Winter Solstice 2019: Death and Life

Posted on Dec 20, 2019 in Art, Nature, Photos, Seasonal Messages, Travel
Mnajdra Temple and the front door where morning light enters each solstice and equinox.

There are always thresholds to cross. And there are always choices to make. Every season opens a door. I don’t think it’s a contradiction that people mark midwinter as a major anniversary of loss as well as a time of gratitude. Winter solstice holds both death and life for us.

When I was in Malta this past spring, I would rise every morning. Walk the two blocks to the public transit station in Buggiba (pronounced BOO-jee-ba), get on one of the many public buses and ride with the Maltese on their way to work into Valetta or across or around the island, along with other tourists speaking French, German, Italian and English. Sometimes I was the only tourist on the bus. Sometimes the bus drivers knew where I was going; sometimes they didn’t. That’s when they would reach out to their seasoned Maltese passengers “Do you know where x is?” or even assign them to me: “Here I entrust this lady to your care.” I would show them my map, mispronounce the site I was looking for. Without fail the locals would get me to my destination.

I would visit at least one archeological site a day. Some of the sites were more remote, less noteworthy, nothing more than a reconstituted pile of weathered stones. I preferred these lonely sites and could linger for hours among the rocks and the wildflowers, only me and the friendly security guard watching from a nearby trailer. Who were these people who built these monuments to the universe? Malta has some of the oldest surviving temples and necropoli in Europe, some of them aligned to the solstices and the equinoxes. The earliest temple, Skorba, dates to 3600 BCE, older than pyramids, older than Stonehenge, older than Newgrange.

It’s not magic that attracts me to these sites, but it is their makers’ presence. Like any places in the world where many people have prayed, wept, and sung over the centuries, the earth has a memory. The ancients didn’t conjure the solstices and equinoxes, but they observed and honoured the patterns: the path of the sun in relation to the passage of animals (four-legged and two-legged), the rise and fall of temperature and moisture with the planting and growth of crops, the death and rebirth of souls. These were their compass bearings in time.

In 2019 as the seasons shift and bleed into each other, as glaciers melt and birds drift into new habitat, as fish forget to migrate, there is something urgent in remembering not a perfect time, not a better time, necessarily, but a time of deep human awareness of our interdependence with the Earth.

In the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (3300 BCE), an underground necropolis where some walls still bear the marks of red ochre, the signature of Neolithic burials; no one is allowed to take photographs. In this vast multi-hived chamber, filled with the sound of trickling water, hewed out of live stone, with nothing but antlers, chert, flint and obsidian. The winter solstice sunrise enters through a window in the roof and illuminates another open door cut into the face of an inner temple, a door within a door, within a door. It is this inner temple I look for on my travels and on my journey. It is this inner door that beckons us outward.


  1. Faith
    December 21, 2019

    Thanks for marking the solstice so beautifully. Amid all this darkness, I feel hopeful on this day for the light’s return. I’m also interested to hear about Malta. One of the Democratic candidates for president in the US, Pete Buttigieg, is of Maltese descent.

  2. Betty Jane Hegerat
    December 21, 2019

    Thank you, Audrey. These beautiful haunting images and your eloquent words are a perfect morning song for this shortest day.
    Let us all keep watch for the inner door.

  3. Bob Stallworthy
    December 21, 2019

    Audrey, what a thought provoking piece. I’m glad that BjH sent it to me. The image of the “inner door” strikes me in so many different ways. I will think about this for some time. Thank you.

  4. Allison Kydd
    December 21, 2019

    Dec. 21/19
    Dear Audrey,
    I too am moved by your words and by the way you incorporate these experiences into your life and your art. Thank you as well for sharing this story of your travels with us.

  5. Mary Nelson
    December 21, 2019

    Dear Audrey,
    What a lovely gift you offer on this longest night; another journey to sacred sites.
    It entrances me as do your words. We’ll all look to the coming of the light.
    Many blessings, Audrey.

  6. Patrica Fawcett
    December 21, 2019

    Hi Audrey – thank you so much! Magnificent! Love how you write!

  7. Jo-Ann Symonds
    December 21, 2019

    Once again Audrey,
    Love these reminders of where we are whilst in the frenzy of the too fast pace around me.
    Blessings – Jo- Ann

  8. Kate Henderson
    December 22, 2019

    Audrey, I am struck by your line: “…there is something urgent in remembering not a perfect time, not a better time, necessarily, but a time of deep human awareness of our interdependence with the Earth.” In this day of frazzled urgency, it helps to remember our connection to a much bigger picture. A wonderful time of year to step back and think of those who’ve come before us.

  9. Linda Winski
    December 22, 2019

    I, like Kate, was struck by the line about there being an urgency to remembering our interdependence with the Earth and all creation, particularly in this time of climate crisis. Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to your seasonal Wisdom posts.

  10. m.j.thibodeau
    December 22, 2019

    Audrey dearest beauty ~ I am struck by the word “inner door” ~ these words are triggers in the memory of my experience of being RAPED by this Hierarchy
    of Religious high profile man-priest ~ my inner door (vulva) to my vagina was penetrated by his deep rejection of his own “anima” that lived in the swamp of rotting smelly desires of Roman Catholic Hierarchy of Religious gay men/priests . Today after all these years I say it is the outer door that beckons to open (us) towards revealing what is held secret in the inward door of the psyche ~

  11. Audrey
    December 23, 2019

    Thank you each for the comments here and offline. I am always amazed at the multiple and unique interpretations of a single image and moved by the power of metaphor. May it be so.