Winter Solstice: Spells, Rituals, & Observances
Modern calendars mark the beginning of the new year as January 1st, but this is really just a tradition born of convenience and happenstance. From the moment of the summer solstice the days begin to shorten, quite gradually. Obviously, there are still 24 hours in a day but the amount of time that the sun spends in the sky during that 24-hour period becomes gradually smaller and smaller as the great solar god gives way to the lunar goddess. Just as the summer solstice is the time when the sun is at his most dominant, the winter solstice is the time when he is at his least dominant and immediately following that solstice he begins to re-emerge, just as gradually, toward the following summer in a cycle of waxing and waning.
For many, the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – is the more logical representation of a New Year's Eve and the following day, when he begins to regain his power, New Year's Day. Of course, like all things determined by the behaviors of celestial bodies, this event never falls on the same day every year which is, most likely, one reason for the designated dates of December 31st and January 1st to mark the passing of one year and the beginning of another. Many of you are probably familiar with the idea of making resolutions on December 31st, things that you plan to change about yourself or do differently in the coming year. What you may not know is that the concept of doing away-with-the-old and bringing-in-the-new is not a new concept and was originally tied to the winter solstice.
A large number of practitioners observe nocturnal magick in their daily lives; a branch of ceremony and spirituality that celebrates the darkness, the moon, and the stars as the focal points of observance. Contrary to popular misconception, this group is not all vampires and shades – the allure of the night and the darkness exists in many and is less about an infatuation with darkness than it is about an appreciation for the absence of light. One beautiful thing about the winter solstice is that it gives all practitioners, dark and light alike, the opportunity to experience and flourish in the realms of nocturnal magick, as many of the rituals, spells, and observances are intended to celebrate the darkness and everything that it represents such as new beginnings (because without night there can never be morning), letting go (because with the coming of a new sun is the end of the previous night), and balance (because accepting and observing the yin holds as much value as accepting and observing the yang).
This year (2017) the winter solstice falls on December 21st so now is a good time to begin thinking about those resolutions that you plan on making and preparing a few rituals to help with your resolve and to make the journey easier. Here are three simple and easy rituals that you can perform, or add into your observance plans, as needed.
RITUAL ONE: LETTING GO
A ritual for letting go can be performed on any day of the year but consider the powerful symbolism of conducting such a ritual on the night of the winter solstice. It is the ultimate celestial representation of endings and new beginnings. What better time to get over that unrequited love, lost job, missed opportunity, or emotional pain? With a letting go ritual, you can symbolically tie your unwanted feelings, behaviors, or past experiences to the previous year and let them melt away with the coming of dawn on December 22nd, knowing that with each day that the sun grows, you become more distant from those old hindrances.
For this ritual, you will need a representation of what you want to let go such as a photograph of the individual that you wish to release your feelings for, a business card from your old job, an image of the missed opportunity, a letter of your own writing to the deceased loved one telling them how much you miss them, etc. You will also need a bit of string, a pair of scissors, and a small hand spade or shovel.
To begin the ritual, step outside and take a moment to enjoy the night. Spend time reflecting on the words above about the significance of the solstice, what it represents, and the knowledge that the setting of the sun earlier that day began, not only the shortest day, but also the longest night of the year. Do not yet reflect on the coming morning or the growing of the sun – instead, give the night her own true honor. Celebrate her even if you're not typically a nocturnal practitioner. Enjoy the night, observe your senses, explore a new way of seeing the space around you. Reflect on the shadows (yes, even at night, there are shadows) and how differently they fall at night compared to what you may be more accustomed to from day-viewing. Close your eyes a moment and reflect on the sounds and smells of the night. Are there more planes flying overhead or is it just easier to hear them at night? Is it quieter at night than you're used to? Are there animal sounds that you've never noticed before?
After a time of reflecting, use the bit of string to fasten the photograph, object, or slip of paper around your waist. As you do this, imagine that the object and the string are a type of binding. You don't have to make the string physically uncomfortable and, in fact, I strongly recommend that you do not as my favorite mantra is 'an it harm none, and that includes yourself'. However, consider the emotional weight that the object has and the psychological constriction of the string – conjure the memories of all the reasons that you want to let go imbue them into the object and string. Feel the subconscious weight that you've been carrying leave your physical body and enter the object and the string until they feel physically heavier than they logically should.
When you are ready take up the scissors and speak these words:
Shortest day and longest night –
[Name or circumstance] has bound me up so tight.
Take this burden from my soul –
Free me from it 'ere you go.
Carry it off and away with you –
That I may now begin anew.
This I ask and so decree –
As I will, so mote it be.
