Blessings to you from the cathedral of trees and stars on this longest night, may the prayers whispered by the cold winds spark the ember within our hearts and bring life and light back to our lives. May we all grow stronger with each day and may the growing warmth heal those things that need healing within us.
In 2016 our lives were all setting up for sudden and unexpected change. There were the obvious changes, an election result no one predicted, but for me there were a lot of personal things that happened. After TempleFest that year I came down with a mysterious illness that was diagnosed as shingles with a complimentary MRSA infection. I was put on powerful antibiotics and had a picc line inserted into my left arm in order to self-administer them. My partner was pregnant with our son and needed an emergency appendectomy. As a side effect of the inversion method they used she contracted pneumonia. My father had a major, life-altering surgery and was at the lowest point of his life. My partner’s labor lasted for four days, where we went from home birth, to hospital birth, to C-section, followed by a hemorrhage that nearly took her life. Our son came into the world determined to make it his own, the Capricorn son of two Tauruses. Then a month later my grandmother died during pulmonary resuscitation after a doctor-administered dose of an opioid lead to an overdose.
All of these events set up for some hard times but also some joyful ones. Our son upended nearly every aspect of my life and did a good job of clearing out those things that I needed to let go.
In the midst of all of this my witchcraft was living, active, pulling me through, though sometimes through fires that were painful but cleansing. I walked through the swamps near my house, bitten and harassed by black flies, tracking deer and catching sight of them in standing water munching on aquatic plants, finding chanterelle and cinnabar polypore and puffball. Discovering a large mat of beautiful pink and yellow sundew, a carnivorous plant with sweet droplets at the end of small threads used to lure insects. Florida’s nature sustained me but I missed the bracing cold, the silence of snow and a stand of trees that were the demarcations of winter in my childhood.
As 2017 unspooled and the anniversary of my wife’s due date drew near (December 21, which we named our son Lucien in honor of, even though he came a week later), I began reflecting. All that had happened over the course of the year had felt like such a struggle and I just needed the quiet of a winter’s evening, padded by snow and solitude. So I did what witches do and pulled together a few ingredients to take a journey where I couldn’t physically go. I found an image of stars shining down through bare trees, I mixed up some essential oils, pine, fir needles, rosemary, camphor, frankincense, myrrh, a drop of wintergreen and put them in my diffuser. And I made a hot cup of peppermint tea.
The journey script is long gone now but the memory remains. If you’re inclined, use the image associated as a focus, either visually or in your mind’s eye.
Get into a meditative state in the way that works best for you. Frequently for me this means grounding, aligning my three souls and counting down until I’m in a deeper trance-like state. Take as long as you like and require.
Envision yourself stepping through a veil from this present world and into a bracing but invigorating cold. You’re perfectly comfortable and warm in your body while still being able to acknowledge the cold. Your feet begin crunching through a soft snowpack as you walk through a clearing in the night forest. The trail before you and behind stretches into wilderness and above you see a circle of treetops, illuminated by stars and the splash of the Milky Way. Orion is visible and the Big Dipper. This feels like a nice place to stop for a moment.
The tree tops occasionally sway under a gentle wind that doesn’t touch the ground, inspiring snowflakes to blow off of the branches above. You are safe and you feel the warm sense of love embrace you.
From the tree line you see a figure emerge and draw near, someone you’re glad to see. Is it an ancestor? A spirit or guide? A god or goddess? They stop and offer you a warm smile or embrace and whisper a few words to you, listen closely as the message, even if simple, is important. Sit with them and ask any questions you may have and again, listen closely to their responses.
When you’ve finished visiting, they take leave and you feel joyful about the opportunity to have seen them.
Look again to the stars above, through the branches of the swaying trees. Smell the forest and hear the snowflakes tinkling as they touch down upon the ground.
When you are ready, continue down the path and pass back through the veil into the present. Count yourself up, ground yourself as necessary and journal about your experience.
Feel free to adapt this journey working to fit your needs. I feel like sharing this working bookends a challenging period of time and it brings me joy to finally be able to put it out into the world where it may help others.
This Cathedral of Trees and Stars has been something I’ve visited each year around Yule but also when I feel the need arises, I will return.
I’m hopeful for a better year, though I know the struggle will continue for all of us, I hope it won’t feel so dire.
I’ll leave you with this quote to meditate on as we move towards the calendar new year, from Diotima Mantineia in a recent Wild Hunt article:
it’s important to have and hold a vision of the world you want to live in, on both a personal and social level. Without a vision, we may be working hard, but we’re just slogging along. With a vision – one that inspires us – our work is touched with magic and brings real accomplishment.
Blessed Yule and a blessed 2021 to you all.