The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Sunday, 27 December 2015
In our current society, the period between Christmas and New Year can be a bit of a nomansland. If we're lucky, we spend the time with people we love, get some time to rest and relax, do fulfilling things we don't easily find time for otherwise.
And maybe we also finish up the Christmas cake, determine to swear off alcohol (at least till New Year), vow we'll lose weight, spend Christmas vouchers, hope to find a bargain in the shops, or go back to work for a few days between what have routinely become two consumerfests.
For many people, there's still the sneaking sense that despite all the busyness there's been an absence of meaning.
What's missing – unless, of course, you're a practising Christian – is a sense of a rite of passage.
I wonder if this sense of lack is also partly connected with the fact that our current calendar appears to have nothing to do with macrocosmic cycles and genuinely significant dates? In the old pagan Celtic calendar the turning points of the year – the quarter dates of solstice and equinox, and the cross-quarter dates exactly halfway between each 'station' of the sun – made sense by recognising the earth's attunement to the greater movements of the heavens, and bringing human celebrations into harmony with this.
It's also true, of course, that Christmas with the birth of its god just four days after the midwinter solstice with the birth of its god as we move from the nadir of darkness back towards the light reflects (more or less) those greater cycles, but New Year is in effect completely arbitrary as a date. Those of us who follow the Old Ways have already had our new year, at Samhain, October 31/November 1.
If we can take the time out, however, we can make this week into a passage through meaning too.
Just as the shedding of leaves in the forest means that the architecture of wood and tree is once again visible, I find that once we have passed the solstice/Christmas Day, I can achieve a greater sense of perspective on my life, and the more significant personal patterns of the solar year just gone can become more apparent. (As of course the greater political/collective patterns can also be brought into relief, from the comparative 'distance' of the other side of Christmas.) From this point of view, dividing the year up into 'before' and 'after' makes some sense.
The practice of scanning the year just gone is invaluable, but requires time out for introspection and solitude, and a willingness not only to try and remember and note the details of the months just past, but also a willingness to explore our part in the pattern of our lives.
I like to take this time out with a brief meditation, a notebook and pen (not a keyboard), a candle, incense, some greenery and maybe some quiet music. I like to include on the table or shrine before me some water, a pebble or pine cone and a feather, to add the other three elements to the candle's fire.
I might also note down some intentions for the new year, and spend a little time determining what I need to let go of. Before and after I might take a brief and silent walk. This is my way of marking ritual space.
This done, I have more clarity as we come up to that entirely arbitrary date of 31 December, and a greater chance of determining the kind of year I am soon to enter.
If I let my mind relapse into this kind of quiet focus in between social times and activity during the period between 25 and 31 December, I feel as if I've completed a small rite of passage. That has to be more satisfying than rushing off to the sales; at least, to me.
There's an opportunity to experience this rite-of-passage in a warm and supportive group early in 2016, if you'd like. Every year for something close to 20 years now I've led 'THRESHOLDS – this wild and precious life', a day for focus, reflection and exploration in relation to what's past and what we'd like to invite into our lives in the coming year. In 2016, the day workshop is near Totnes on Saturday 30 January.
This day is a self-contained part of my 'IMBOLC – the inward flame' retreat weekend, held to celebrate the cracking open of the earth for the first shoots of new growth and what that means for our lives at this potent 'fire festival' date in the Celtic calendar.
There are places available on both the day course and the whole weekend at present.
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