[The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, "Seeking Light in the Darkest of Days: Pagan Devotions for the Winter Solstice"
(copyright 2003 By Ameth/Jera)]
“My soul wanders in the darkness and seeks the Light of Hidden Knowledge.”
- spoken at the initiation of a Neophyte of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
o you often feel blue at this time of year? You’re not alone. Research has proven the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a state of sadness common among those who lack exposure to sunlight. Scientists recommend going to a place where there is maximum exposure to light as a cure.
Our pagan ancestors had come to the same conclusion millenniums earlier. Building fires on hilltops gave light to the long nights. Perhaps feeling lost in the darkness, could the bonfire have also been a signal to the gods- “here I am” ? Hearth fires did much the same in heathen homes. Can you think of anything more comforting than a warm, golden fire on a cold winter’s night? To further brighten the living space, flowers, leaves, berries and fruit were brought inside to cheer the spirit. Lush spices and incense were used as a soothing mental balm. These were subtle reminders that life went on even during the time when it seemed the Earth slept.
“O Goddess, as the light gives way to the darkness we stand in the knowledge that as the Wheel of the Year turns steadily onward, we are always in your care. We ask your continued blessing and grace, Mother Crone, to face the dark things in our lives. In the shadows we find not only rest and renewal, but our selves revealed.”
randmother Spider spun her web in the sky. The points where the web connected were like diamonds. Later they became known to us as the stars…
- Native American Myth
The spiritual life of Native Americans is colored by their connection to all of Nature. There was a story explaining every natural occurrence. They look often to the sky and give honor to the stars.
“Listen to the words of the Star Goddess, she whose feet are in the dust of the heavens…”
- Doreen Valiente
t this time of year, field and farm brace for the winter with the sewing of new seed to replenish the crops come the Spring. In times gone by, the herds were culled of individual animals that would not make it through the cold winter months, and the meat was used in feasts or put up for short term storage in anticipation of leaner times. What have you done to prepare for leaner times in the winter months? Have you remembered to sew seeds to restore your soul?
“Mother Terra, you are the holy earth and all within it. We thank you for your continuing substance. Your children rise up like the heads of flowers and turn toward your golden light joyously”
here is a chill in the air, and all the creatures of Nature- animal, vegetable, and mineral- are preparing for a rest. Vegetation dies back to fallow fields; animals migrate, hibernate or transform their winter selves with thick coats of fat and fur for comfort in the long cold months ahead. Water turns to ice. We can learn from this example: slow down, make way, and settle in. Humans do it differently. We burn candles and incense oils, light the fireplace, soak in hot baths, read and listen to music more often, huddle together in conversational groupings.
“O Creator of Creature Comforts, help us to slow our minds and hearts in preparation for this time of renewal and rebirth. Like your creatures in the lower kingdoms, we too should now settle into the comfort of the Earth in repose. Let us sink down into the comfort of knowing love and light will shine brightly again soon.”
f you look around today you will most likely find that electric lights are being strung on houses and rooftops around your neighborhood. Seasonal decorations are beginning to appear. You know the story behind some of those seasonal symbols?
Long ago, branches of fir, pine and other conifers were cut and brought indoors during this time of year to brighten and freshen homes closed tight against winter winds. The lush greenery was a reminder that life continued to flourish, even in a stark landscape that was barren to the naked eye. Greens laden with colorful berries were a reminder of the fruitfulness that was now hidden until bursting forth in joyous abundance at the first hint of Spring. Holly and mistletoe in particular were symbolic to the pagan people: the bright red berries were symbolic of the blood of the sacrificed King, while the white berries signified the seed of mankind.
“Sometimes the best prayers begin with a question, Goddess. You have given us questioning minds and reasoning hearts- and the ability to find answers within. As we revel in the things of the season which give us ‘comfort and joy’, keep us mindful of their meaning.”
“In the weaving of your fingers,
In the whisper of the love that never ends,
In the dreaming, something lingers,
In the promise of a love that never ends”
- Paul Noel Stokey
e are weavers by design, wrapping wreaths, garland and gifts. We wrap ribbons around those taking vows in handfasting and cords around those taking initiation into the Craft. We are bound to one another and to the One Who Is. At birth, a baby is bound to its mother by the umbilical cord until it is able to survive on its own outside the womb. To what do you wish to be bound in the coming year? From what do you wish to cut the cord and be set free?
“O Mistress of All Knowing, we are willingly bound to you by the silver cords of Love. We wrap up the best parts of ourselves as a gift to each other. We cut the ties that bind us to that we no longer need. We ask for the blessings of intuition and knowing, and the grace to know the difference.”
uring the pagan season of light, there is an official government holiday of thanksgiving in the United States. Set aside as a national day of rest and reflection, we associate it with pilgrims and turkeys. It is a day to celebrate harvest and abundance in our lives. It has, most recently become a day of over indulgence and unloving family arguments, a mockery of its meaning. In our hearts, we long for the Norman Rockwell picture of Thanksgiving. But that isn’t quite right, either. How do we break out of old behavioral patterns? How do we truly count our blessings? Do we make the proverbial count of blessings list? Where and how do you begin?
I suggest taking time out of the day’s preparations to a walk around where you live and take stock of the blessing and wonders around you. Nature, of course, is a wonder unto its self, but have you looked with new eyes at the everyday and mundane? Consider the marvel of electricity and cable service, of how houses are constructed, that municipal services care for your water delivery and someone takes away the trash, that police and firefighters have been trained to keep you safe. Your list will expand in no time, and by the dinner hour your meal will truly have become a feast of celebration and thanksgiving.
“O Goddess of Abundance, open my eyes to see the blessings lovingly bestowed on me in my surroundings. How wonderful a world it is! My smallest joy is treasure. Accept my pleasure with thanksgiving.”