Carefully snip the string from about your waist and let the object fall to the ground of its own accord. As this happens, feel the weight of it and the weight of all negative emotions, connotations, or memories fall with it. Use the spade or shovel to dig a shallow hole in the earth and bury the object or, if this is not feasible for you, you can also safely burn objects such as photos and pieces of paper, or toss the object and string into a trash bin (but be sure to use your outside bin as you do not want to carry the object back into your house with you to throw it away).
You may choose to end your ritual here but it is likely that you've gotten a bit cold from standing outside in the middle of the winter so there is a double benefit to be had in drawing yourself a nice hot bath with a pinch of sea salt or table salt mixed in and having a nice soak. As you do this, think about the coming dawn, the growing sun, the new beginnings, and your newfound freedom. Avoid reflecting on the reasons for your ritual or your need of it. Doing this often leads to thinking about what you've just released and the things that caused you pain. Instead, focus on what you will do with your new freedom, rather than what you're free from. If you've released a past lover, think about how strong and independent you can be and about how happy you are with yourself, with being you, with finding comfort in your own skin. You can think about potential new loves if you like but I always encourage loving yourself first after a difficult relationship. As the old saying rings true, when you truly love yourself you will organically attract the love of others to you.
RITUAL TWO: BREAKING A BAD HABIT
There is a plethora of vices that we all have that we wish we could rid ourselves of and they can range from anything as serious as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol to things as benign as biting your nails or twirling your hair around your fingertip when you're stressed. For the more serious issues such as substance abuse I must first congratulate you on your resolve and also strongly encourage you to seek additional assistance beyond just this ritual as many substances involve a very real and scientific chemical addiction that, for many, even the strongest of determinations cannot combat alone. If substance abuse is an issue, please seek out your local chapter of AA, NA, or a plethora of other assistance groups in your area (trust me, there is a group for everything!)
Many years ago, I worked as a youth counselor for teens battling addiction in a group home and this led to attending a variety of meetings several times each week with the kids in my care. I found these meetings to be of unbelievable value to me and gleaned many nuggets of wisdom and inspiration despite the fact that I was not personally struggling with substance addiction. I found the people at the meetings to be warm, friendly, supportive, compassionate, and very understanding. You can sit and listen without having to talk or you can share your feelings – there are no expectations, no pressure to share, and no judgments either way. You can find your local chapters for an array of different addiction specific groups, meetings, sponsors, and other helpful resources for dealing with addictions (including a link to download a mobile ap!) here:
Whatever your addiction, here is a ritual that I recommend for breaking the habit and it can be utilized in tandem with professional or peer assistance for serious addictions or on its own for benign addictions alike.
First, obtain a glass cup, jar, or bottle of some kind; select something inexpensive and with no intrinsic value to you as will be destroyed during the ritual. If you don't have something, I find that Goodwill, the Salvation Army, thrift stores, and even dollar stores are generally great places to find something inexpensive in a quick pinch. It doesn't need to have a lid, but it can if you want it to. You're also going to need a piece of heavy fabric such as cotton, wool, or denim that is large enough to securely wrap the container in with at least two layers but no more than three or you'll find it hard to break the container when the time comes. Again, use a cheap piece of fabric from the bargain bin if you can find one large enough or cut the legs from an old pair of jeans that you plan to throw away. Finally, you will need a dustbin or trashcan, a hammer or mallet, and a few symbols of your addiction(s) or habit(s) that you want to break. Be creative as these items will vary dramatically based on your own specific reason(s) for enacting the ritual but the general idea is to select items that are small enough to fit in your jar or glass, somewhat brittle or destructible in their own way, and inexpensive. Avoid selecting anything hazardous such as needles or pieces of metal, or any types of liquid (if alcohol is your vice, use pictures of drinks or labels from old bottles that you'll be throwing out instead of using actual alcohol as your symbol).
To begin the ritual, take each symbolic representation of your addiction that you've selected and spend a moment reflecting on why you find it damaging, why you want to rid yourself of it, how it harms you or others around you, how it affects you in ways that you don't like or don't want in your life anymore, and how it could continue to affect you if you don't let it go. Have the courage to consider the absolute worst-case scenarios and even exaggerate them if needed. If your vices are drinking or smoking, envision the dangerous long-term consequences of pickled livers and blackened lungs, of cancer, and even the potential of death. It's morbid, it's dark, and it's hard to do but that is precisely why you want to get rid of it, right? For something like biting your nails, perhaps go beyond the realistic consequences of temporary pain and unsightly fingers and envision what would happen if you kept biting even after they hurt or started to bleed. Whatever your addiction, go to the dark places in your mind that you don't want to go in reality, even if they're not logical. This habit or addiction is horrible from your perspective so see it as truly horrible in your minds eye.
