Monday, December 22, 2008

Spiral of Light

Imagine a rainy December night in Big Sur, guests driving down muddy roads through forest and cattle paddocks to enter a large, cathedral-like structure in a spacious meadow.

Glowing candlelight and the smell of hot spiced tea beckons us as we remove shoes and coats in the foyer. Amidst the paintings, Native American rugs and sheepskin draped furniture, we chat with our neighbors. Laughter, hugs and ginger snaps fill the half hour or so before we begin an ancient and uplifting Winter Solstice ritual.

Pagan ceremony gave meaning to our ancestors, by connecting them with the seasons of the Earth and of their lives. European winters, with hardships of cold, famine, and darkness, would bring reverent pre-christian folks together for practical reasons: to share food and light, and to warm their hearts and bodies through celebration.

We hold hands in a long line and walk upstairs to the second story. In complete darkness we slowly form an oval shape around the center of the room. Our leader, a lovely sprite of a woman, quietly lights a square votive candle sitting on a redwood round. Then we see the wonder: branches of redwood, bay and cypress, circling out from the candle in the center to our feet. The beginning of our Spiral of Light.

With the one candle lit, our guide returns to the entrance to the green labryinth and begins to sing in the darkness. This is the first of several rounds we will sing together as we walk the spiral this evening, from Latin hymns to bits of American folk ballads. As our song fills the high-ceilinged room, individuals, couples, and parents with their children, receive candles and follow the path to the center of the spiral, lighting their flames from the central one.

Each celebrant then places their small, lit taper, mounted on a round slice of tree, amongst the greenery of the spiral. Everyone's procession to the light is different: young people walk fast, goal-oriented, while older folks stroll more thoughtfully. Some, like myself, prance a bit on the walkway. Some light their candles simultaneously with their spouse or child, others solemnly light their flame separately.

When we've all had a turn, the effect is kind of like an enormous Christmas tree, laid out on the floor, sparkling with each individual's light. Light will return to us on this darkest night of the year. We will move forward into clarity and joy.

Our guide had said the Light Spiral ritual is transformative. I recognized that truth as my throat caught, holding my husband's hand approaching the circle. As I walked out of the spiral through the candle-lit forest on the floor, I felt the release of weight, a momentary spiritual lightness and ease. This feeling was echoed in the smiles on the faces of my neighbors, and the way we gently brushed each other's hands as we returned to our seats.

On Summer Solstice of this year, we dealt with fire in a very different way, slashing down trees and brush to stem its flow over the mountains and to our homes. This Winter Solstice evening of gently lighting candles, of singing as a community, was a way to experience fire differently: As a force of nature honored by our ancestors, and as a symbolic guide for us and for our children.

My favorite song of the evening:

Though my soul may rest in darkness
it will rise in perfect light.
I have loved the stars too fondly
to be be fearful of the night.

Happy Winter Solstice to All!


Linda said...

oh Linda, I'm weeping. Thank you. I started to cry when you wrote about how your neighbors experienced fire at summer solstice compared to the winter spiral of light. And that song. I hope you can teach it to me.

Lisa G. said...

I barely feel like I missed it. Thank you for this and for you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story of a beautiful celebration, LInda. Thank you for sharing it.

Steven Harper said...

I was there with my family and you caught the essence of the evening wonderfully with your words. Thank you for sharing our big turn around the sun with together.

Jami said...

My class does this each year together, it is my favorite winter tradition. Here is the poem we say at the beginning and close of the ritual.

The gift of light I thankfully hold
And pass to my neighbor its shinning gold
That everyone may feel its glow
Receiving and giving, may love and grow