Winter Solstice: “The Day of the Longest Night . . .”


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1) Old Testament (Hebrew Bible, 450-200 BCE)


I write in awe and reverence of Time! I write with respect for ancients pursuing mastery and control of Time’s mysterious cycles, determining life and lives.  I write of “The Day of the Longest Night,” when ancients gathered in appeasing rituals, fearing Sun’s light would surrender to eternal darkness. Cosmic struggles were at hand.

On “The Day of the Longest Night,” today calendarized as December 21, uncertainty of light’s return once brought chants, prayers, and sacrifices. Shrines, columns, and monuments were erected to map the past.

I write to remind us Time, not as conceived and measured today, but rather ancients’ experience of Time’s endowed rhythms, connecting life and lives to mysteries of cosmic creation:  uniting, bonding, connecting all things in an endless stream.

I write of Time as an eternal unity archetype, inscribing and compelling thoughts and feeling, with awe and reverence of creation’s omnipresence.  Time is life! Life is Time!

“Time is tyranny,” ruling life and lives, demanding obedience to change even as comforts of accepted ways resist. “Time is a gift,” opportunity for change: Time sanctions discovery, escape from stasis, awareness of consciousness. “Time and consciousness are one.”

Time and Ancients

Ancients surrendered to Time’s demands. Sacred rituals accommodated, appeased, placated, Time, in awe and reverence.

Ancients fathomed Time’s control of life’s rhythms! In Sun’s ascent, light, purpose, comfort! In moon’s rise, fear! What purpose? Why? A cosmic struggle?  Sun, Moon, distant stars, symbols of light and dark, good and evil, life and death?  A cosmic dance!

Were Time’s cycles allegory, testimony to life and lives’ connections? Who, what, why? Inherent in human mind, a pursuit of meaning, identity, purpose, mastery! In Time’s mysteries, tensions of belief, doubt, wonder, faith, denial, hope!

The Day of the Longest Night

December 21, “The Day of the Longest Night,” may be passed today with little celebration, no awareness of the magnitude of this day in our past. It was a day of consequence, an encounter with cosmos.

For ancients, The Day of the Longest Night,” was a Time of mystery.  Cosmic forces were at work! There was no expectation life would continue, only an apprehensive hope.

“The Day of the Longest Night” was once a Time of fear; forces were poised to impose their will!  “The Day of the Longest Night” was both reality and symbol, a struggle between light and dark, day and night, good and evil.  For ancients seeking certainty, it was a day of consequence, a precise moment in Time. Destiny was at stake!

In the ancient land we today call England, ancestors gathered before monuments of circled stone columns and mantles. Would a faint ray of sunlight appear in an aperture promising survival? Mystery! Knowledge was at risk!

Knowing and Mystery

“Knowing!” Knowledge! What if knowledge is incorrect?  How can we be sure?  Recall the lessons of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve!  If you obey my words, Paradise is assured; disobey, disregard, dismiss my words, and eternal suffering will befall you.

Must we be comforted by ignorance? Minds dulled by accepted sensory pleasures, devoid of challenge, absent question? Is not knowing natural? Choice!

Does choice dooms us to suffering? A dilemma, paradox, enigma. Is not the desire to know, to inquire, virtuous?  Is question the root of change?  “Time is change, change is Time!”

What maddening game is this played out by ancients minds? Is this a game of gods, wagering on decisions made by mortals, laughing, angry, troubled by choices? Who was fearful of knowledge?

Original sin was imposed! A timeless burden risking the loss of paradise! Ahh, Milton! Let evil be abolished and paradise restored! Cannot paradise be found in knowledge? Disobedience dooms us to hell’s fires and damnation!  Apocalypse!  You were warned! How many times must you be told? “I choose to disobey!”

“Do not eat the apple!”  A serpent’s timeless message spoken by a by a reflexive symbol of fear: before us twisted constrictions, narrow eyes, flicking tongue, poisonous fangs, fear in sight and sound.

“Knowledge is dangerous! Do not yield to temptation!  Heed, or forever fall from grace.”  A timeless curse imposed! A timeless issue created!

Conflicting legacies remain today, deserving of Shakespearean rhetoric and rhythm: “To know or not to know! That is the question!” Knowledge abounds! And Wisdom? “Aye that is the question!”   

Amid fear, no sense of “original sin,” ancients called upon the oldest and wisest for answers! Tell us sages: “What is the meaning of this “Day of the Longest Night?”  Sages replied: “We must mark days and nights! We must learn! We must doubt light of day will close. We must prepare less darkness will come!”

Today . . .

Today, calendars are marked. We need nothing more. We note the day and date: December 21, “The Day of the Longest Night.”  So be it! No mystery for modern mind. Knowing!

Sun’s angle on Earth’s axial rotation causing predictable days and nights. Electric lights will be turned on earlier, turned off later. Mystery is gone! Reverence and awe subdued. Those who write history, command its directions, affirm its “truths.”

Some will gather, honoring events of distant times, reliving ancient gatherings, re-living awe and reverence, finding meaningful connections to past. They wait, as ancients waited!  Will a semblance of light pierce a precisely placed aperture placed amid stone columns?  And then, as in the past, a ray pierces the aperture, promising another period of known light and dark. Rapture.

“Here Comes the Sun,” sang the Beatles . . . “and it’s alright!”

A primitive celebration of knowing, a possible mastery of Time.  So, let it be written . . . so, let it be sung . . . So let us honor, Time!

Dedicated to Prof. Tod Sloan: Mentor, Colleague, Friend


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu.  He is known internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 articles, tech reports, and popular commentaries. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE and he can be reached at

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Dec 2021.

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