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Article Specs

Article ID: 10067

VoxAcct: 116423

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

Days Up: 3,120

Times Read: 6,196

RSS Views: 66,959
Solstice Glory in Peril

Author: Dana Corby
Posted: October 9th. 2005
Times Viewed: 6,196

Solstice Glory in Peril
Dana Corby
RDNA Bard; Senior HPS of Mohsian Wicca

In the grey of a chilly December pre-dawn, people gather in a downtown park on the shores of Puget Sound, in the State of Washington. They light the candle-lanterns they've brought, hang banners and evergreen boughs from the beams of a hexagonal log shelter, pass around thermos jugs of coffee or tea and plates of pastries. They bring out drums and bells, rattles and flutes and guitars, and music starts to bring workers to the windows of the surrounding office buildings. It is the Winter Solstice in Tacoma, and something miraculous is about to happen.

The Native Americans called this continent Turtle Island. Many modern Pagans, forging links with the Land and its spirits, do likewise. Turtle Island is home to many glorious natural phenomena and sacred sites, none more glorious or sacred than Tahoma — "Big White" in the Coastal Salish dialect — a semi-dormant volcano now known primarily as Mt. Rainier .

On a map, you'll find Mt. Rainier not far from the shores of Puget Sound, an enormous, fjord-like arm of the sea that formed when an ancient ice dam broke and allowed seawater to flood what had been a great freshwater lake and its settled environs . Native villages were destroyed instantly with much loss of life; to this day the descendants of those villagers can take you out into the Sound and stop the boat at exactly the spot where their ancestral village once stood.

Survivors of the flood reestablished their villages on higher ground. The Puyallup Tribe, a Salish-speaking group, settled in and around what was one day to become the waterfront city of Tacoma, named after the Mountain (we always capitalize Mountain when we mean Mt. Rainier) so prominent on our skyline. New myths were created and told for generations, some about how the sea came to the land, and some about the adventures of the Mountain and the other mountains in her family. One legend about Tahoma says that she was not always located where she now is, but walked there after a lover's spat with her spouse, the very active volcano we now call St. Helens. Modern ethnographers believe this legend may commemorate a severe earthquake, one that perhaps caused a subsidence and allowed a view of Tahoma where one did not exist before.

One of the most important Native beliefs about Tahoma, however, centers around the Winter Solstice. The local Tribes believed that inside the Mountain was a doorway to the Otherworld — indeed, the West Coast volcanic mountains from Mt. Shasta in California to Mt. Baker in British Columbia were all believed to be hollow. But Tahoma has more to offer than just legends. Tahoma can show you.

From what was once a Puyallup sacred site and is now a city park, Native peoples watched the Winter Solstice Sun be reborn out of the caldera of the Mountain. At that precise moment, they believed, the door between the worlds swung briefly open, and communication between the realms was possible. Every year since the end of the Ice Age, this same phenomenon has been marked and celebrated. Even after the settlement of Tacoma by Whites, local Natives continued to gather for the Solstice, and when in the 1890's the railroad built a hotel on the site, their brochures offered the view of the Winter Solstice from the veranda as an inducement to off-season tourism. They called it "Tacoma's own Stonehenge." When the hotel burned down, all memory of the glorious Solstice Sunrise was forgotten except by the Tribes — and nobody paid any attention to them.

Some six or seven years ago, a local Pagan group called the Tacoma Earth Religions Revival Association, or TERRA, rediscovered the Winter Solstice miracle. They and other, like-minded folk have been gathering here every year, not in usurpation of the ancient Native custom but with reverence for it, to watch and celebrate the Sun's rebirth. After millennia of continental drift and subtle shifts in Earth's orbit, though, the Sun no longer leaps straight up out of the Mountain. If anything, today's sight is even more suspenseful and spectacular.

Today we first see a spark of intense red light low down on the Mountain's left flank. Slowly, ever so slowly, the spark grows to a thin crescent, and the thin, red crescent creeps up a slope that is exactly the same angle as the Sun's ascent. Almost to the top, the light disappears behind a horn of the peak, and the next thing we know the Sun, no longer red but sizzling gold, blooms up out of the caldera. The singing and drumming rises to one last crescendo, then dies. Participants join in a circle to offer thanks to the Gods for this renewal of life, and thanks to each other for being part of it. They begin gathering up their belongings, and amid joyous calls of "Happy Solstice!" go on to work or (a lucky few) to Solstice breakfast in a nearby restaurant.

But all that may soon be gone. Tacoma's city planners have granted a variance — permission to break the zoning laws — to a developer who wants to build three 19-story condominium buildings directly in the sight line from the park to the Mountain. Soon only those who can afford $350,000 luxury condos will be able to watch this millennia-old sacred occasion. This is not only a desecration, it's gross stupidity, as the proposed building site is on the tide flats, in other words on mud, beneath which is only rubble fill shipped here from the San Francisco earthquake of the 1890's. The cost to stabilize such tall buildings on such poor ground in a seismically-active area will be astronomical. So will the drain on City water, sewer, and other resources with a good 1,000 new residents packing into the equivalent of one city block. None the less, and despite protests, plans go forward. Unless, that is, we can show the City that a greater potential profit exists in leaving it alone.

The old railroad hotel was (pardon the pun) on the right track. The way to both preserve this ancient sacred site and meet the City's revenue needs is what we now call eco-tourism.

This call is going out to Pagans around the world: Come to Tacoma for the 2005 Winter Solstice. Everything from luxury hotels to campgrounds can be had at reasonable, off-season rates, travel is easy and fairly inexpensive, and other events and activities abound. We have some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, and if you'd rather look at snow from a comfy distance than immerse yourself in it, well, it rarely snows at all down in the lowlands. Seattle is a mere 40 minutes north, with British Columbia about three hours farther. To the south is the state capital of Olympia, the spectacular Columbia River gorge with its replica Stonehenge, and Portland Oregon, home of the largest used book store in the United States. Museums, restaurants, theatres, and clubs are everywhere. More to the point, though, is the thriving Pagan culture in the Pacific Northwest. We'd love to make you welcome.

Come gather with us this Winter Solstice. Have the time of your life while helping us save a sacred site older than Stonehenge and every bit as precious.

To learn more about the Solstice celebration or local Pagans you can email me at dana.corby@juno.com. For more information about accommodations or other nearby activities, go to http://www.experiencewashington.com/

** Many thanks to Puyallup and Lakota historian Chuck Larsen for Tribal myth and history and to the Tacoma Public Library's collection on the old Tacoma Hotel for information about its Winter Solstice gatherings.




Footnotes:
** Many thanks to Puyallup and Lakota historian Chuck Larsen for Tribal myth and history and to the Tacoma Public Library's collection on the old Tacoma Hotel for information about its Winter Solstice gatherings.


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