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The Winter Solstice

THE WINTER SOLSTICE

DAWN AT STONEHENGE

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It is no coincidence that the massive monoliths of the neolithic Stonehenge are arranged to form  a perfect line of sight for the  Winter Solstice sunset  – the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Clearly, the ancient Druids understood and venerated the day.   So did the Romans whose Saturnalia festival ran from December 17 – 23 and featured gift giving.   Eventually, Saturnalia was observed on December 25 and merged with the festival of “dies natalis solis invicti,” ‘birthday of the unconquered sun.”   By 354 AD, December 25th was appearing on Roman calendars as the birthday of Christ.

THE BIRTHDAY OF THE UNDYING SUN

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Scandanavia had the Festival of Juul, with featured the burning of the Yule log during the winter solstice, a tradition which spread over Europe.

THE YULE LOG

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The Winter Solstice celebrations are  a recognition of the slow but inevitable turning of the seasonal clock. It is more than hope, it is Astronomical proof that the distant spring will once again emerge in it’s green glory from the bleak, white winter.   The Winter Solstice is the turning point, the pivot that reaffirms the continuation of Cyclical Time, because the days do get longer again as they always did and always will.

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But there is also the haunting melancholy of mortality, echoed in the deep unconscious mind at the Winter Solstice, reverberating in the ancient drinking songs.  So,  God rest ye merry gentleman, let nothing you dismay and  don’t look too closely at the passing of time. Yes, spring will come back,  Jesus is scheduled for resurrection at Easter,  December will come back, Christmas will come back, but 2015 will never come back, your grandmother will never come back and your death awaits after a few more trips around the sun, so bring on the figgy pudding and bring it right now.

The Winter Solstice  / Christmas is at once the “most wonderful time of the year” and the most depressing time of the year.   But to a large degree, we can choose how we will react and perhaps the safest path is the middle one.  Enjoy the Winter Solstice, celebrate Christmas, but don’t make it into an impossibly beautiful fantasy where we “all will be together” because we know that can never come true.   The truth is that the Spring WILL return. The reality is that you won’t always be around to see it return.

WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND

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MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY SOLSTICE!

SNAKE PHOBIA

 

SNAKE PHOBIA

 If you are afraid of a hissing rattlesnake shaking his tail like a manic tambourine player and coiled to strike, you are experiencing justifiable, life-preserving fear.  

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BUT If you are so afraid of all snakes that you will not walk into any wooded area, if you won’t  go anywhere near the reptile exhibit at the zoo, if you can’t stand seeing one on TV, if you get extremely anxious just thinking about a snake, you definitely have OPHIDIOPHOBIA, extreme fear of snakes. (and you are not reading this blog post!)

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Let’s face it, snakes are creepy:  they have those lidless, soulless  eyes and that horrible darting forked tongue; they don’t have legs and they slither  on the ground, for God’s sake! Snakes are the ancient enemy of humankind and there is an adaptive reason to be very wary of them – they have killed our ancestors and they could kill us. More than any other animal, snakes have been chosen throughout history to represent EVIL.

In the BIBLE, It was the Serpent, that ancient reptillian embodiment of Satan, who persuaded Eve to give the apple to Adam. 

“And the LORD GOD said unto the Serpent: “because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above every beast of the field; upon thy belly thou shalt go and dust  thy shall eat all the days of your life” – GENESIS 3:8

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In GREEK MYTHOLOGY,  Medusa is a monster with a horrible female face, surrounded by hissing, writhing SNAKES instead of hair.  If you looked at her, you would turn to stone. ( Even her severed head would turn the unwary observer into stone).
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In the modern day mythology of J.K. Rowling’s  Harry Potter, snakes remain powerful symbols of evil: Voldemort, the snake-faced Dark Lord, has a giant pet snake, Nagini.   He speaks to the creature in the creepy snake-speech, Parseltongue.  Of course, the Black Wizard and his Death Eaters belong to House Slytherin.  

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Clearly, snakes have a bad rap.  Its very much like we have a species-level, cross-cultural  SNAKE PHOBIA.  BUT what is the real danger from snakes?  Is this DEMONIZATION of these slythering reptiles justified?
GLOBAL SNAKE DEATHS / YEAR

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In 2013, the Center for Disease Control estimated there are about 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites in the US every year, but only an average of five deaths.  In America, snake phobia seems unjustified. However, in some other areas  the deaths from “envenoming” are much higher:  ASIA – 15,000 deaths / year and SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA – 3,500 deaths / year.
BUSH VIPER

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Like most phobias, OPHIDIOPHOBIA, is based on some real element of danger that has been over-generalized and expanded until it causes needless and debilitating anxiety.  Looked at logically, in the U.S. you shouldn’t be that afraid of snakes, because the odds of getting hit by lightning are greater than dying from a poisonous snake.   Rattlesnakes, however, are to be avoided.  If you live in India and stumble upon a black necked spitting cobra a much  higher level of fear is justified.
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Phobias are not easy to control.  Probably the most widely used method to reduce phobias is  systematic desensitization which involves slowly climbing an “anxiety hierarchy”, using relaxation techniques at each step until you actually encounter the phobic objects. EXAMPLE: (1) Thought of a snake – calm down.  (2) Picture of a snake – calm down. (3) Snake 20 ft. away in cage – calm down. (4) Snake 2 ft. away in cage – remain calm.
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In the case of SNAKES, it will probably be impossible to ever completely unwind the deep fear of our ancient enemy.  It is always advisable to strive for a realistic assessment of danger and save your fear for when it is really needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOSTALGIA

 

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Memories of a childhood Christmas when the world was beautiful, wonderful and perfect. Memories of the glory days of youth. We all have our “Penny Lane” back there beneath the blue suburban skies. Anyone can get caught up in nostalgia and it can often be very pleasant, a warm reminiscence of days gone by – but it can also be a painful yearning for an impossibly perfect past that we can never get back to or recreate. Nostalgia takes the past out of context and removes the rough edges from the “good old days” and it can lead to catastrophic mistakes when our decisions are based solely on some golden memory. Like when you try to give that old relationship one more try because you have conveniently remembered only the good times.

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Despite the dangers of historical revisionism and fixation on the past, recent  research confirms the positive side of nostalgia. Social Psychologist Dr. Constantine Sedikides conducted a series of studies on nostalgia and concluded that it helps alleviate loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Sedikides points out that nostalgia works best when we do not compare the “flawless” past with the “disastrous” present. Nostalgia is also effective at bringing couples closer together, if used appropriately. Reminiscence focused on shared problem solving and positive relationship moments tends to make happy couples feel happier and closer. Not surprisingly,  distressed couples tend to feel sad when remembering the good old days.

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Remembering the past is good. Obsessing about the past is bad. You can’t change it, so why ruin the present regretting it or wanting it back? Despite the obvious dangers of this type of “historic attachment” it remains a potent and bittersweet cocktail. It is best not to linger on what was and what might have been… but there’s so many great, haunting songs dedicated to doing just that.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS”

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“Faded photographs, covered now with lines and creases.

Ticket torn in half. Memories in bits and pieces.

Traces of love long ago that didn’t work out right…

Ribbons from her hair. Souvenirs of days together.

The ring she used to wear. Pages from an old love letter…”

TRACES” – Classics IV