Just for right now, let the swirling soften. Exhale into the day, wherever you are, whatever is happening. Allow a cloak of comfort to settle across your shoulders and enfold you with peace and restoration. Draw up strength from the earth beneath your feet. Settle one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Feel the pulse of the sacred you always carry within. Breathe in and know you are loved. Breathe out and know you are free. Trust that you are carried and enfolded as you go along your way.
A chill is in the air and Winter’s Queen has spread her gray cloak across the land. She has stilled the leaves and frosted the hills, has quieted the scurrying, and placed her fingers firmly on the pause. In this waiting place, hushed and chilled, we remember the preciousness of the light of renewal, we remember how essential the warmth of connection. Just as the earth does, let us, too, lay aside what is unnecessary and draw close to one another once more, rekindling the fire of community, offering one another what nourishment we can. Let us enter a time of deep restoration with intention. Let us listen to the call of contemplation that twinkles in these dusky hours of replenishment and renewal. Let us pause and wait with grace.
I have long struggled with winter. I grew in Minnesota where winters were long and brutally cold. I remember hauling myself through hip-deep snowdrifts on my walk to elementary school and that was in the suburbs! The North of England, where I lived for nearly twenty years, has a much milder climate. But being so far north, I was plunged into infernal darkness from Halloween to Candlemas. It started getting dark at 3:30 in the afternoon and by 4:00 it was pitch dark. Remember those horror movies where it’s dark ALL THE TIME?? That’s Lancashire in midwinter. I felt I was trapped inside some brooding gothic novel.
Now that I’ve moved to the Silver Coast of Portugal, I get a lot more daylight in winter, but also storm winds and torrential rain. My Welsh pony is not impressed!
For millennia, we humans have found hope in the dark of winter through holidays featuring lights or the sun such as the Winter Solstice, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Soyal, Christmas, and others. As the people of our beautiful, fragile planet celebrate these traditions in these perilous and momentous times, I have been wondering what fresh perspectives on hope our global goddess myths and stories can offer.
Let’s start with the Greek goddess of hope, Elpis. In the Greek Pandora’s story as usually told, Elpis/hope is all that is left for humanity after Pandora lets misery escape into the world by opening her box, However, according to Patricia Monaghan in her New Book of Goddesses and Heroines, originally Pandora was the ever-abundant Earth goddess and her box was a pithos, a clay jar used to store food, but also remains of the dead awaiting rebirth. In her Roman incarnation as Spes, the goddess of hope also served Fortuna, the goddess of destiny who brings people together to create life. Finally, She is associated with Salus, the goddess of health.
This morning, I walked around the field and discovered three soft white breast feathers of an unknown bird, two earthstar mushrooms, sinking quietly back into the soil, one tiny snail shell, curled in spiral perfection, and the fire of my own spirit burning in my belly, rekindled by elemental magic of the everyday kind, the small and precious gifts of an ordinary day.
Every January, we rent a house on Dauphin Island and spend the month at the beach with our kids. Usually, we pack our business along with us and work from the rental house, though this year my sister kept it running from our home studio in Missouri instead. My husband describes this month away as the “weekend of the year,” and this is, in fact, how it feels, except for unlike most normal weekends, we walk five miles by 8:30 a.m. each morning. We joke that this is one of the best ways to know we’re on “vacation.” During one month of walking, we will log more than 300,000 steps together, this time away from home allowing us to pare back the layers of to-dos that build up each year, to re-prioritize our goals, to re-sync ourselves with what we most value, and to breathe deeply back into ourselves again—our hearts, our hopes, our dreams—after the hectic holiday season. Since we are self-employed, we never wake to an alarm clock at home, but while on our sojourn away, always motivated by the prospect of finding good shells, we set the alarm for 5:00 a.m., rising to the voice of Kellianna singing “I Walk with the Goddess” as we set off in the darkness to the uninhabited beach down the road. This year, due to hurricane damage and the resultant road work and beach restoration work in progress, the only way to reach our favorite walking spot is to rise before the road crews do and get out and back before the access road is closed to traffic for the work day.
We walk before dawn, our faces glimmering palely beneath a full moon. Our shell finding has been slender on this trip, the beach often swept clean by waves, but on this day, lit only by full moonlight, I finally catch sight of a big brown moon snail shell, half-buried in the sand. My favorite type of shell and, discovered on a full moon, no less! My husband’s foot comes down upon it as I grab his arm to stop him, but then I seize it with glee, undamaged and smooth in my hand. Though I have previously written that I expect no reward for devotion, sometimes it is, in fact, delightful to receive a reward anyway, especially on a dark beach with only moonlight as my guide. We spot two glowing eyes a few feet away and a fox keeps pace with us, pausing to sit and watch as we make our steady way along the shore. The sky lightens to rainbow stripes as the first flares of dawn begin to glow with eastern fire. I stand with my arms extended, the fingertips of one hand reaching for the moon while the other hand reaches for the sun, the waves lapping at the shore, the wind at my back. I feel held, suspended in eternity, small and rapturous, balanced at a centerpoint of time, inhabiting the liminal, poised within a living strip of space between land and sea, earth and sky, wind and sand, dawn and dusk, motion and stillness. Behind me, the fox moves swiftly away across the sand under a rainbow sky.
