Dec 28 2009
Winter Solstice Ritual
Spending time in nature has the incredible ability to make us feel peaceful and grounded. As an ecopsychologist, I know that human beings need a connection to something wild, whether that be a pet, a garden, or a mountain in order to feel soulful and happy. I see how couples who backpack, hike or garden together are able to—at least for a while—put their troubles behind them when they immerse themselves in the beauty of the wilderness. Studies have shown that spending time simply walking in a natural setting (as opposed to simply walking in the mall, for example) can have immense psychological benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression.
One way to honor the natural world and actual form a relationship to the land where you reside is to acknowledge the passing of the seasons. Solstice ceremonies and rituals date back millennia, when societies were much more in tune with natural cycles because their very livelihood and wellbeing was so intricately tied to the land, the weather and their animals. Celebrations were rich with food and drink—one last feast before the start of the long period of uncertainty and possibly starvation during the cold months of January through April.
We are now approaching the next solstice, which is the winter solstice, or the first day of winter, typically falls around December 21st in the northern hemisphere. The solstice is the day in which the sun begins to rise earlier and set later, making for longer days and shorter nights. The day of the solstice is the shortest (and darkest) day of the year, but it’s also the beginning of a trend toward longer days, even though it marks the first day of winter.
I designed a do-it-yourself winter solstice ritual around the concept of preparing a seed that will hopefully sprout and take root in the spring, both literally and figuratively. Because the solstice is the start of longer days at the same time it’s the beginning of the coldest season, it represents the preparation for new beginnings at a time when it’s easy to forget that things will once again thrive and grow. Maybe you’ve lost something of importance to you this year. Maybe something didn’t quite turn out the way you had hoped—a relationship, a job, or a financial venture. On the day of the solstice, you want to plant “seeds” for new beginnings and new hope for things to blossom for you in the coming year. The seeds will lay dormant for a few months, just as your dreams may lay dormant while you make background preparations for the changes you want to make.
This is a ritual you can do alone or with a friend or romantic partner.
You’ll need a few days to research and prepare for this ritual. You want to lay the groundwork and give your seeds the best possible chance to grow and thrive. First, you’ll need to know what are some of the native plants or grasses that grow in your bioregion. Here where I live in Colorado, buffalo and blue gamma are the native grasses that grow in the plains right up to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. For the ritual I’m doing, I bought a small amount of this seed at my local nursery. Learning about the native plants in your area is a way to know more about the land where you live, more than just where the nearest mall is. It’s the kind of knowledge our ancestors needed in order to live sustainably with their bioregion.
Once you have a list of native plants, you can visit your local nursery order seeds online. Purchase a small amount of some kind of grass, wildflower or plant that will grow without much human input in a meadow, open space or park near your home.
Next, find out what time the sun rises on December 21st where you live. This will be important for your ritual. Also, think of a park, wild area or trail that has a good view toward the southeast horizon near where you live. Preferably, this should be a wild area that isn’t landscaped with grass, an area that would be good ground for growing the seeds you purchased. Ideally, it should be an area where the plants you purchased already grow naturally or where the ecosystem would not be disrupted with its introduction.
On the night before the solstice, take a small amount of the seeds and mix them with compost, garden soil or some kind of seed starter mix. Place the mixture in the middle of a square of brown paper bag, like a lunch bag or a grocery bag. Carefully wrap the mixture as if you were wrapping a gift, and secure it with thread or a very thin piece of tape. You will be taking this with you on the morning of the solstice, along with a pen or marker.
On the morning of the solstice, plan on arriving at the natural area or park at least 15 minutes before the sun is scheduled to rise. After parking your car or arriving on foot, take a minute to center yourself in the space and state your intention. What are you here for? Ask the land permission and blessing for your ritual. You and your partner should then begin to walk or hike on the trail in meditative silence, allowing yourself to be mindful of your surroundings. Notice the way the air smells, the way the wind sounds as it moves across the land or through the trees. Notice if you hear any wildlife. What does the sky look like in this moment at sunrise on the shortest day of the year?
You’ll want to walk or meander in this space for a short time, watch the sunrise if possible, and relax into the surroundings. Then, when you’re ready, take out the seed packet you prepared and the pen you brought with you. What do you want to let go of that you’ve lost in the last year? What new challenges or hopes do you have for the coming year? What “seeds” would you like to plant for your life on this day.
Write down some words directly on the brown paper that represent what you are hoping to incubate and nurture for next year. It could be things like a good relationships, a new understanding of someone you love, better friendships, a new job or career. Perhaps you want to nurture new, positive habits. Write down two or three words to represent your hopes and goals.
Let your heart lead you to a spot where you know your seeds have the best possible chance to grow in the spring—a spot with lots of sunshine and good soil. Take the seed packet and place it under the snow or bury it a little bit on the ground (depending on the weather that day). Place it somewhere where it won’t easily be found, where it will remain sacred and safe.
Return to your home or car again in silence, to honor the moment and contemplate both the real seeds you’ve placed on the earth and the metaphorical seeds you’ve placed in your subconscious that will hopefully take root and thrive in the months ahead.
When you return home, have a big breakfast feast—lots of delicious sweet and savory things to nourish you. Share your impressions with your friend or partner. Talk about how you can help nurture each other’s “seeds” in the months to come. This is a new “outside of your head” way of bonding with them, and you may find yourself remembering in the days ahead how magical it felt to be out in nature at sunrise on the shortest day of the year, in a solitude we don’t often experience in the city.