Here’s a special extended excerpt from Release, in celebration of all of the holidays and new beginnings that come this time each year:
With a beautiful view of the valley below, a path descending from a massive picnic enclosure at the top of the site led to benches arranged on either side of an aisle, the edges of which were lined with weathered, squared timbers. The benches faced a large fire pit, nearly six feet in diameter, surrounded with flagstone wide about its perimeter. The sun was setting as we approached, and the fire was lit. Three circles—or, as I realized on closer examination, spirals—were mapped around the fire with a dull-glowing tape. Several people were milling about, making last-minute adjustments.
We took our seats as others began to arrive. Soon, a stout, cherry-cheeked woman in a long white robe stepped forward to indicate that we were about to begin.
“Good evening, everyone. I’m so pleased that you have chosen to celebrate the Winter Solstice with us here this evening. For those of you who haven’t been with us before, I have a little history and background to share as we begin.
“The best way to start is by talking about the significance of the triskelion, which is among the most enigmatic of the ancient symbols. It is predominantly Celtic in origin, but similar images appear in cultures throughout all of Europe and Asia, from as early as 3000 B.C. These three interlocking spirals represent the perpetual cyclical momentum of progress toward understanding life’s trinities, which, depending on who you ask, could be father-son-holy spirit, life-death-rebirth, mind-spirit-body, power-intellect-love, past-present-future, mother-father-child—the list goes on and on.
“Let me be clear: ours is not a pagan ritual. It is a blend of multiple cultures’ celebrations, recognizing that this day has astronomical significance, literally and symbolically. The Earth has reached the turning point. From here, each day forward will be brighter and longer; the daylight of each new day will be a little stronger.”
That sounded nice, I thought, literally and symbolically.
“The winter solstice occurs on the longest night of the year,” she continued. “At night, we mortals dream. This is a time to reflect upon and celebrate the important things in life and to look forward to a wonderful year to come. Not all dreams are happy ones, of course. winter solstice can be a time to revisit the dark times that haunt us, tapping into our wisdom and intuition to relinquish the detrimental power past wrongs still hold.
“In darkness, there is also chaos—strife, loneliness, and confusion. As hard as we try to force order upon the chaos of our lives, we finally learn to accept this fact: it is from chaos that beauty and order can emerge, if we are alert to the signs. When mired in chaos, we have the choice to either deny it and hide from it, or we can explore it, seek to understand it, and use what we learn to shape new perceptions.
“At this time, I would ask everyone to stand and gather with us around the bonfire,” she said.
I got the feeling that I was one of only a few newcomers, or perhaps the only one. As I’d glanced around at the faces of my fellow solstice celebrants, I had seen a lot of serene faces and nodding heads. I hadn’t seen George, but I recognized others from the mandala-building earlier.
“Is this when the animal sacrifice begins?” I asked Mom.
“Shhhh,” she hushed, although unstirred. “Trust me. You’ll enjoy this more if you appreciate it for what it is, instead of resisting it or judging it.”
I nodded to begrudgingly agree.
The woman in white continued. “The triskelion is fashioned about our bonfire; it is reminiscent of the ‘oculus mundi,’ the eye of the world through which our forbearers believed we could see our divinity and that divinity could see us. Misunderstandings are at the root of much of our suffering. To truly see and to be seen requires both courage and vulnerability. The seed cast upon unbroken earth will not set root. We must trust the dormant seeds unto the earth, where they will absorb its warmth, germinate, and, in their time, grow and flourish.
“We welcome the dawn, but rather than ceding power to the interim darkness, we harness this fire to symbolize our potential to master chaos. In the night, we allow ourselves to wonder at the stars we cannot see during the brilliance of day. The moon, reflecting the sun’s light, is the promise that the sun, in its due course, will return.
“Where is the drum circle?” I whispered to Mom.
“You’ve got me there. They used to have one, but it did kind of weird us all out. It made it a little too intense.”
“I imagine,” I replied.
“Many people associate the winter season with death,” the woman continued. “Solstice is a time to anticipate rebirth. We trust that the returning heat, like that of the fire, will decimate impurities and strengthen that which is righteous and true: clay will be hardened; metal will be annealed; good plants will thrive as weeds wither away.
“Our predecessors from cultural traditions far and wide celebrated the visions that were awakened during winter solstice through music and dance. We now invite you to walk the triskelion about the bonfire. If you are so moved, feel free to dance or sing. Walk the first spiral to celebrate your past. Gather strength from what you’ve learned on your journey to surmount the impediments that may lie before you.”
She paused for a moment to let the first of the walkers begin. As the first reached the intersection leading toward the second spiral, she continued.
“Once you enter the second spiral, use your walk to recommit to your life’s mission. Regard how you feel in this moment without judgment or evaluation. Honor your presence in the here and now.”
I was next in line after Mom stepped onto the spiral path, which turned inward toward each spiral’s center before turning to head back out again.
The woman continued. “As you depart from the second spiral and enter the third, take this time to imagine your future, discover your visions, be your own poet, be your own muse. Kindle, stoke, or tend your inner fire as your place along life’s path demands.”
I had to admit that the guided meditation in motion was soothing in its reflectivity, the prompts proving to calm and direct my thoughts.
“As you walk, cultivate aura. Everything you perceive anticipates reciprocation. To sense the aura of another empowers that aura. Aura exuded and unrequited is diminished. Do not just look—see. Do not just hear—listen. Do not just touch—feel. Participate. Engage. Transform. Transcend. Journey. Dare to see the infinite around you. Embrace your liberation.”
Her final prompts concluded as the last member of the group stepped off of the third spiral.
“Now, if we can all evenly surround the perimeter of the fire, we will conclude our celebration.” We did as she asked.
“If you wish to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of vibration, frequency, and energy. Take what you need from our gathering here tonight. Leave behind that which you have purposely shed. Know that the precepts we contemplate tonight are here for you to revisit at any time you need them. Significance is afoot. Be ready. Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, and the best of new years to each and every one of you.”
I was surprised at the brevity of the celebration, but I was alight with all of what had been conveyed. The assembly began to drift up the hill, to the shelter where cider was being served.
“So, what did you think?” Mom asked.
“That was lovely,” I answered. “The perfect capstone to my journey. She summed up a lot of what I discovered along the way.”
“Did you catch the bit about vibration, frequency, and energy?”
“Yeah, that part did seem a bit incongruent with the tone of all the rest. Was that something said by the Dalai Lama?”
“Nikola Tesla, actually.”
I laughed at how everything truly came full circle, or, rather, how the strange loop seemed to be circling, allowing me to make the quantum leap to the next plane. I let faith and science work together. Philosophy, physics, and psychology. None benefited from placing them in opposition, working at cross-purposes, I thought to myself.