I reflect as I continue to walk, murmuring the Charge of the Goddess below the moon, that these are my favorite kinds of rituals, the most powerful kinds of ceremonies, the truest expression of magic in my life and days.
On the winter solstice this past year, I carried a blanket out to the field in front of our house. I brought along my Womanrunes cards so I could do an annual oracle card layout for the year. I carried my journals and my planner and some of our small goddess figurines. Rather than sit on the blanket and dream about the year to come, busily scribbling notes and ideas in my planners as I had envisioned, instead I lie flat on my back on gazing at the sky. I became aware as I was lying there, breath slow in my belly, that I could see the moon on my right hand side and I could see the sun getting closer to setting on my left hand side. Then, I became aware that the birds were at my feet at our bird feeder by the studio building. Next, I became I aware of the cedar trees above my head, at the far side of the field. Lying there, feeling the earth beneath me, the sensation struck: I’m surrounded by the elements. I’m surrounded by all these aspects of magic, right now, no elaborate solstice ritual required. Though I made sun bread with my children and we held our traditional candle lit winter solstice ceremony and spiral walk, these moments lying on my back in the field were my ritual, my ceremony, the fullest expression of a living spirituality for me. Magic need not need to be fancier or more elaborate or more planned out than this, I think. It can mean lying on your back in a field and feeling the presence of the living elements around you, carrying you, holding you, supporting, nourishing, restoring, revitalizing, and, in a way, rebirthing you into awareness.
When I rose from my blanket to work on my plans, I noticed the way the rapidly setting sun was peeking through the trees and I decided to take a picture of one of my goddesses there with the last rays of the solstice sun shining behind her. As I squatted down to take the picture, I saw that one of the sunrays was extending through the trees in such a way that it was literally pointing exactly at my blanket, right at my little pile of books and my little plans, an affirmation of sorts: this is where you need to be, this is what you need to be doing. Since it was the Winter Solstice, of course this ray of light reminded me of light coming through Stonehenge and striking the exact right point, and it thrilled me to know that if I hadn’t decided to be outside exactly at this exact moment with the sun at this position, I never would have seen the ray of light illuminating my blanket. I’m not suggesting that the sun did that for me, it was rather that I allowed myself to witness what was already there, as if the ceremony was in place, it was unfolding, it was taking place, whether I was going to step into it or not, whether I was going to notice it or not, whether I was even aware of it or not. While this may not sound like a ceremony or a ritual in the way that many people describe ceremony and ritual, for me, it was one of the most powerful rituals I experienced that year.
Ceremonies of earth and being are unfolding around us all the time and we can either be present for them or not.
I could not have planned or designed that solstice or the full moon, fox-accompanied beach walk. I could not have planned or designed these rituals of living. I stepped out into the world instead and saw what ceremony was already underway, and then took part in it. Perhaps this sounds too simple or too small. There are many books with plans and outlines, ceremonies and correspondences, the right colors of candle and the right invocations to choose. And, those things are all wonderful too. I love setting up a fulfilling ritual space and creating a ritual atmosphere for people. I love candles and singing and choosing just the right words. I write today to remind us that there are many rituals of the everyday, there are many ceremonies of everyday magic, natural magic, that are already unfolding around you. I invite you to consider stepping into them and receiving them as a gift rather than trying to harness the elements or shape the setting to your own will. I encourage you to savor and see the unplanned, small magics of living unfold as they will. These elements of the holy, these sacred sites, can be alive, within you, beneath your feet, and around you every day, waiting (or not waiting) for you to notice that they’re here, carrying you along.
May you celebrate, savor, and sink into the magic of your life right where you are.
Sometimes, the world creates ceremonies for us and we just have to show up for them.
The days are slowly winding down toward Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, the longest night of the year. Today the sun rose at 7:20 and will set at 5:08 in Crete. In Sweden, the sun will rise at 9:25 and set at 2:12. Though I light candles in the darkness of morning and have lights on my tree, I am not celebrating the “return of the light,” but rather welcoming the restful dark.
In The Spiral Dance, Starhawk writes that Winter Solstice is about the rebirth of the sun. This interpretation has taken hold. For most pagans, Summer Solstice also is a celebration of the sun on the longest day. Few are those mark it as the time of the dying of the sun or the rebirth of night.
