Advent — this season of longing for the arrival of the Emmanuel, God-with-us — begins in just a few weeks. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of descent into winter — a time of literal and metaphorical hunger — can make our yearning for sacred connection restless, even desperate.
The spiritual craving we feel for the Divine in this moment of the year seems to be universal. It’s echoed in storied rituals created to invoke the return of the sun, to be bathed in the gifts of her resplendent being. We see in Neolithic sites like Newgrange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland how peoples built passage tombs that specifically received the light of the winter solstice through stone-framed transoms, perhaps with an understanding that the sun’s return could bring life back to or create communication with the ancestral dead. Countless other European traditions make use of candles and Yule Logs to sympathetically mimic the sun’s light in anticipation of her return. God is correlated with the sun outright (Psalm 84:11) and the feeling of the “sunrise from on high” is described as a visitation “of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78-79). Jesus himself is likened to the sun (Matthew 17:2, Revelation 1:16), and the season leading up to the Winter Solstice is awaiting his arrival.
In keeping with these traditions of connection and invocation, the song Come Crimson Mother is a supplication for the return of the Divine light. The term “solstice” is taken from Latin for the sun stands still, likely because at both midwinter and midsummer, the sun appears to rise and set in the same place for a few days. This song envisions peoples asking the sun — the golden, Crimson Mother — to begin to “move” again: that is, for her to start shifting her position on the horizon and begin to lengthen the days.
Here are the words to this simple but powerful chant:
Won’t you move, won’t you move, won’t you move, Mother?
Won’t you move, won’t you move, won’t you move/ Again, again, again?
Golden Crimson Mother/ Won’t you come, Dawn Bringer?
Sitting still, sitting still
I refer to the sun here as “Mother” not only because of the rich biblical references to God as mother, but because she appears many times across Indo-European cosmology in feminine form, too — often emerging from the sea, dancing and garbed in clothes of red and gold.
Reflecting on this wondrous season, my friend and colleague Saro Lynch Thomason says “I imagine the immense sense of relief and blessing ancient peoples would have felt when the sun did indeed fulfill her yearly promise of coming back, of not abandoning the world. No matter the face of the Divine, this moment in the year pulls us into that cathartic, sacred pulse — that yearning for union with the forces that complete us, and the ecstasy and ease when that union predictably — yet still astonishingly, miraculously — arrives.”
As I mentioned recently, Saro is offering a groundbreaking course called Singing the Wheel of the Year. This year-long, song-based exploration of eight earth-based holidays can be a wonderful complement to the Christian liturgical year, helping you learn traditional and modern songs for each holiday and sharing these songs in ritual.
Saro will teach a mix of ballads, rounds, chants and layered songs ranging from proto-Celtic to middle English to new compositions by Saro and other amazing song leaders. You can listen to Saro chant Come Crimson Mother right here.
Singing the Wheel of the Year is happening online and in Asheville, if you happen to live near western North Carolina. Anyone who registers before December 1st will receive Saro’s course Witches, Mermaids, and Fairy Queens. This is a package of songs and folklore on the magic-wielding women of British Isles balladry and American folksong, complete with four recordings, two audio essays, and a curated playlist with commentary all about the enigmatic and powerful magical women whose powers and wisdom have been praised (and warned against!) in the old songs passed through oral tradition.