Today is the Winter Solstice here in the northern hemisphere. It's also known as Midwinter, which combined with a new moon shortly after, makes it an extra-dark(est) night of the year!
Solstice literally means, stands still. A timeless moment once a year when the sun retreats into what seems like an eternal night. It's actually in standstill for 3 days, before it begins its journey back eastwards once again and the days begin to lengthen. This time of year marks a transition, a calling back in of the light - a time to let go of the past year and envision a new one ahead of you.
In our modern 24/7 culture of always-being-on, nowadays it's become the opposite - a very busy time of year - but it wasn't always so. Once upon a time people used this time as a period of reflection, of going inward, of calling the light back in. Stonehenge is one of our best known structures, symbols, or temples, built to celebrate this once auspicious day. Way back, it was believed that we humans were required to help call call the light back in, to call the sun back in from the darkness. We believed that inside each person, there was a light, a spark, that connected us directly to the sun and that when we marked the Winter Solstice in some way, we helped the sun to return. In return, that would stir and awaken the light and life back within us and we became revitalised. It was said that this light that was ignited within us was the very same light that was contained inside everything in the universe - every star, every plant, every person, everything imaginable. Winter Solstice was the time to consider and feel the sacredness of life in order to call the light back in. I find that utterly magical. So if you can, try making some time to reflect around the Winter Solstice, like our ancestors did, and to call the light back in. I believe it can benefit us greatly.
Yet now, but this time of year (and often throughout), so many of us are utterly overwhelmed. Contributing to this is the fact that we are facing dark times in humanity right now with species extinction, wars, shortages, chaos, overwhelm and fear. But what I heard today reminded me that there is hope for a brighter future
“Chaos precedes creation”
In other words, things have to get really messy and chaotic, just before we see breakthroughs and new creations. So perhaps we're heading for better times. We can certainly hold hope for that and include that in our ritual, if you decide you'd like to try one over the next few days. Personally, I find it wonderful to light a fire in the garden (or you could use a firepit if you have one). I'll do a version of the two rituals below and you can also add in a letting go ceremony if you're sitting with a fire, as it's a perfect way to write things down you'd like to let go of and place these in the fire to be released. Another idea is to create a vision board with you in the middle of it. Gather pictures and words cut out from magazines and newspapers and stick them onto a page or a piece of paper, calling in all you wish for in 2023.
DIY Winter Solstice Rituals
The purpose of rituals is to restore and renew. Yet in modern times, more so in the West, few of us now engage in rituals as we once did. Few take time out of the rush of day-to-day living to step into their imaginations and consider what might lie beyond the controlling elements of the mind. Most have lost the knowledge of how to honour and celebrate the changes in season, the coming and leaving of the light (sun), the changes in ourselves from childhood to adulthood, boy to man, girl to woman, midlife to elderhood, becoming a mother, father. Those who do, will know what it means and how powerful rituals can be throughout life to mark these seasonal and life transitions.
The Winter Solstice is a great time to try a ritual, to connect with something beyond the day-to-day chattering mind, to be inspired by your inner world and by the natural world, if just for a moment. If you can, find a small pocket of time over the coming days to slow down, it will stand you in good stead for the days and year ahead. With the coming of the light, comes manifestation, too. Not just for yourself, but for us all and for the Earth. So, carve out some time if you can to spend by yourself, or with others who want to join you, to reflect on what has been and what is to come, considering what your hopes and dreams are for the coming year. Feel gratitude for all you've had, all you have, and all you will have. It's nice to do this on the Solstice itself, which is 9.47pm on 21st December in the UK, but it can be any time over the next few days. This can take you 5 minutes or a few hours, do whatever works for you.
