For those in the druid tradition, the winter solstice has layered meanings. The trees have lost their leaves and the land has been swept bare with frost and cold, resting fallow for a season before spring returns. Though we celebrate the shortest day of the year, we also celebrate the return of the sun—from here, the days grow longer.
During the winter solstice, druids celebrate the return of light, embrace the hope that summer will come again, and honor the winter landscape. Here are three druid practices that can help connect you with wintertime and celebrate the solstice.
A Candlelight Evening for Embracing the Darkness
As the druid tradition seeks to align closer with the Earth and her cycles, part of this alignment is acknowledging and embracing the winter darkness. For those of us living in temperate climates, the coming of the winter solstice signals a time of rest for the land where nothing needs to flower or fruit. Culturally, our lives seem to speed up this time of year due to the holidays, but if we take our cue from nature, we will see the importance of rest.
One way to “go fallow” in the spirit of the season is to facilitate a candlelit evening. All artificial light and electronic devices are turned off, and you spend a quiet evening by candlelight. You can begin your time with a candlelight ritual (such as the one below), or simply use the time to engage in reading, journaling, making art, or other spiritual activities.
In addition to myriad spiritual benefits, there are many health benefits associated with temporary removal of artificial light. Modern lights, screens, and computer monitors often function on a blue light wavelength, which is the wavelength of the morning sun. When we use these devices into the evening hours, they can reduce our production of melatonin. By living by candlelight, we allow our bodies to realign naturally with the rhythms of the earth for deeper rest and rejuvenation.
To prepare for your candlelit evening, you should have at least a few taper candles that shed good light. (Candles in jars and votive candles shed little light by comparison.) You will want enough light to potentially read or write by. Also ensure that the candleholders you are using are fireproof. A local antique store is a good place to find high quality candles and holders.
Candle Ritual for the Return of the Light
The winter solstice is a time to celebrate the longest night of the year, as well as honor the return of the sun. This simple candle ritual, done at night in a dark place, allows you to do both.
To prepare for this ritual, you will need a comfortable place to sit, one large candle, many small candles (enough to comfortably encircle you), fireproof candleholders for all, and matches or a lighter.
Place a single large lit candle in the center of your space. On the outer edge, include unlit candles in a circle around you that represent major areas in your life that need illumination. Keep those unlit to start.
To begin the ritual, open a sacred space in any way that you prefer. (As in many pagan rituals, you may cast a circle or call the elements, or simply envision your space as protected and sacred).
Now, extinguish your central candle and speak these words aloud: “The darkest night has descended. Let the dark give me rest and peace.” Sit quietly in the darkness, meditating on the wisdom of this season. Envision the darkness as a womb, a place for you to rest and allow your creativity to renew.
As you rest, feel your connection with the land outside your home, land that is also embracing the dark and lying fallow to heal and renew. When you feel ready, relight your central candle and speak these words: “Although we are at the darkest point, the light is returning to the world. See how it spreads!”
Begin to light all the smaller candles encircling you, speaking any words you wish as you light them, setting intentions and bringing light back in. Then, sit within the candle circle and meditate on the return of the sun. Do any other spiritual work that you desire, such as offering prayers, and then close your space through words or a visualization. At this point you may wish to transition into a candlelit evening as detailed above.
First Snow Labyrinth for Inner Work and Wayfinding
When it is cold and dark, we may feel that we have lost our way forward. The darkness at this time of year can trigger seasonal affective disorder. Spiritual work can help us manage these challenging times, and one approach is creating a seasonal labyrinth for wayfinding.
The labyrinth comes to us from ancient Greece, and as the wisdom of the labyrinth moved through the ages, it became associated with meditation, insight, and awakening. We can create and walk a winter labyrinth to help guide us in our journey while navigating winter gracefully.
If you live in a climate that has even a small amount of snow, you can easily create labyrinths. I recommend creating your winter labyrinth with the first snowfall—this allows you to celebrate the coming of winter. Each time it snows, you can recreate your labyrinth and potentially have it available to you throughout the winter months. If you live in an ecosystem that does not have snow (or snow has not yet arrived) you can also create a labyrinth with small stones, sticks, or leaves, or you can draw it in soil or sand.
There are a multitude of designs you can use for your labyrinth, though many classical labyrinth designs are rather complex for temporary use. I recommend a spiral design, which is easy to create and effective to walk. The goal is that once you have created your labyrinth, you can walk it easily to a center point and then back out again.
As you create your labyrinth, set an intention for it. Also consider the direction you will walk in and out of your spiral: a widdershins (counter-clockwise) spiral design allows you a sense of release as you walk in and a sense of gathering energy as you walk back out.
A simple labyrinth ritual involves moving to the entrance of the labyrinth and clearing the space with a smoke bundle or incense, taking three deep breaths, and asking the Divine for guidance. Then, begin to walk the labyrinth with slow, easy steps.
Depending on your spiritual needs, you may select a theme to meditate on, keep your mind open, or keep your mind empty. The center point of the labyrinth represents a shift in your path or mindset—pause in the center, feel this shift, and begin the journey back, drawing upon your newfound insights. Doing this regularly can help you enjoy winter and deepen your spiritual practice during this darkest time of year.
Explore the basics of druidry here.