Celebrating the Winter Solstice - Working with the Elements
The Winter Solstice is the flip side of the Summer Solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is the climax of dark on the wheel of seasons and once it passes, the sun begins to wax and bring light back to our world.
Hopman says in A Druid’s Herbal, “Traditionally, at Yule or Mean Geimhridh, the dark force, with which the Sun battles all winter, gives way. The first rays of light pierce the hollow dark in preparation for the gestation of the seeds that lie fallow under the blanket of the coldest season. Bonfires are lit in the fields, and crops and trees are “wassailed” loudly with toasts of cider.”
This is the day of the year that I like to take my wreath made on the Summer Solstice and release it back to Nature. I imagine it releasing all my Summer hopes and dreams to wash over the world and back to me in their own time as the sun returns.
I wanted to take this opportunity to mention a few different ways of releasing an object in ritual. Most often Fire is used in ritual or celebrations. The act of burning something creates an instant release and transforms a material directly into the spirit realm where it can do its work and fulfill our prayers. However, I’ve learned over the years that Fire is just one element that can be used in this way. Water, Earth, and Air are also available to use to use in our rituals.
In my adult life, I’ve rarely had access to my own fireplace or firepit, which has made it difficult to do fire rituals. Using Air, Earth or Water in ritual for releasing takes more time as these elements have to stay in contact with the material longer to send it back to the realm of spirit. However, in this way the effects can be drawn out over a longer period.
To me, each element has an affinity to different areas of our lives which are interesting to think about when crafting ritual, but not required. Earth represents the physical and material areas of our existence. Water connects more to our emotions, intuition, and psychic areas of life. Air connects more to community and ideas, philosophy, and learning.
Earth is going to take the longest to transform back into spirit, as the material is decomposed in the ground and also nourishes the plants and animals around it. Forests, yards, and gardens are all good options for this method. Water will take less time to transform back into spirit, as the continuity of it washes away and soaks through to dissolve. Rivers, small streams, lakes, sea, and oceans are all good options. Using Air in rituals can be more difficult and I believe would need the secondary action of Water or Earth as well to really complete the transformation. I’ve never attempted it, but I imagine mixing plant material with seeds or grains and scattering it for birds to consume and would be the best option. In that case, I would choose safe plant material for them to consume.
In the Pacific Northwest, I have easy access to the Earth and Water elements. The surrounding forests, ocean, and Salish Sea are truly a beautiful gift to us in this region.
This year, I decided to skip trying to find an easy way to burn my Solstice Wreath and instead use the Salish Sea to release it back into the world. Since I always try to use only biodegradable material, this method works well. I would never do this with anything other than natural plant materials.
I arrived on the morning of the Solstice at a low tide with the rains steadily falling overhead. I removed all the yarn from my wreath. Even though it’s cotton, I didn’t want it to tangle up any sea creature.
I walked to a good spot down the empty beach and paused, remembering my intentions bound up in the wreath. I then crushed the plant material and flung it out into the waves while imagining the return of the sunlight. Pinto and I walked along the beach awhile, watching the pieces float away and the gulls wheel overhead before heading home to enjoy the full moon and longest night of the year.
Here’s to the return of the Sun!