This is the first week of the season-long ritual, Descent and Return of the Light, that takes the Winter Solstice as its hinge. This week we prepare to spend time in the dark of the year and gather materials for our candle wheels; one less candle will be lit each week as we move toward embracing the gifts of long nights. Coming out of Solstice we circle back through the candle wheel, lighting one more candle each week. You are invite to join the e-retreat for support in making this circle with daily emails and weekly virtual circles.
This week we prepare to journey into the dark. All journeys require preparation, even the inner journey. But we need a different kind of gear to travel on these paths. What we carry can not weigh us down; it must be light but powerful. Must fit into a bag no larger than a Seeker’s bundle and provide what we need to move through any challenge.
Our gratitude is the gear to help us travel in the dark. In this first week of the Descent and Return of the Light, we pause to gather in our gratitude by reflecting on gifts given during the passing season of harvest and the whole of the year.
Gratitude is a powerful gift that can be sparked from the smallest things. Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book Crones Don’t Whine writes of its nature:
Gratitude is something we have inside us that rises to the surface when something in particular invites it out. Gratitude is a wonderful spiritual practice, actually. Every time you breathe an “ahhhh” or savor a moment, a thank-you for being alive is rising from your soul to fill your heart. Yes, it’s about the beauty of seeing the geese flying overhead, but it’s more: it’s a thank-you to the geese, to nature…And even more than this, it’s a thank-you that I am here, and that I have a place in the universe (pp. 60-61).
Gratitude wells up spontaneously in us at times, and we can also invite gratitude to come meet us. We can create rituals that deepen our connection to gratitude.
The structure of ritual supports us even when our seeking is difficult. We need this support now; the times we live in are troubling. Today my heart hurts for the children and parents looking for a better life tear gassed at the US border, for cancer’s cruel tearing apart of the body, for the families of those killed in the California wildfires. And as fires and floods keep come one after another, I worry about us humans and our ability to live on a warming planet with generosity and compassion for each other.
In such times as these, gratitude lifts us by reminding of us the good in our lives. Gratitude lifts us not so we ignore the hard truth, but so we have the energy to meet the challenges, to try to make things a little better. And no matter our difficulties, we receive elemental support. Each morning comes to us as gift from the Sun’s fire. Each moment are held by the earth and enliven by the air. Water enters our bodies so our inward flow continues.
The elements bless us each day and this week as we begin our time of tending to the dark, gratitude for the elemental good in our lives is the focus.
To Begin: Create the Waiting with the Dark Candle Wheel
Create your wheel by placing four candles surrounded by something like holly or evergreen branches to represent the everlasting light in the dark. You may wish to have a central inspiring element. I have used a fifth pillar candle, black and light rock, and small sculptures.
For this week’s ritual you are invited to light four candles representing the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth. If working with the Tarot, you can take out the aces out of your deck and place them next to each candle. As you light each candle pause to offer a gratitude for a different areas of your life inspired by the elemental association and images on your Tarot cards. Take time to bask in the candle light before concluding.
Engage in this ritual practice as much as you have time and space for in your life. Perhaps you set aside an hour on one night or do just five minutes of candle lighting each night this week. Find your own rhythm and lead by the guidance of gratitude.
In the e-retreat, daily e-mails provide reflection prompts for each element as you move through the week as well as inspiring quotes and images. You are invited to join us. Next week’s theme is Opening to the Ancestors.