Saturday, December 22, 2012
Solstice Coven 2012
My partner Ann and I spent this year’s winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, at our friends Rita and Linda’s home with a lovely group of thirteen women (the traditional number for a witches’ coven, I’m told).
Rita directed each person to bring healthy and sustaining food to share, so there were hearty kale salads, root vegetables, roasted chicken…and black bottomed pie, a delightful addition of dark chocolate, custard, and whipped cream (lest we take ourselves and our healthy food too seriously).
As we ate our dinners, Rita shared with me a book titled Ripening that looked like it was printed in the 1970s. On the fading orange cover and throughout the book were Georgia O’Keefe inspired drawings of flowers that suggested female anatomy. “My mother could not abide this book,” I tell Rita.
On the back page, in Rita’s handwriting, is the solstice celebration from Rita’s younger years. There’s a lot of dancing in a circle. I’m glad to be at this celebration at a more seated time in Rita’s life.
After a hearty meal, Rita (a camp counselor in a recent life), directed us into the other room to order ourselves according to age. “Crones,” the oldest and most revered among us, stood at the front of the line and as the youngest, I was the maiden and stood at the back with Davida, who was the penultimate woman-child.
Eve, our most respected crone, with energetic eyes and apple cheeks, said to me, “You’re young enough to be my daughter.”
Even at reverent times, I can be sassy, so I said, “There’s another way to say that.”
The room tittered as women said, “We’re old enough to be your mother.”
Having turned out most of the lights, we re-entered the darkened room and Eve as the eldest crone chose her seat. The rest of us sat in order. A kind crone who had noticed my difficulties with balance, Eve situated herself so that I would be in the same seat that I started in, a full chair with full arms that made it easy for me to keep my balance.
After we took our seats, Karen—a middle-aged crone with lovely white hair—led us in a meditation. She closed, “Tuck the world into your heart.”
In the semi-darkness, camp counselor Rita invited us to talk about the gifts of darkness. I was quiet. Though in the daylight hours, I am thankful for my dark times, I could not summon that thankfulness in the dark. Having survived profound depression and brain tumors, I could only think about the gift of light in the darkness.
I thought about Martin Luther King, Jr’s quotation, painted on his mural on the side of Catfish Corner (where they advertise “farm-raised catfish”): “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I also thought of Emily Dickenson’s poem:
There’s a certain Slant of Light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
Almost everybody who spoke talked about light in the darkness, especially about stars and the moon. Only Linda talked about a tulip bulb’s under-the-soil darkness. Utter darkness. A time of rest.
Storytelling about the Mayan calendar followed, each person building on the next. Candy said that some people in Japan were truly afraid that this was the end of the world and bought pods, white shelters, in which to protect themselves.
Louise added that the Mayans had many calendars, each of a different length of years in cycles. Their longest cycle ended yesterday, though according to the Mayan calendar, with that ending was a time of the end of one epoch and the beginning of another, not the dismal apocalypse that I had imagined.
Camp counselor Rita asks us to consider what darkness we will relinquish in the upcoming year, what we will carry into the light.
Responses ranged from the humorous to the serious: “I will give up my anger at people and things…especially when I’m driving,” said Eve. And others: “This year I gave up doing anything that I'd feel resentful about...I haven't gotten much done.....I will give up sadness and guilt about mother’s last years….I will give up avoiding exercise….I will give up believing that I have the best way to do everything….I will give up fear….”
We wrote our responses on little pieces of paper and burned them with the fire of the one taper and then drowned them in a watery bowl.
Next, camp counselor Rita asked: What light will you carry into the world this new year?
Louise said, “I have struggled with the male-nature of the word ‘God,’ so I have begun to replace that word with Love. I will continue to focus on ‘love’ this year.”
Reflecting on the discussion about the Mayan calendar, I said, “Recently, it has sometimes felt like we are headed for the apocalypse, with so much environmental degradation, war and other violence, including the recent massacre in Connecticut. The idea of a new epoch feels hopeful instead of apocalyptic to me—a sense of a new epoch rather than utter destruction. Thank you for that. I carry that hope into the new world.”
Then, led by camp counselor Rita, we sang songs. I didn’t know the words to most of them, so I mostly listened. I sang along with, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” and “Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”
At the end of the night, strangers before, we hugged one another and some of us planned to see one another before the next Solstice.
Like the tulip bulbs that rest in darkness, nurturing their strength until the time for spring’s bloom, I feel blessed, resting, revitalizing. I am preparing to bloom, but for now I can rest.
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun: A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to lose and a time to seek; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”
This is my season for rest.