Place the symbolic representations into the glass or jar one-by-one after you've spent some time pondering each one and, as you do this, imagine putting those worst-case-scenarios that you envisioned into the jar with them. Once all of the symbols are in the jar or glass, wrap it up in the fabric or bag and say these words:
My will is strong –
My resolve is unbreakable –
I shall no longer harm myself with you –
I shall no longer yield to your temptation –
You have no power over me –
As I will, so mote it be.
Ensure that the glass is wrapped well and all ends tucked in, then set it safely on a firm surface, take up the hammer and use it to hit the wrapped bundle, hearing the glass inside break. Once you hear the glass break, please do not continue hitting the bundle even though it may be tempting to do so. The idea is only to symbolically break the glass, not pulverize it and repeated blows bring the risk of the bundle becoming loose and pieces of broken glass flying around and that's just not safe. Remember, 'An it Harm NONE (including yourself), do what ye will'.
Finally, carefully sweep the bundle into the dustbin or trash can and toss it out, then vacuum up your workspace just to be certain that there are no pieces of tiny glass laying about that can hurt you later.
RITUAL THREE: NEW BEGINNINGS
Perhaps your resolution is less about breaking a bad habit and more about developing a good one! In many cases the two are in tandem with one another such as breaking the habit of snacking between meals or late at night and beginning the habit of going for a walk every evening. Perhaps you want to start going to bed at a more sensible hour so that you're not still tired when the alarm goes off in the morning or you want to get into the habit of saying 'thank you' to people more often. This ritual can help you develop a new habit and requires nothing more than a long piece of yarn, ribbon, or rope – something thin enough that you can easily tie knots in it but thick enough that you can also untie those knots later.
Sit down with your rope (or other selection) in a quiet place and spend some time reflecting on your new habit. Think about why you want to develop this new habit; how will it benefit you? What are the long-term effects of it? How long do you imagine it will take for this habit to yield some of the desired results? How will you enact the habit? If it's going for a walk, will you go in the evening or the morning and where will you go? If it's saying 'thank you' more often, will you begin by focusing on saying it when someone holds a door for you at the store or the elevator or when someone pays you an unexpected compliment?
As you think through these questions and their answers, consider how many days you think it will take for you to develop this new behavior into a habit rather than it being a conscious decision each time. Habits are, after all, something that we just do automatically without thinking about them so at what point, do you think, you will no longer have to think about your habit to ensure that you follow through with it? According to the National Institute of Psychology, the average minor habit (such as brushing your teeth before bed or chewing with your mouth closed) can be developed in as little as 21 days but this is just an average, not a clinical prescription. Larger or more difficult habits (such as taking a walk every evening, or writing in a journal every night before bed) can take significantly longer with some taking a year or more! Be realistic about your own behavior, how quickly you feel you've developed habits in the past, how easy it will be for you to remember your new habit at the rights times, and how complex your habit is. Give yourself a healthy number of days and then add ten more just to be safe. It's better to consciously work on your habit longer than is needed than to stop consciously working on it too soon!
For each day that you've determined you'll need (plus 10) tie one knot in the rope, yarn, or ribbon. Count each knot as you tie (unless your vice was breaking a counting addiction, in which case, perhaps ask someone who doesn't have a counting addiction to tie the knots for you). When the knots are all tied, hold the rope in your hands and feel the knots running through your closed fist lightly. Ponder a bit longer the reason for and results of your new habit and say these simple yet effective words.
By my resolve, and for a better me –
As I will, so mote it be.
Place the rope in a conspicuous place where you will see it at the most opportune time. If your habit is to do something just before bed such as brush your teeth or write in a diary, loop the rope over the headboard of your bed or on your bedroom doorknob where it will remind you on the days that you forget. If you want to go for a walk in the evenings place the rope somewhere more conspicuous such as the handle of your fridge or resting in your favorite living room chair where you'll see it long before bed time (because if you're already going to bed by the time you see the rope, there's a good chance it will be too late for you to take a walk and then it won't be doing you any good). If your habit is to drive more safely, keep the rope in your car on the passenger seat where you can see it or loop it over your steering wheel each time you exit your vehicle so you'll have to remove it (and thus be reminded of your resolution) before you can drive anywhere. If you see the rope and you've already done your new habit, or after it's reminded you to do your new habit, untie one knot per day and repeat the words above.
When the last knot is untied, consider your success. Are you still finding it difficult to remember your habit? Is the rope still reminding you to do your habit or do you find that by the time you see the rope you've already done it? If your situation is the former and you feel that your habit is not yet established, go ahead and repeat the ritual that same day so that you have more knots to untie the following day and those to follow. If your situation is the latter and your new habit is strongly formed, save the rope in a safe place for later use the next time you want to develop a new habit or display it somewhere special to you as a reminder of your success!