In our culture we have learned to celebrate the light and to avoid and disparage the darkness. We have inherited this habit of mind from the Indo-Europeans who, as Marija Gimbutas wrote, celebrated the shining light of the sun as reflected in their shining bronze weapons. When the Indo-Europeans rewrote the myths of the land that came to be called Greece, they placed the “Olympian” deities on Mount Olympus while relegating many of the oldest female deities to the underworld, which became a fearful place. New Age spiritualities follow this pattern, celebrating “light and love.” This habit of mind reinforces racism. Continue reading “Winter Solstice: Can We Celebrate the Restful, Welcoming Darkness?”
All sentient creatures are negatively affected by the deaths of one species.
And still people refuse to see.
As I wrote about the loss of trees and woodpeckers old tree memories surfaced without warning. Resolutely, I faced my past…
Thirty five years ago I left the coast of Maine because trees were being slaughtered and their insides ground up so million dollar homes could be built. Initially, I believed that I escaped tree carnage by moving to the edge of the wilderness in the western hills only to discover that whole mountains were being strip logged around me. The stench of pitch nauseated me. I wept, helpless in the face of such violence. Continue reading “Flicker’s New Year Gift – Part 2 of 2 by Sara Wright”
If you have not yet realized that the Christmas story is a story of liberation from oppression, it is time to realize that. I like to dust off the patriarchy and misogyny of scriptural writers to find the beautiful wisdom within the stories and songs. Here is my daily devotional for the third week of Advent, the week of Love. May our ever-birthing Goddess guide you to recognize and birth Joy, with all Creation. As the sky turns dark, may our candles shine ever brighter, together. Continue reading “Week 4 – Goddess Birthing Liberation: A Feminist Advent Daily Devotional by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”
“Beginnings and endings are so very sacred, to give honor to all that has transpired, every experience, every joy, every pain, is a doorway to the magical. Hold your entire year between your hands, every day, every thought, every breath. Now bless it with gratitude, love and humility. You have done more to transform this new year than a thousand resolutions.”
–K. Allen Kay
Two years ago, at the end of the year, I was supposed to hold a closing ceremony for a year-long Ariadne’s Thread study group I had been guiding throughout the year. Every member of the circle ended up backing out of the closing circle at the last minute, but I held the ceremony in full anyway, alone in my front yard, just for myself, and expanding it to include acknowledging and appreciating all the work I had completed in 2016, including my D.Min degree. People’s reasons for backing out of the ceremony were very valid and while on a cognitive level I understood why they couldn’t come, on an emotional level I still felt let down and disappointed at being “abandoned” by them. Holding the closing ceremony for myself anyway and acknowledging that I kept my own commitment to doing a full year of this work in circle, felt like a powerful declaration and affirmation of my own worth. In fact, it was such a validating and powerful experience that I continued the practice with a personal year-end closing ceremony for 2017 as well and I will do the same for myself this year too. Continue reading “Honoring the Completion of the Year, by Molly Remer”
How many objects have I clung to, how many pasts have I tried to preserve–beginning, of course, with the first loss, of Egypt where I’d been born and where my family had flourished? How many habits, feelings, fears, and beliefs continue to constrain me? The new year approaches, and my resolution today is simple: to let go. Again and again and again. As often as it takes.
During the summer of 2005, I was living alone on Venus Street, in New Orleans’ Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, in a small Craftsman cottage I’d purchased two years earlier after breaking up with my longtime partner. I loved the house: modest yet gracious, it had a dining room with French doors that opened onto a screened porch, gleaming wood floors, cove ceilings, numerous multi-paned windows, a large bedroom, and a comfortable study looking out on royal palm trees where a flock of green parrots nested. I liked to think it resembled the home my parents had left behind in Cairo, Egypt when they emigrated to the U.S. in 1951.
For the first time ever, I’d carefully chosen and purchased furniture specially for the new space: a wide, heavy, round wooden dining table; a velvet camelback sofa; a coffee table, lamps, curtains, and a hooked rug. This was my “dream home,” the room of my own I’d always longed for, and I dwelt there in deep contentment–gardening, reading, writing, entertaining. Continue reading “Letting Go by Joyce Zonana”
At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere we are called to embrace the darkness. Nighttime rules, the cold has set in and we curl up for the long winter nights with our hot beverage and an anticipation of the messages found in our dreams.
“When winter comes to a woman’s soul, she withdraws into her inner self, her deepest spaces. She refuses all connection, refutes all arguments that she should engage in the world. She may say she is resting, but she is more than resting: She is creating a new universe within herself, examining and breaking old patterns, destroying what should not be revived, feeding in secret what needs to thrive…
Look into her eyes, this winter woman. In their gray spaciousness you can see the future. Look out of your own winter eyes. You too can see the future.”
