An Unexpected Gift

body of water across forest
Photo by Manuela Adler on Pexels.com

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Heraclitus

Sometimes the universe has plans for us other than the ones we make for ourselves.  I’d arranged to go on an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail with a friend to celebrate the solstice.  For a multitude of reasons, we never made it to the trailhead much less out on the trail itself.

Just as my summer solstice plans were falling apart, an acquaintance sent a text with GPS coordinates and a short message “Went here last weekend. River, trees, lovely, peaceful. Go!” I don’t always do what my phone commands, but, suddenly free and wanting to shake off the stress of the last few weeks, I decided to check out the suggestion.  An hour and many miles of twisting mountain roads later,  I found a grassy pull-off at the coordinates.  A barely visible break in the vegetation at the roadside marked a path down to the river below.

The spot was as promised and more.  At the end of the short climb down the narrow tunnel through the wildly growing vegetation, the ground flattened out to a sandy shoal dotted with stones worn into smooth ovals by time and flowing water.  A slow moving river edged past the shoal, journeying around a rocky outcrop upriver, past the tree line bank opposite and meandering out of sight again a little further down stream.  Tiny flakes of muscovite dotted the river bed and shone out from the river rocks, creating a sparkling effect to the already beautiful water.  When the sunlight hit the smallest bits of mica just right, the riverbed gave the appearance of being dotted with tiny, shimmering rainbows.

It has been a long time since I’ve willingly plunged into a cold river, but the lazy current and warm day made it hard to resist.  I let myself drift easily downstream, walked back along the rock strewn shallows, and began again. I repeated this process a dozen or more times, recalling the liminality of such places – the shifting water renewing itself constantly over the thousands of years that the river has run this course and creating a fluid, flowing boundary with ever-changing thresholds to explore. In this place, the heartsong of the mountains can be heard as you immerse yourself in the very blood and bones of the land.

Such places can change us if we allow it.  At the end of the visit, I reclined back on the sun-kissed shoal feeling far calmer and more grounded than I have in a long time. I also came away with a fresh perspective on some old problems. The experience created a much needed reminder of the magic that exists in the natural world, if we’re willing to slow down and pay attention.  Who knew that a set of GPS coordinates could be such an unexpected gift?

 

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An Unexpected Gift

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What interesting memories this scent stirs.

Last Samhain was the first time in quite awhile that I’ve done any sort of ritual practice with others present.  Being a coven of one usually isn’t an issue, but lately I’ve been feeling the absence of other pagans in my daily life.  Old pagan friends have drifted away or crossed the threshold without new ones taking their places.  I miss interacting with people who speak the same spiritual language.

As if I weren’t feeling nostalgic enough for things past, I received a little “saw this and thought of you” gift this week – a sandalwood rose Solstice candle.  The giver had no way of knowing but this scent evokes strong memories of my earliest days on this path.  It was a period of being broken wide open in an excruciatingly painful way.  Time has eroded away the sharp and painful edges of those memories and softened the scars left by those days.

The unexpected gift was not the candle itself, but the realization that I am no longer hostage to those past hurts.  The scent leaves me filled with comfort and hope, rather than reminding me of the heartbreak and sorrow that predominated the period.  The giver has given a gift worth so much more than they can know.  It is a good reminder that even a self-proclaimed solitary can still find love and support in the loneliest of times.

The candle is sitting on my altar at the moment, waiting for Solstice sunrise to be lit. Long may it burn and long may those friendships linger in my memories.

Ritual Calendar – June (Belated)

There are some ideas from my last post that I want to further explore, but I’m just not in the proper frame of mind to do so just yet.  In the meantime, I’ve promised myself that I will finish my ritual calendar posts before 2015 rolls around.  So, six months late, here are some thoughts on the summer solstice.  I feel like this needs to be fleshed out a bit more, but wanted to get the bones of it down.

June Ritual – Celebrating the Day

Timing
  • Perhaps unnecessary to say, but this should be done on the solstice.

Themes

  • Seasonal renewal
Purpose
  • Celebration of the solstice.
Preparations
  • Determine the time of the sunrise and sunset.
  • If doing the full ritual, plan for outdoor activities and gather any needed supplies.

Ritual- Minimalist Version

  • Go outside at sunrise and face the east. Acknowledge the rising sun and what it means to you.
  • At the end of the day, go outside and face the west. Give thanks for the gift of light.

