It’s the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. The word is old French meaning the point at which the sun stands still. For the sun no longer seems move along the horizon, but rises and sets in the same spot for a few days before beginning its long journey through the half year back to summer or winter.
The halcyon days occur at the same time as the winter solstice. To most ‘Halcyon Days’ mean our golden years, the best years of our lives spent in peace and happiness. Something we either look nostalgically back on or still look forward to. The phrase came from the Ancient Greeks. They believed it was a short period of absolute calm in the Aegean Sea around the same time of the winter solstice.
I lived in Turkey near Bodrum, where the Mediterranean met the Aegean, and can testify that for days on end during deep mid-winter the sea became glassy. Unmarked by a solitary ripple, its flat water was reflective as a mirror.
The Ancient Greeks being much better at mythology than natural history thought the Wind god made this happen to allow the Halcyon bird, as they called Kingfishers, to hatch her eggs. They believed Kingfishers, in the shortest days of winter, either built floating nests on the sea, or on the shoreline and needed 7 calm days to raise a brood.
According to legend, the kingfisher or Halcyon was once a woman called Alcyone. She was the daughter of the wind god Aeolus and married to Ceyx, the King of Thessaly; a place of deep magic and wildness, renowned for its blue-eyed witches.
Ceyx himself was the son of the morning star, or Lucifer as we now call him. Lucifer is the planet Venus when it appears like a fireball in the sky just before daybreak, heralding the dawn. He was originally an old Canaanite God, demonised by early Judaism. His worship dates back to the origins of civilization.
Despite Alcyone’s foreboding something ill was about to happen, Ceyx ignored his wife’s fears and set off on a winter sea voyage. Of course his ship was wrecked in a storm. As he drowned, he prayed to his father to guide his body back home. For he could not bear the thought of causing his wife the distress of never knowing his fate.
Alcyone spent each day anxiously awaiting her husband’s safe return . Seeing his body washed up on the rocks below, and overcome by grief, she flung herself off the cliffs to her death.
The gods taking pity transformed her into a kingfisher, and her dead husband into a gannet.
From then on, to allow his daughter to raise her brood, Aeolus summoned back his winds and restrained them in a leather bag, keeping the sea calm for seven winter days, to stop the birds suffering his child’s terrible fate of drowning.
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