There are times, I think, when ritual is both too much and not enough. Anyone who practises will probably understand what I mean. The ‘constraints’ of ritual pattern and structure are, on occasion, insufficient to meet the needs of the spirit, and instead one feels a deep and overwhelming need for something simpler…more spontaneous. This past equinox was just one of those occasions.
After yet another tiring day of extreme work-related stress and upset I went for my usual chill out time in the garden with a brew. I found a large stone in the garden which I sat holding and turning over and over in my hand whilst watching the sun begin His western decent. I started to reflect on the week, the month, the season, the year and all those things which have been, the things I’ve not achieved, the reasons why I haven’t achieved them, the things which continue to hold me back…personality traits, habits, behaviours and so on. I meditated for some time, distilling life’s tribulations into a single drop, a pure expression of that one thing halting progress and poured it into the stone in my hand, which was becoming heavier.
I asked the Ancestors and Old Ones to take me where I needed to go, nothing more…just simply to walk with me and guide me to a place of peace. The stone, still in hand, was becoming uncomfortable, disabling at times as I refused to put it down, not even just to pack a small bag. I set off out of the garden, out of village, across the fields but without a specific destination in mind.
As I walked I become quiet, introverted, sullen even. All I could feel was the increasing weight and discomfort of the stone in my hand, I realised I was not walking with my usual interest in the landscape around me, I was mostly eyes down…Such is the distraction of burden which was now manifest and symbolised by the stone in my hand. For this magic to work it had to hurt, once struck with what was going on I held the stone in such a way that the discomfort was exacerbated, with each dull throb and ache in my fingers, wrist and forearm I was focusing more and more on that which the stone represented.
I arrived at a quiet little clearing alongside a stream. At last I could release myself of the heavy weight and as I lay the stone upon the bare earth, beneath an Elder and Hawthorn growing along the bank of the stream, I asked that the earth take this burden from me and carry it into the depths to be transformed like a seed in spring time. The relief was almost instant and palpable, I sat and I cried a little. Whether we realise it or not, the hardest things to let go of, often the worse things for us are those things which we convince ourselves we need to survive, the ego is a great deceiver, one who can convince us of many a lie.
Feeling much lighter now, I approached the stream and washed my hands and face, giving what remained of my salty tears to the river. The cold water brought me instantly into the here and now…I noticed the sound of birds singing again, heard the water as it trickled by, I noticed the dusky light dancing upon the surface of the stream and felt the breeze cold upon my wet skin. I looked up, focused on my connection to the stars above and the depths below. I sought a place of equilibrium, a place between all things, a place of serene beauty…the eye of the storm.
After revelling in the moment, I riffled around in my bag for an apple I picked from the garden and a small bottle of wine. I cut the apple across its equator with my knife and looked upon the star at its core. Acknowledging everything this represents I ate the entirety of one half and left the other half on the edge of the stream. I drank a little of the wine, pouring the rest alongside the apple, letting it run and spill in to the water.
I felt myself breath again, I felt my lungs fill with the fresh evening air and my shoulders drop further into their correct position. As I began the journey home, I collected a small bundle of firewood, just a token bundle of fallen twigs and short branches, an activity reminiscent of generations before me, I hoped to take home a little of their wisdom to illuminate the darkness of winter.
A week or so later, the hearth was cleaned and the first fire lit with the little bundle of gathered firewood. The fire caught quickly and the flames roared and engulfed the wood, surely a good omen. The sound of crackling and popping wood drowned out the howling winds and the light danced around the room chasing away darkness and despair. Prayers and offerings of incense and wine sopped bread were given to the ancestors and directly into the flames. I took a filbert (that’s a cobnut / hazelnut) and asked a question before placing the nut onto the glowing embers…would my question be answered with a loud pop, or would the nut simply burn away and turn to ash….?