1. Nice and easy – the light version
How about wrapping up and heading outside somewhere quiet to take a few moments to gaze up at the stars and ask yourself a question – what would you like for yourself in 2023? Perhaps send out a wish into the night sky – what is it you desire? And listen and notice what, if anything, comes back to you as intuition - a word or sound or a knowing. This may happen right away or keep noticing over the next few days what draws your attention. Before doing this, try engaging your five senses to elevate the experience. Notice – what can you smell? Turn your head from side to side and really breathe in the air around you. Then, notice, what can you hear? First tune in to sounds near to you and then in the distance. What’s beside you to touch - a tree, or a building? What can you taste? In the air, in your mouth, if anything? Just notice your sense of taste. If you feel safe to do so, try closing your eyes whilst you isolate and engage some of these senses, although if you’re out past sunset, you won’t need to of course. Isolating each sense can awaken and deepen your intuition - your sense of knowing. It also helps with grounding yourself – in other words - becoming fully present to yourself and to the moment.
2. Something a little deeper
This following ritual can also be done with others, or by yourself. Parts of this have been adapted from Mara Freeman’s wonderful book Kindling the Celtic Spirit as well as from bombilore.com.
On the Winter Solstice, set up a special hour for this ritual. Any time before dawn or after dark on or around the 21st works. As mentioned above, the hour of sunset can be especially powerful. Let go of the need to control or know what’s coming, just be.
You’ll need a candle, matches, paper and pen and if you have them, a deck of oracle cards (tarot etc), or if not, just journal on the questions below.
You can do step 2 & 3 ahead of time, or complete the ritual all at once.
Set up your surroundings in a mindful way and then set an intention to make a meaningful wish at this Solstice. Have your match and candle ready.
Get out your oracle cards. You’re going to ask yourself 3 questions, allowing the cards to be a mirror, helping you clarify your answers. First, ask yourself each question and journal or just ruminate on your responses. Then, again ask each question aloud, this time pulling 3 mirror cards for each before asking the next. Here are the questions:
For what do I most deeply long?
What can I do to help the situation we face on Earth at present?
What one wish do I most want to send out into the dark of this Solstice night?
3. Observe the cards intuitively. Begin to write down whatever words or phrases come to mind for each card. Don’t think or try to interpret at this stage. Just get the images, words and phrases coming up down. Spend some time over coming days or during the hour you’ve set aside to journal out some weavings—nothing set in stone.
4. When you’re ready (which could be immediately or days later), reach for a clear wish. Write this wish down and work it a bit until it feels as clear as it can be, without trying to be perfect about it.
5. Turn off all lights and sit in utter darkness. Contemplate the nature of darkness. Quiet the mind as far as possible, holding the simple truth in your heart that the year has been long, it’s dying, and the ashes of it are fertile. Let the year fall away, feeling into the way things are.
6. Speak some gratitude’s for the year, specific or general, into the dark night. When you’re ready to make your wish, light a candle and speak your wish aloud. If you’re doing this with a group, really listen deeply to each other. Look into each other’s eyes and acknowledge this longing that lives in them, which may or may not be tangible or easily understood but feels so alive for them
7. Celebrate! Enjoy some treats, tea, wine… trust that it is done. Your wish has been made, and it is a living light now in the world.
Wishing you a happy Winter Solstice, however you decide to spend it :) And of course there is always the sea..another wonderful (if not, brave) way to see in the light. Here's some of the crew doing this this morning!
And to finish, a poem
Winter-time by Robert Louis Stevenson
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed, A frosty, fiery sleepy-head; Blinks but an hour or two; and then, A blood-red orange, sets again.
Before the stars have left the skies, At morning in the dark I rise; And shivering in my nakedness, By the cold candle, bathe and dress.
Close by the jolly fire I sit To warm my frozen bones a bit; Or, with a reindeer-sled, explore The colder countries round the door.
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap Me in my comforter and cap; The cold wind burns my face, and blows Its frosty pepper up my nose.
Black are my steps on silver sod; Thick blows my frosty breath abroad; And tree and house, and hill and lake, Are frosted like a wedding-cake.