–Patricia Monaghan, Seasons of the Witch
When the wheel of the year turns to winter, I always feel the call to retreat, to cocoon, to pull away. I also feel the urge for significant de-cluttering—my eyes cast about the house for things to unload, get rid of, to cast away. I also search my calendar for those things which can be eliminated, trimmed down, cut back on. I think it is the inexorable approach of the winter holidays that prompts this desire to withdraw, as well as the natural rhythm of the earth which so clearly says: let things go, it is almost time to hibernate.
This shift toward winter is a time of discernment. A time to choose. A time to notice that which has not made it through the summer’s heat and thus needs to be pruned away. In this time of the year, we both recognize the harvest of our labors and that which needs to be released or even sacrificed as we sense the promise of the new year to come. Continue reading “A Winter Woman by Molly Remer”
In recent weeks and even months I have not been my usual cheerful self. After returning from sharing companionship and spiritual vision with a group of wonderful women on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, I have been feeling lonely. This feeling came to a head on December 7 when it was cold and grey here in Lesbos, as had it been for weeks.
Feeling particularly sad that morning, I realized that December 7 was my mother’s Yahrzeit, the twenty-third anniversary of her death. The fact that I must use a Yiddish word to speak of this important day reflects the fact that we do not have a word (let alone a ritual) in the English language, in our versions of the Christian tradition, or in Goddess feminism to recognize the day a loved one died. As we Americans all know, we are supposed to get on with it and not dwell on death and dying.
A friend called that day to let me know that she was planning to visit me for few days during the holiday season, adding that she was looking forward to enjoying my tree and holiday decorations. “Oh,” I said, “my (live) Christmas tree is so heavy and hard to get into the house, I was thinking of not even bringing it in this year.”
That afternoon, I girded my loins and knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask for help. Of course one of the reasons that I was feeling sad is that as I live alone, I have no one to help me move a heavy tree. The neighbor’s shy son was more than willing to help, and we were lucky that we got the tree in a day before the pounding rains that would have doubled the weight of the soil in its pot.
As I decorated my tree over the next two days, memories of my mother flooded into my mind. How I miss my mommy. “Do you still think of your mother?” I asked an older friend shortly after my mother died. “Yes,” she replied, “Every day.” Me too, I thought, as I unwrapped the Christmas tree skirt, one of the last gifts Mom had given to me, and the dolls and pink doggie she had saved for me.
The ritual of decorating my tree for Christmas is my memorial to my mother’s love. How much fun we had choosing what was usually a scrawny tree—the largest we could afford, but not the smaller prettier one my mother would have preferred. How I remember baking and decorating cookie cutter cookies—eating the raw dough, licking the sugar icing from our fingers, and always putting what Mom said were too many red hots and silver dots onto the cookies.
My mother’s memories of Christmas were not all happy. But my Mom tried her best not to dwell on sadness. Shortly before she died, I found my mother baking cookies for a man who also had cancer. “I was feeling sorry for myself,” she said, “so I decided to do something for someone else.” I could hear my mother’s mother speaking through her in that moment.
My grandmother’s attitude, which was Midwestern, Christian, and deeply female, was nearly lost to me, for I come from the generation that discovered therapy. In the process of dealing with our feelings, we criticized our ancestors for not doing the same. As Christmas approaches this year, I wonder: were my Mom and my Grammy right? Is there a profound truth in their knowledge, transmitted through the generations, that the best way to deal with one’s own sorrows is to do something for others?
If so, then I guess it is time to plan my winter solstice birthday party (which I was also thinking of cancelling this year)–pick up the phone and start inviting friends over to enjoy my home, my tree, and my food, the gift of life shared with others.
Happy Winter Solstice to all and to all a good night!
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, December is one of the darkest months. The days are shorter. Night comes earlier. Each morning I eagerly await the dawn, the potential sliver of sunshine seeping through my window and warming my otherwise cold wintery skin. For those of us who struggle with seasonal depression, December can be difficult. The colder and shorter days cast shadows on our spirits as we yearn for the warm glow of light. Each December as we inch toward the winter solstice, I am reminded of the Goddess of the Dawn, Aurora, and of the unique ways in which a variety of wisdom traditions invoke the coming of light amidst the stark December night skies.
Aurora is the Goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology; each morning she soars across the sky to announce the arrival of the sun. As the nights grow longer and longer, I can think of few other goddesses I hope for more than Aurora. In fact, many faith traditions invoke the coming of light during this month of long nights and short days.
In my own tradition, we are not yet celebrating Christmas (despite the capitalist consumer onslaught that has been on full throttle since October). Rather, we still dwell in the deep blue darkness of Advent, when we wait, long, and prepare for light to be birthed into our world. For most Christians, a candle is lit each Sunday during Advent and the light grows brighter as they anticipate the birth of Christ. Continue reading “Painting Aurora by Angela Yarber”