Darkness to Light

We are just about to enter the darkest part of the year, the few days that lead up to the Winter Solstice on 21st/22nd December.

Usually I love this time of year, the chance to sink into the darkness, to drop into the void, release, let go and be reborn into the light as the wheel of the year turns once again. I always enjoy Winter Solstice more than Summer Solstice because as much both Solstices offer the chance to reflect, release and move on, the Winter Solstice also offers the promise of brighter times ahead, the ‘stretch in the day’ as we say here.

This year though the run up to Solstice has been difficult even before we get into the next few days. I have lost count of how many times I have heard someone say to me that they will be glad when Solstice is over. I don’t think I have ever heard this before.

The reason for this is that in Ireland we have had very bad weather; storms, floods, weeks where it hasn’t stopped raining and days where there has not really been any daylight. This has come on top of a very poor, cool, summer with little in the way of sunshine.

I don’t suffer from SAD, depression or anything similar plus I am lucky enough to have had winter sunshine, yet I am very aware of the effect that the lack of light is having on me. I don’t think I have ever been as aware of the dark days ahead as I am at the moment.

Solstice will come and go, the days will grow longer, the darkness will lose its grip. I am just hoping that in the days ahead there will be enough light for us to notice this.

Modranicht – Celebrating the feminine

I have just come across Modranicht which in Old English is said to mean ‘Night of the Mothers’. This was an event held on either the eve of Winter Solstice, or Christmas Eve, although as it is thought to have been an Anglo Saxon Pagan event it does seem to me, more likely that it was held on the eve of Solstice rather than Christmas.

What caught my attention about it at first was that the person mentioning it spoke of it their seeing it as a night for celebrating Mother Earth and giving thanks to the Earth Mother which seemed a lovely thing to do at any time of year. How nice to have a day in this festive season to take time out, to reflect on, celebrate and make offerings to the Earth.

Then having looked at it a little more closely today I have also seen that it can be a time for celebrating Brigid as the representation of the triple goddess, one of the great mothers of the Celts. As a healing goddess and goddess of fertility Brigid oversees childbirth. Although Brigid has her own day on 1st February it is clear why some choose to celebrate her at Mondranicht as well.

The translation as ‘Night of the Mothers’ seems to suggest that this would have been a time when the feminine as depicted by motherhood in all its creative forms was celebrated which seems to me a very worthwhile celebration. How lovely if we could bring back a celebration of Mother Earth and the feminine at Modranicht in some way. This year on the eve of Winter Solstice I for one will be doing just that.

Pagan Blog Project – Yule

imageThis is about the third attempt at posting something about Yule. My first one was on the history of Yule and the second on the traditions but neither felt right, so instead I have chosen to share with you a few of the ways I’ve celebrated Yule over the years.

Yule, Winter Solstice or even Alban Arthan is usually celebrated on or around 21st December. I for one always try and do something on 21st, something that will mark the turning of the wheel and the move from the darkest part of the year towards the light. Something that reflects on what I have gained from my time with the darkness and which celebrates the change, the shift towards the light once again.

Some years I have celebrated at home with friends and when this has happened it usually takes the form of a guided meditation to spend time reflecting in the darkness, the lighting of candles to symbolise the return to the light and the sharing of food, there may even be some drumming. Because I work shamanically the exact form of the guided meditation varies each time as it depends so much on the energy of the people present and what we need as a group.

Some years I have celebrated alone, often by choice, sometimes by circumstance. Here it always begins with the opening of sacred space, drumming and rattling, a calling in of the spirits, of the four directions and a connecting up with my guides and allies. This is then followed by a shamanic journey maybe to gain insight on the year that has passed and to let go of that which is finished, to ask for insight for the year to come or to give thanks for the year that has come to its end. There would then be candles lit to represent the coming of the light, some quiet reflection and often a spot of journalling.

Last year, deep in the Gwers of the OBOD Bardic training I held a solitary ceremony following the ritual of the OBOD which gave me a slightly different perspective on celebrating the solstice taking me deep within my own sacred grove.

This year if all goes according to plan I will be celebrating with others in the stone circle at Drombeg in Co. Cork. Although I have worked in the stone circle many times including performing initiations there, this will be my first time in the stone circle for Winter Solstice an experience I am looking forward to. It is planned to be a co-created ceremony which will be another first for me.

I don’t think it matters exactly how Yule, Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan, is celebrated. It is the recognition of the time of year, the connecting with the seasons, the wheel of the year, and all that it represents that is important. It is a time spend time in the darkness where we can to let go of everything that is finished so that we can make space for what is to come.

Bearing this in mind I journeyed to ask my guides for a ceremony that could be easily adapted by people looking for a way to celebrate this year and this is what they gave me:

Whether you plan to celebrate outdoors or indoors, spend some time collecting up some of the bounty that nature has left you, golden leaves, fallen twigs, stones, whatever catches your attention, and use it to create an altar or mandala that can provide a focus for you.

Remember that when you collect gifts from the earth it is always good to leave a gift or offering in return.

Sit quietly in front of your creation and tune in to the energy of nature and the earth at this time.

Call to you any of your own guides and set up the sacred space around you in whatever way feels right.

Within that sacred space be still and go deep within yourself, deep into the darkness and see what insights you are given, just be still and let thoughts or ideas bubble up. Then follow your intuition as to what, if anything, you need to do here.

When you have learnt all you can then light a candle and sit in reflection if that feels right, if not perhaps you are now guided to celebrate in some way; maybe dance, song or music.

When everything is finished or feels complete thank your guides and close your circle to end the ceremony.