Ritual- Full Version

  • Greet the sunrise by going outside and facing east.  Offer an acknowledgement of the coming light in a way that you feel is appropriate (prayer, yoga, etc.).  Confirm your commitment to celebrating the gift of sunlight throughout the entire day.
  • Spend the day engaged in outdoor activities.  If possible include a picnic or outdoor cooking (a solar oven would be ideal) and offer a part of the meal to any solar deities you feel are appropriate.  Whenever you can, reflect on how the daylight makes your activities possible.
  • If you can do so safely, use the sun to kindle a fire that will be allowed to burn throughout the night.  If this isn’t practical, allow a candle to sit in indirect sunlight during the day to infuse with the sun’s energy.  Light this candle before nightfall and allow it to burn through the night.
  • At sunset, face west and offer thanks for the gift of daylight.
  • As the darkness begins to descend, focus on the fire (or candle) you’ve lit, meditating on ways that you can carry light within yourself even in the deepest darkness.

Modifications and Notes

Outdoor activities can be adjusted to suit the abilities and needs of the individual practitioner.  The point is not to cram as much activity as possible into the day, but to simply get outside and honor the gift of extended daylight hours.

Weather will need to be taken into account, of course, and modifications made as necessary.  In the event that the weather absolutely does not permit outdoor time on the solstice itself, I’ll usually delay until another day when the weather is more suitable.

 

Solstice Reflections – Making It Work

Belated solstice blessings to those who celebrate the changing of the seasons.

Some of the lovely folks over at The Cauldron celebrated the holiday with the annual Up All Night: A Technopagan Winter Solstice celebrations. Those with far more energy and better capacity to go without sleep than I possess stayed up until dawn to celebrate the longest night of the year (with support from Southern Hemisphere friends celebrating the beginning of summer).

I’m a little bit envious  of those with the stamina and ability to stay awake through the long night. As much as I love the idea of staying up for the longest night of the year, I’ve learned over the years to temper my enthusiasm  with the knowledge that doing so will wreak havoc on my sleep patterns, already badly skewed by dysthymia and seasonal stress.

Each of us has unique challenges in how we celebrate our paths.  For me, the challenge is one of balancing the work that I must do with the health issues that might be aggravated by that work.  This time of year throws up some obstacles that require me to scale back on my celebrations and ritual work – the cocktail of dysthymia, holiday stress, and lack of sunlight have the potential to be disastrous for me.  This means being vigilant about prioritizing everything that I do and being aware when my ability to handle things wanes. Staying up all night was out of the question. So I did a little ritual, stayed up a bit later than usual, and acknowledged the changing season to the best of my capabilities.   Next year, perhaps there will be more, perhaps less, but there will be, at the least, an acknowledgement of the turning of the season.

The Longest Night

Solstice quickly approaches, ushering the winter season here in the Northern Hemisphere. At the request of a friend, I share a blessing/prayer/meditation for the longest night of the year.

On this longest night of the year,
may you find warmth in the cold,
illumination in the darkness,
peace in the silent solitude,
and hope in the bleakest hours.
In the darkness of this night,
may the fire burn long in the hearth
and love burn longer in your heart.
Solstice blessings to all who pass through here upon their journeys. May life provide much of what of you want and all of what you need. ~Ais

Solstice Blessings

The sun will be setting here in another hour, marking the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. The calendar rolls quietly over into a new season and winter will be upon us.

My own celebrations will be quiet and solitary, reflecting on the coming fallow months and the darkness that gathers about us this time of year. The computer, TV, and radio will all be off by sunset and remain so overnight, as will all none essential-technology (exception made for the refrigerator and heat pump). I plan to use the early evening hours to complete a quilt for my bed which I’ve promised to complete before another season passes. After that, it will quiet time spent watching the fire and periodically going outside to watch the stars as they trek across the sky. Prayers and silent contemplation are the order of the evening.

However you choose to mark the turning of the seasons, here’s hoping that the Solstice finds you happy and at peace and the new season brings you love, abundance and blessings. Happy Solstice everyone!

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season… but for what exactly?

One thing is for certain: it’s the time of year when folks start quibbling about the true nature of the holiday season. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Yes, pagans, Jesus is one of the reasons for the season. Yes, Christians, yule time celebrations predate Christianity. Yes, everyone, there is a Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Eid al Adha, Kwanzaa, solstice, Yule/Litha, Christmas, and other religious and cultural holidays in the month of December.

I won’t get drawn into the usual debates which just seem to boil down to who has the right to claim this time of year as their own. We all do, every one of us. My beliefs are my own, just as yours belong to you. I respect your right as a human being to celebrate your beliefs and embrace that which is important to you. I only ask that you will do the same. You don’t have to agree with me, nor I with you. Disagreement does not, however, require conflict.

So, I want to wish everyone a happy season, regardless of what they celebrate. I hope that you will find peace and joy in whatever holiday you embrace as your own. May the season find you well and if not well, then on the mend. Blessings all!