It took me far too long to get to my Winter Solstice ceremony this year. The time I kept setting aside for it kept getting sidelined one way or another. Long story short, my ceremony was a few days after, which isn’t too bad. It still happened, which is what is important.
During my personal ceremony, I opened my Mesa (the sacred bundle I work with) and use it as a central point, instead of a traditional altar. I had my things arranged, along with a candle for fire, incense for air, a small bowl of water for water, and garden soil for earth. In the center, I had balsam sprigs to offer the Earth at the end of the ceremony. After all the opening work and blessings, I sat down to attune to the energies of the Solstice.
In the Revival Druid work that I do, a part of the work views different parts of the year as a certain energy to work with in ceremony. When John Michael Greer was putting together the magical system I work with, he came up with a pathworking tool to help the aspiring Druid to attune to the year, calling it the Wheel of Life. For those familiar with Cabalistic and Western Ceremonial Magic, you may know the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a sort of diagram of the emanating power of God (a quick definition that doesn’t do it justice). The Wheel of Life is similar, but instead sees certain points of the year as places of power.
The eight outer points of the wheel are the two solstices, the two equinoxes, and the four Celtic fire holidays commonly used by NeoPagans. They all are relatively evenly spread throughout the year, and make a great seasonal spiritual schedule. They all revolve around a ninth point, the inner grove. That is the sacred space we create in ceremony.
If you are looking at the photo I linked of the Wheel, you will notice that each circle is connected to the other with lines that seem to have tick marks on them. These are the Ogham, an old Celtic alphabet that has been more recently used as a system or magic and divination, much like the Norse Runes. There are 25 Oghams in the system that I use. 24 of the Oghams are paths between the different points of the year, with the 25th residing in the center sphere. The one in the sphere is Koad, the Ogham of the Grove of many trees (or, in other traditions, the Poplar tree… but those traditions make less sense in the context of the wheel).
The point of the connecting Oghams are to use them as a sort of meditation piece. Each sphere has its own visualization. In ceremony, you walk in your mind’s eye from one sphere to another via the Ogham. Let’s say I wanted to explore Alban Arthuan, the Winter Solstice. I would start in the Grove sphere. I’m seeing my sacred space surrounded by a mix of trees. There are stone doorways that stand before the trees. I go towards the doorway marked with the Ogham Ailm, the Ogham of the Fir (or Elm, in other traditions… but, again, Fir makes more sense in this context). I walk the path I find, and see what I see until I reach the other side, the sphere of Alban Arthuan. The visualization is a mountaintop on a clear starry night with a stone altar with a crown upon it.
The point of this exercise is to not only explore the energies of these two spheres and one Ogham, but to also explore the way these energies connect and interact. It is seeing the cycle of the year as sacred and powerful, while using tree archetypes to connect these powers. It is also a way of strengthening your inner space, fortifying it with the currents that run through the seasons. It’s an interesting piece of magic work that I’ve only begun to delve into. There are a lot more paths for me to walk.
This brings me back to my Winter Solstice ceremony. I had a hard time nailing down the feeling of Alban Arthuan at first, as I was in a weird space entering ceremony. I used the smell of the balsam fir I was offering to connect, and I think I found it. I’m still exploring some of the meditation, but an interesting point was how strong my sense of smell can control how ceremony goes.
Another interesting part of the Druid magic tradition I use is the use of stones to create sacred space. An aspiring mage acquires eight stones, one for each of the outer spheres of the Wheel of Life, and makes a circle to delineate the space you are working in. When you are celebrating one of the eight Holy Days, you bless the appropriate stone with the energy of its day. It’s a project that takes a year, but you get a cool set of stones to help set up sacred space wherever you wish. I tried to start this work during my ceremony. I took a few candidates for the stone of Alban Arthuan, and used my pendulum to dowse out which one would work best. I received a no on all of them. I’m not sure if I just need to find a new stone, or if I wasn’t in the right place to effectively do the work. Either way, it’s a project put off until Imbolc, February 2nd.
I hope that you had a beautiful Solstice, and you are staying warm. Nights around these parts are dipping below -20, and that, my friends, is cold weather. Perfect for staying inside with a blanket, some tea, and a good book.
The Green Mountain Mage