Last evening, I participated in a celebration and ceremony to mark this winter’s longest night of the year and the lunar eclipse that fell concurrently on the solstice. To prepare for the gathering, I took a preliminary journey to see how I could shape our honoring of this momentous occasion.
When I set out on my shamanic journey just hours after the eclipse, I was shown some interesting images. It was nightfall in the lower world when I arrived. I was taken by some of my guides to a cliff where I could gaze up at the night sky. Out of the blackness appeared a spot of red and gold light. The black sky began to peel away like burning paper as a fiery sun emerged from behind. I was told this is a time for igniting our passions and realizing our dreams. There is a new dawn breaking, and this is a time of arrival for long-awaited blessings. We are cracking out of our shells and breaking free—the end of the madness is near.
Next, I saw the shadow that was cast over the land by nightfall begin to fade. As daylight broke, trees and rocks began to pop into view. The spirits said: “There will be things coming to light and emerging from the shadows—realizations that are both personal and universal.”
As it grew light, any shadowy forms that remained began to collapse into piles of ash and wash away in front of me. “If it collapses, it is meaningless. Only what is worthwhile will endure. Establish connections to what is meaningful. Let the debris of the past flow away.”
Then, I was given this five-fold prescription for moving forward:
- Build community and alliances.
- Say everything that needs to be said.
- Take care of unfinished business.
- Strengthen and nurture all meaningful bonds.
- Make choices based on love, peace, and joy.
I was guided to lead my friends in a fire and ice ceremony. First, to honor the full moon and release the old, we did the following exercise: On a large sheet of newspaper, scribble down with a pen all of the things you want to release: feelings, thoughts and habits that do not suit you. When you feel you have completed this task and there is no more to add, tear the paper longwise into inch wide strips. Lay the strips on top of one another in a fairly neat stack. Fold the stack of strips in half. At the fold, bunch together a two-inch length and twist it. Take a piece of string about 5 inches long and tie it around the twist. Divide the hanging strands into three sections. The center section should be twice as thick as the other two. Tie a length of string at the midpoint of the center section. Tie off the ends of the two narrower strands. Divide the ends of the central strand in half and tie each at the ends. What you should have is a paper doll or effigy similar to the cornhusk dolls made by colonial children.
As each of us felt moved to do so, we rose one by one and cast our paper dolls into a roaring fire that burned in the fireplace.
We had placed in the center of our altar a bowl of ice and water. We had each lit a tea light and set it afloat in the bowl. To honor the solstice, we wrote personal dreams and intentions on individual slips of paper. Our hostess gave us each a tiny container that we filled with ice water from the bowl. We pressed our slips of paper into the ice water, where they will incubate all winter in our freezers. At the time of the spring equinox, we will gather once again, bringing our dreams and intentions out to thaw and placing them into the earth to take seed and grow.
This time of year is about both death and birth; it is about severing our ties to the past in order to clear ground for the new. I closed the ceremony with a poem by David Whyte called The Journey. I believe the ending of this poem summed up the occasion rather well:
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving
you are arriving.