Saturday night, for the first time, I experimented with a formal ritual to mark the Winter Solstice. While I’d thought about this concept before, I’d never actually done anything with it. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is almost certainly the fact that my depression had been growing worse over the last several years and that made it very difficult to do any of the follow-through necessary to implement any of the ideas I had over that time. Another one is that I had trouble finding a published ritual I felt comfortable with, as they mostly tended to be Wiccan or otherwise heavily deity-centered, and that was something I was trying to move away from. I wanted to celebrate the natural process of the turning of the seasons, not the theoretical influence of some supposed god/dess.

Actually, after my initial drift toward paganism, I skated past seeking anything spiritually fulfilling for a time. I have a strong feeling this was tied to the increasing depression, since on starting the first of the medications, one of the things to come back was the feeling of… of coming home that I felt when reading publications and meditations by Pagans. The fact that, while I didn’t notice any particular loss of emotion per se, I also stopped seeking anything that was any kind of fulfilling in any area was also sort of a tip-off that, you know, brain chemistry might be involved somehow.

So as depth started to come back into my life again, the idea of formally marking for myself the solstices, the equinoctes, the full moons became important again. For a number of reasons (are you surprised?), but in large part simply to remind myself that there is more to my world than roads and buildings and fluorescent lighting, that my trees and flowers are more than just pretty wallpaper, and that if I want to have even half a chance at growing a decent garden, I’ve damn well got to start paying attention to weather cycles and growing times and planting schedules. 😛

My favourite “religious” reading lately has been druidry. This rather surprised me, since I’ve always been fairly traditionalist and snarky towards a tradition based on a concept (druids) that we really have almost no historical record of. But I purchased a copy of the Druidry Handbook by John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America. (Online reading inspiring this purchase includes the Allergic Pagan, Humanistic Paganism, and Natural Pantheist blogs. Yes, the phrase “Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America would have sent me into fits ten years ago on multiple levels.)

And I’ve loved it. I skipped right to the middle, “The Earth Path”, nature awareness, focus, study. And said, “Wait, so you’re offering a semi-structured way to self-study ecology with focus on my own locality, in combination with allowing for spiritual expression in connection with that study? Sign me up, please!” What I quite like about the AODA versus other Druid orgs out there (Ár nDraíocht Féin, Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, etc.) is that they don’t particularly care whether you worship Lugh, Odin, Amon-Ra, Jesus, or Terry Pratchett. Not that the other groups have a rigid orthodoxy or anything like that, far from it, but there is much more of a focus on worship than I feel from the AODA.

So I’ve found a place I feel comfortable in, and more motivation to be active. But still, I haven’t quite found any sort of ritual I really feel drawn to, though I’d have been willing to settle for “not feeling silly about”. Enter the Solitary Druid Fellowship.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship seeks to provide a new way of engaging with solitude. Those who join us in a liturgical practice are, in effect, experiencing congregation in solitude. We are entering into the silence with the awareness that others in different physical locations join us in a similar, sometimes identical practice. Each of us brings our own sensibilities and style to our worship, but by joining one another in shared practice we experience a new sense of belonging and community.

(from the SDF website)

Though I haven’t felt particularly drawn to ADF, I have been following the blog of an ADF member for a few months, Bishop in the Grove, by a man who takes openness and honesty on the internet to new levels in my experience. Not in the TMI sense, which you can find anywhere, because even those who overshare still often do so in strictly controlled ways, or else simply don’t care about the impact that their words might have or that others’ words might have on them. No, reading Teo’s words you get a sense of unshielded-ness, that here is someone who is sharing who they are without fear and is genuinely interested in learning who you are, as well. It can spark some pretty powerful feeling. And Teo is the one who conceived and founded the SDF, and wrote its first liturgy, for the Winter Solstice. So I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try.

And I gave it a try. I couldn’t perform the rite on the 21st, because we were travelling from PA to NY then and there was no time. So it had to wait until Saturday. Saturday, there was crazy Long Island Sound wind all day. Like trees whipping back and forth, constant “ooooOOOOOooooOOOOOO!” background noise wind all day long. I seriously considered an indoor liturgy, but I couldn’t find anywhere in the house where I wouldn’t be disturbed and/or make other people uncomfortable, and I tested it and found that if I was wrapped up and stayed on the porch I was actually pretty sheltered from the wind so I went outside after all. This turned out to be the right choice.

I made some changes to the liturgy as written; I knew I wouldn’t be the only one. I changed the references to the ADF’s three “Kindred” to “the Universe”, using a number of synonyms as well, just so I wouldn’t feel a complete twit saying “the Universe” over and over. There was an Offerings section, in three segments to honor the three Kindred types. The language was terrific, taking beautiful advantage of repetition, and I really loved it but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It’s just too awkward to envision making a physical offering to nothing at all (from my perspective). This may be something that I can find an analogue for in the future, as I move along my path, but for now I just condensed it to a short dedication.

The other thing I did was to eliminate the divination section. I don’t have any problem with divination as a concept, since I actually think there could be value in using the random fall of dice or cards or stones to potentially open your mind to new options you might not have thought of otherwise. But since it’s not something I regularly do, I hadn’t really thought of anything and so my answer to “using the divinatory form of your choosing” was just sort of, “Uh….” So I skipped that.

I also didn’t actually have any sort of Sacred Fire. The Sacred Lighter was out of Sacred Lighter Fluid, and anyway the wind was too strong to keep a flame going long enough to light even a candle. Probably for the best; I’d planned a personal ritual involving fire and if I’d actually managed to start it I probably stood a good chance of lighting the Christmas tree on the deck on fire, given the wind. So my light was all from the window behind me and the stars out front.

“I am one and we are many. Fellowship, in solitude.” Those are the opening lines of the liturgy, and speaking them and reflecting on them did relieve some tension for me. “In my mind and in my body, I hold space in solitude/For all of those who walk alone. May they be with me in this rite.” Specifically, the knowledge that there were others out there doing the same thing, and that this liturgy was specifically designed for us to work alone with the knowledge of others were similarly working alone, removed the fear that I would start out on this ritual and stop embarrassed halfway through, feeling like a complete moron, which was always a pretty big barrier between me and any sort of ritual work in the past.

It was a pleasant experience, overall. I did laugh at the part about “this season of stillness” since there wasn’t a whole lot of stillness going on around me. Lots and lots of winter cold, but I had my mittens and coat and scarf and hat and really didn’t notice it much. I didn’t try to do a dramatic reading, just tried to read it as naturally and thoughtfully as I could, looking to see what interpretations came to mind during the actual reading. It felt… good. I find as I’m working on this post that I really am looking forward to the next one.

While I stayed seated close to the house for most of the rite, at the end I went out to the yard to make physical contact with the earth. After that it just felt right to stay standing for the closing passage, another affirmation of the one and the many. And there at the edge of the porch I could of course see much more of the open sky, and found myself looking right at Orion spread huge across the southern sky. And that is the strangely peaceful image that comes to mind when I think about the overall experience: Orion, hanging just above the wildly waving treeline, as we moved towards shorter nights and longer days and Christmas celebrations.

…Next year, my brother and I will get to do our Yule dinner, though.