by Kaci Yoh
Winter solstice has long been recognized as the first day of winter and is the shortest and darkest day of the year. It occurs when the Northern Hemisphere is furthest from the sun. This year, this auspicious shift in light is celebrated on December 20, and, after winter solstice, the days begin to get longer. What can you gain from this period of darkness?
According to its Latin roots, the word solstice means “sun standing still,” and winter solstice has been recognized across many cultures as a time to celebrate the gradual return of the light. In pre-Christian Scandinavian culture, the Feast of Juul was one way this astronomical event was celebrated. The highlight of the feast, the Juul log (or present-day Yule log) was lit and burned to ashes to symbolize the return of the earth’s Northern Hemisphere toward the sun. Organizing a personal winter solstice ceremony facilitates reverence for this auspicious time of year. During this ceremony, we’ll incorporate the element of fire and contemplation questions to help you consciously set solstice intentions.
The word solstice means “sun standing still,” and winter solstice has been recognized across many cultures as a time to celebrate the gradual return of the light.
As we learned during our discussion about creating a fall equinox ceremony back on September 21, ceremonies signal a clear end of one stage of life and a conscious beginning of another. Recognizing winter solstice with a personal ceremony may help you to fine-tune your intentions and root you more firmly in your path of personal growth.
Winter Solstice Ceremony
Set aside 60 minutes for the winter solstice ceremony.
-A candle or fireplace
-A blanket, yoga mat, and meditation cushion, bench, or pillow
-A journal and pen
-Four objects that represent grounding or the earth to you. Suggestions: stones, houseplants, hiking shoes, material objects in earth tones, crystals such as hematite, bloodstone, agate, or onyx.
1. Write the following contemplation questions in your journal. These questions will serve as a guide to help you design and set three attainable intentions.
- If I knew I couldn’t fail, what do I think I should do or be doing that I’m not? Why is doing this important to me?
- What is standing in my way? What has stopped me from achieving this goal in the past?
- What do I need to incorporate this intention into my life? Do I need a system? Do I need more time? Do I need more money?
- What kind of support do I need? Are there people in my life currently who are working toward a similar goal? Are there people in my life who will work against me, consciously or otherwise, in achieving this goal?
2. In nature-based traditions such as Paganism and Shamanism, many winter solstice ceremonies open with the creation of sacred space by recognizing the four directions. We’ll open our winter solstice in a similar fashion. If you are using a fireplace for your source of light during the ceremony, set up your space to face it. First, mentally note the four directions: north, east, south, and west. To make this easy, use the compass tool on your smartphone. Due to the yin nature of winter solstice, we’ll use grounding, earth objects to mark all four directions. These objects help to define our sacred space and energetically separate us from the world during the winter solstice ceremony. Walk in a circular motion around your ceremony space and place objects at each direction point.
3. Roll out your yoga mat in the center of the space with the long end pointing toward the most convenient space to view the flame from your fire or candle. Fold your blanket into a large square and place it on the center of your yoga mat. While sitting during the ceremony, the blanket will protect your ankles and knees from the hard surface of the floor. Put your meditation cushion, bench, or pillow on top of the blanket and place your journal and pen next to it.
4. Once your ceremonial space is outlined, light your source of fire, whether fireplace or candle.
5. Move onto your meditation cushion and sit in a comfortable position facing the flame. You may sit cross-legged or on your heels. Lengthen up through your spine. Begin ujjayi breath by slowly breathing in and out through the nose. A simple way to cultivate ujjayi breath is to whisper a sentence or two on your exhale, paying close attention to the muscle engagement in the back of the throat. Once you have the muscle engagement down, return to breathing in and out through your nose. Close or lower your eyes and sit quietly for five minutes. Imagine the perceived or real heat of the flame flowing through you. On the in-breath, inhale the essence of the flame. Pull the inhale down the spine and fill the lower belly. With long exhales, reverse the breath from the base of the spine and low belly up through the chest and throat. Imagine the breath exiting through the top of the head. It is ideal to breathe through the nose with the mouth closed during this practice. However, if you are congested, feel free to breathe with your mouth open.
6. Pick up your journal and pen. If your chest caves or your spine rounds while writing in a meditative posture, you may try putting your feet on the floor in front of you to stabilize your body. Then, re-lengthen through the spine. For this ceremony, 15 minutes are allotted for setting each of the three solstice intentions. Over the next 45 minutes, go through the contemplation questions for each of your intentions. Be specific and detailed. The arrow of manifestation is best landed with clear-cut, specific aim. Once you have decided on an intention, write it out as a gratitude sentence that has already occurred and read it aloud a few times to make sure it resonates with you. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon by June of 2017, you might write, “I am grateful that I followed and executed a plan to run an injury-free marathon in June of 2017.”
7. To close the winter solstice ceremony, lower or close your eyes and return to normal breathing. Feel the light of the flame growing inside of you and imagine your solstice intentions doing the same. After sitting for a few minutes, say each of your solstice intentions out loud. With the remaining time, five or six minutes, sit quietly in meditation. Imagine a snowflake in the sunlight. Recognize that you, your heart, and your soul are as unique as the fragments of light coming off of a snowflake. Hold yourself with love and feel the light of the flame. When you are finished meditating, bring your palms to touch and thumbs to the heart center. State your intentions one last time. Silently thank the day. Thank the gifts of the darkness. Thank the coming of the light.
To further cement and develop your solstice intentions, write them down daily in a journal until they are completed or say them aloud after meditating each day.