed. We returned to the world of nature, where the gods and goddesses, the water sprites and woodland nymphs reside. The yearlong path took us to strange and mysterious places-a soulful journey following the path of the sun itself. We moved forward from the first month after the winter solstice to the longest days of summer; from the declining daylight of autumn to the shortest day of the year in December. Now, we return to the days of the winter solstice and the deities worshiped this December month.
In the oldest Roman calendars, those based upon the lunar cycle, March was the first month of the new year and December the tenth and last. In fact, the Latin word for ten, decem, names this as the tenth month-the period of gestation for a human child according to the lunar calendar. While March and Mars are synonymous with male fertility and conception, December is the month of birth. This association of birth and December is not a unique concept; Christians view December 25 as the birth of the baby Jesus, and the sun itself is reborn at the solstice of December 2l.
The Saturnalia, the weeklong rite to the god Saturn dominates the rituals for December. In the words of the Roman poet Catullus, of the first century B.C.E., this period in mid-December was the "best of days." The Saturnalia was not the distorted caricature of ancient Romans rushing from one orgy to the next, drinking, gambling, partying, enjoying unrestrained sex, and honoring a pagan rite devoid of spiritual meaning. The god Saturn was honored at the winter solstice beginning with public ritual involving both sacrifice and a grand banquet held at the impressive temple of Saturn in Rome. The Saturnalia was a festive time that lasted for seven days in mid-December with private parties, special dinners, family celebrations, and the exchange of gifts. In fact, small dolls and candles with candle holders were traditional Saturnalia gifts. This festival, one of the most popular in ancient Rome, was celebrated into the third and fourth centuries C.E., with many of its customs being incorporated in the Christian holiday of Christmas.
Saturn is a complex god worshiped in the oldest days of Rome as an earthbound deity of sowing and seeds. His very name was derived from the Latin word for "sowing" and "seed," satus. Saturn was the god who taught people how to cultivate the earth and to plant the seed in the moist soil. We still honor this god by referring to the holy day of Saturn as Saturday. Saturn was King of All during the Golden Age, a most ancient time long before his son Jupiter took command. Every December, he was remembered and honored by the Romans as wise ruler of the Golden Age.