In the traditional teachings of the Celtic people the solar calendar was of great importance. The Spring and Autumn Equinoxes were times of rebirth and release and the Summer Solstice was a great celebration of radiance and outdoor playfulness, a time to connect with the light at it’s fullest. The winter Solstice, the polar opposite of that, was one of the most holy times of year, a time of reflection and repose.
Each solstice or equinox was a quarterly point on a turn of the wheel of the year and was an opportunity to honor the cycle of the year and each season within it. The knowledge of the druids who kept accord with the celebrations, and who were responsible for phenomenons such as Newgrange in Co Meath, Ireland, were responsible for work that fell into four groups. These were:
- Those who knew the dates of the celestial events because of their knowledge of the movements of the planets and the stars, as they dictated when the solstices and equinoxes began.
- The Masters of Ceremony; those without whom nothing could be performed in sacred space. They knew all of the knowledge required for this work: what spirits should be invited, what grove of trees or open space should host the space and why, in what order the work should take place, what advance preparations and what accoutrements were required for what work, etc.
- Those who had knowledge of ‘herb-lore’, or the ‘plant people’ as they were known; what plants healed what ailments and what plant spirits (allies) were needed for what ceremonial work.
- Those who spoke with spirits, and the dead; those who were responsible for helping the dead to move on into the Light of the Otherworld when their bodies passed, and for engaging various helping spirits to help with ceremony, for getting information from spirits that was not obtainable from other sources on a range of topics, and for working with nature spirits and the energies in the land for optimal food production, etc.
All of those who had specialized ceremonial knowledge, that is, all those with specialities that were needed for practitioners to take part in ceremonies, held the keys to potent sacred work in old Celtic traditions.
Today, modern day shamanic practitioners conduct these ceremonies and are often trained in these four areas of the druidic arts. However, we don’t need to be trained practitioners in order to honor those traditions or perform some key parts of the work. With a little guidance, we find that we can conduct those ceremonies ourselves, and be deeply enmeshed in those sacred processes. All that that ceremonial work requires is the intention of reverence in performing the work, the intention to hold space for good work to take place, the actual work itself to be known and intended, and some forewarning of potential pitfalls to avoid, should the practitioner choose to do that work alone.
In terms of the work that those without training can do for themselves, Winter Solstice week (the 7 days around the Solstice itself) is a perfect time to look inward on what has been and look forwards to what will be. Winter Solstice is a time of review and repose. As such, it is a perfect time to assess where the last year has brought us, assess experiences in that year that we are ready to release, and to set out intentions for what it is that we seek to have fulfilled in the year to come.
In order to facilitate the work of letting go what we no longer need, a simple, yet powerful, ceremony to do at this time would be a fire ceremony. You will need a fireplace at home or an outdoor fire pit to do this work. A version of this ceremony is included at the end for those without access to a fireplace or fire pit in their homes. The process would be this:
Step 1: Set-Up the Ceremony
Gather your kindling, fuel for the fire and an offering for the fire, such as ground corn or tobacco. As you do, in reverence, thank the gathered pieces for their role in the clearing that is to come. Gather other biodegradable material and bind it with twine or wool to create a ‘representative’ of what it is that you are going to release, usually no more than 10 inches long, but often only 5 inches or so. This piece may or may not look like an effigy or figurine, or it may simply look like a small stack of dried twigs and leaves, but it will literally carry the energy of what is to be released, so it will be helpful if the materials are reasonably substantive. Think on what it is that you may be ready to release from the previous year as you gather the kindling and bind the material for the representative.
Step 2: Open Sacred Space
Once at your fireplace/pit, light the fire and open sacred space by lighting a candle and saying an invocation, inviting in your Helping Spirits to watch over and guide the work. If you don’t have a conscious relationship with your Helping Spirits, a good suggestion would be to invite in the Archangels, and Archangels Michael and Raphael in particular to oversee the work, and the spirits of the land to “make this sacred space”. Thank the Helping Spirits for their help.
Step 3: State the Intention
State the intention out loud that you are doing this work “to assess that which is ready to be released and to prepare the way for the year ahead”.
Step 4: Meditative Trance
Close your eyes and drop into a meditative trance where you allow the ‘review’ process to happen. In this process, invite your body to show you where any blockages or congestion exist in your body from experiences in the previous year that are ready to be released now. These might show up as colors, or images, or sensations, or any combination of these. Ask that energy to show you “an image from (your) life that sums up everything that it is”. You will see an image of the congestion in action; a dynamic usually of one or more people playing out an experience. See the issue that needs to be released in the image and feel where that issue resides in your body. Know the issue fully and feel it and understand it.
Step 5: Breathe Energy into the Representative
Take the representative and hold it close to you. Feel the issue that needs to be released within you and breathe into that area in your body, gathering all of that energy into your breath. On your out breath, breathe that energy into the representative, making sure to expel all the energy that is to be released into the materials. Breathe the energy into the representative a few times, if necessary. If tears come, wipe these from your face and onto the representative. Let the representative literally become the energy to be released.
Step 6: Fill Yourself with Light
Once you have all the energy out of your body that is to be released, ask Archangel Michael to “pour the Light of God into (your) body to replace the energy that has been removed”. This will fill in any gaps in your energy field.
Step 7: Call in Helping Spirits
Say: “I am calling on the Helping Spirits here present, to oversee this work and to facilitate the healing to come.”
Step 7: Fire Offering
Sprinkle the offering into the fire and thank the fire for facilitating this work. Sit with the fire in reverence, allowing yourself to fully appreciate the living, breathing element that fire is and the transformative qualities that fire has, that part of it’s healing medicine as an ally is to transmute lower energies and clear them away. Thank the element of fire for it’s help in this work.
Step 8: Let it Go
When you are ready, say goodbye to the energy that you have nurtured out of your body into the representative and throw the representative into the fire. Allow all the elements of the materials to be burned thoroughly in the fire. Allow the fire to die out. Thank the Helping Spirits and ask that they close sacred space.
For those without a fireplace or fire pit close by, follow all the steps except in step 1 gather a small piece of paper (2” x 2”) and a pen, a metal bowl, rock salt, rubbing alcohol and a safe platform to place a burning hot metal bowl safely (non-flammable surface). Add a handful of salt and a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the bowl, to barely cover the salt, and place the bowl on the non-flammable surface. This is your ‘fireplace’.
In step 5, instead of pouring the energy to be released into an effigy or materials, write out the best words to describe the suffering and ‘transfer’ that energy through words onto your small piece of paper. Breathe the energy out of your body onto the paper just before you put it into the fire as well, if you feel the need. This piece of paper is now your ‘representative’.