Veiled Solstice

A short hike
on this shortest day
to perform a sunrise vigil.
The cold, furtive wind
haunts the forest
like a restless spirit
skittering across the crusted snow
searching for who knows what
in every nook and crevice
chases deer through the woodland
whitetails flashing their alarm
rattles the last plants standing
shattering fragile seed heads
a forced release
of intentions held too fast
and so the future is sown
on this Solstice morning.

Attaining the summit
the overlook is overcast
clouds cloud the view
and the wind has grown teeth.
Drawn here at Midsummer
Sagas unfurled
I communed with Hel of the underworld
and gathered her sacred herbs.
Now, at Midwinter,
Hel hath frozen over
and the sun rises
behind the veil.
Remembrance is made
that this is the day
we celebrate the dark.

Then the way back to warmth
crunching footsteps
upon the frozen path
raise a whirlwind of wingbeats
wild turkeys launch from the ground
clattering through
the bare-boned branches
and perch like enormous partridges
in a pair of leafless trees

And at the darkest hour
I shall burn
the sacred herbs of Summer
bathe in their fragrance
linger in the visions
that are revealed
from behind the veil.

Into the Dark of the Dark

The Earth has turned it’s face from the Sun, and the Moon has turned its face from us.  It is a rare convergence, the dark of the Year coinciding with the dark of the Moon, but in the Northern Hemisphere this is our experience as the Winter Solstice aligns with the New Moon.   The darkest night, made all the darker with no Moon to shine.

The dark of course, has two faces.  In the closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, Dylan Thomas writes of himself as a young boy saying his prayers at the end of Christmas Day, “I said some words to the close and holy darkness.”   This may be my favorite line from the entire story.  It is such a moving sentiment.  So often I have loved the holy embrace of the dark, that mysterious void in which one feels intimately connected to the Divine Source, in which magick is conceived. But there is the other face of the dark, the free fall into the abyss, in which there is no embrace and all hope seems lost.

Some people live with chronic physical pain.  Some live with chronic emotional pain.  Some live with both.   My heart goes out to them all. While I count myself fortunate that I live with only the chronic emotional pain, it is still a hard truth.  My daily universe is punctuated with multiple black holes of hurt.

So it is another interesting convergence that in this season of dark speaking unto dark, I have experienced another deep wound. There are those moments that one feels utterly betrayed by the Universe, that just the simple desire to be loved is denied one. Those moments when not only the light of the Sun and the light of the Moon are gone, but even the star shine has been torn from the sky. Those moments when the void is devoid of mystery, and there is no heart in the darkness.  

Too many times in my life I have been brought to identify with the poignant message of  the song “For Vincent”, by Don McLean.  Paraphrasing its central line, “This world was never meant for one as gentle as you.” As gently as I seek to touch others, too often I have been roughly handled.  So many dark nights.

Though, bringing to mind words from my invocation of the Sacred Directions that I’ve shared before, North, the direction whose energy we are now immersed in, is the direction that challenges us – and through that challenge instills Faith:
~ Faith that the light will return after the dark.
~ Faith that warmth will return after the cold.
~ Faith that life will return after death.

One of the great mysteries of the cyclic nature of the phases of the Moon, of the seasons of the Year, of the flow of the Universe, is the simultaneity of endings and beginnings.  The moment that one cycle ends is the same moment that another cycle begins. The solstice is at once the point in our orbit that we face the furthest away from the light and the point at which we turn back to the light. The dark of the moon is the cusp between its waning and its waxing.

The interesting thing is that the physical cycle cannot be disrupted. The light simply will not return until the lowest point and utter darkness has been reached.  In some cases, the same may be said for the emotional cycle.  As has been said, “The only way past the pain is through the pain”.   So, if one finds oneself being sucked into the abyss of a black hole, sometimes, rather than finessing one’s way out of it, the best thing to do is plunge in, and allow it to shred you apart.  Eckhart Tolle said it best:

Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form and erodes identification with form. A lot of it is caused by the ego, although eventually suffering destroys the ego–but not until you suffer consciously…. Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego….

As long as you resist suffering, it is a slow process because the resistance creates more ego to burn up. When you accept suffering, however, there is an acceleration of that process which is brought about by the fact that you suffer consciously…. In the midst of conscious suffering there is already the transmutation. The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness.

Marilynne Robinson, in her novel “Gilead” explored this another way:  “To be blessed is to be broken, and to be broken is to be blessed.”

In this moment of the nadir of the Sun and the hiding of the Moon, in which we all are plunged into the dark of the dark, for some it is an encounter with the close and holy darkness, for some it is an encounter with the heartless abyss.  In either case, we are blessed with the opportunity to do some work at the deepest of levels, enabling us to bring renewed life into the new cycle.

Which ever darkness one is facing, as always, let us be gentle with experience of others, for, as Bob Dylan wrote, “You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above, and I’ll never know the same about you.”

 

No Birds Sing on the Winter Solstice

No birds sing on the winter solstice.
Our shortest day is not brightened,
Nor is our longest night heralded,
by the high-pitched voice of a winged enchanter.

The nights stretch so long,
they draw near enough to whisper to each other.
hushed amid these whispers, we go about our business,
knowing they threaten us with cold death,
even as they entrance us with the mystery of darkness.

Perhaps the birds are also hushed by these whispers.
Perhaps none dares speak too loudly, too joyously,
Lest they be struck down by the hand of cold.
Or perhaps they, too, know reverence for the dark.

But as the sun rises higher and higher,
Day by day,
The birds are emboldened,
One by one.

The first to challenge the cold with its song?
The bravest of the birds?  The chickadee.
Each year, on some sunny January day,
A chickadee summons the courage to sing of the return of the light.

chickadee

A David of fluff challenging the Goliath of frost.
For weeks, none dare join him.
Then, come February, the Blue Jays, in their police attire
Call out their metallic Kweedle, Kweedle, from the treetops.

Soon, they are followed by the cardinals,
Singing as bold and brash as their crimson plumage,
As though they were the ones to break the spell of silence.

Each winter, whether the days be frigid or fair,
Whether the ground be snow-blanketed or mud-bare,
These are our harbingers… not of spring’s arrival…
But that the giant of winter will be overcome, once again.