As a Pagan, Goddess-worshipping witch and priestess, I have over the past thirty years celebrated the Winter Solstice in a variety of ways. As my path evolved, I made appropriate changes and adjustments, but never quite found that which truly felt right. In 2007 however, I came across a rite for Helios on one of the Hellenistic reconstructionist groups I belong to which provided the inspiration I needed.
While that rite, celebrated over three or nine nights, was dedicated to Helios, mine would be dedicated to those goddesses I most revere. While celebrating the season of turning inward for renewal and hope, I would honor the darkness of the days as looking inward for wisdom, finding that wisdom and then honoring the return and growth born of that wisdom, the return of light.
Armor of the Witch
This night I gird myself with the Triple Powers,
This night I gird myself with the Power of the Cauldron,
This night I gird myself with the Powers of the Old Ones,
This night I gird myself
This night I gird myself with the Power of the Heavens,
This night I gird myself with My Lady's Power to direct me,
I summon these Powers to be in and upon me,
It shall be so that I always have the Wisdom of the Wise,
Author unknown, adaptation by E A Kaufman
** Insert your own name and titles/attributes here
I began with the idea of a series of rituals and magical workings performed over nine nights; three nights of twilight or dusk, three nights of night and three of dawn, just as was suggested in the rite for Helios. The first night for dawn would be timed to occur on the Winter Solstice. For this year, 2009, the Winter Solstice is on December 21st, so I will begin my nine nights on December 15th.
I offer to you the ritual I now use and some of the experiences I have had.
The following items should be gathered in advance: (adjust as you like, use what you have)
- an incense or oil blend of pine, bayberry and balsam to burn
- Bayberry candles (I use three for each night, but one each night works as well)
- Coins for beneath each bayberry candle
- foods for offerings, beverage for libations, various herbs for prosperity and positive energy
- bell, cauldron, wand, athame - usual ritual tools
I center and prepare myself for ritual, bless the room and light red, gold and green candles. I begin the rite with Jennifer Reif's Rite of Self Blessing found in her book, Mysteries of Demeter, which I have adapted slightly. I follow this with invocations to the goddesses I am dedicated to, a few other prayers, offerings, journey work and finally candle magic.
(Place both hands at third eye) Eye of Spirit where Wisdom Enters
(extend right arm out to right side) May Her good enter from the right hand.
(extend left arm out to left side) May Her good enter from the left hand.
(bring both hands to heart) For She dwells within
(extend arms straight out, palms up) And without,
(hands back to heart) In beauty
(bow head) And honor
(lift arms up and outward, palms up) Hail, Great Mother!
Ring the bell three times to signal the beginning of the Rite.
Invocation to Hekate*
Hekate of the Ways, I invoke Thee.
Blessed and Wise, Mother of my Especial Breed,
You of the Sacred Land, The Underworld and the Seas.
Nocturnal One, Keeper of the Keys, Guardian of the Gates.
Hekate, I call to Thee, hear me.
Approach the Crossroads of the World, be with me.
Guide to the Underworld, Keeper of Ancient Wisdom,
Mother of Mysteries, be present at this, my Hallowed Rite.
I bow to Thee Lady!
Come, Great Hekate,
Hear me, know my name, Be with me!
Invocation of Artemis*
Artemis of the Moon, Blessed Crescent, Bluest Sky,
Maiden of the Ways, Huntress.
Ariste, Calliste, Dafnia,
Hear this Daughter of the Moon,
Servant of the Gods, Priestess of the Old Ways.
You, who protect the animals, I pay homage.
You, who protect the wild places, I offer honor and praise.
You, who are protectress of women, I bow down before You.
All honor to You, Moon Bright.
All honor to You, Great Protectress.
Artemis of the Ways, Artemis who lights the night,
Come, hear me, know my name, Be with me!
Invocation to Persephone*
Persephone, Blessed Daughter of Great Demeter,
Come, be with this Daughter of the Artes.
You, Daughter of fields and meadows,
You, Queen beyond the Gates deep within the Earth.
Come, be with this Priestess of the Ways.
Bloom of Deo, Mother of the Dead,
Queen of Souls, Life and Death, nourisher to all.
Harken O Blessed Persephone to this call.
I bow before Thee, Daughter, Mother, Queen.
Hear me, know my name, be with me!
Invocation to Demeter Melaina*
The Land lies barren as You search, dark and sorrowing.
Your great powers of creation draw inward.
Field and meadow lie fallow. You mourn.
For She who was born from Your womb has descended.
She is no longer by Your side.
But from Thee, Melaina, and Thy Shadows shall compassion arise!
In the darkness, in solitude, alone in Your fragrant temple,
Life gives birth to understanding, to the cycle of life,
To change and transformation, birth, youth, maturity.
In compassion You descend into the Underworld,
Your blessings, healing all realms, are bestowed upon Your Daughter.
O Blessed art Thou, Holy One,
Great praises to both the fallow and the dark, the womb and tomb.
All honor to You Mother of Bounty,
Hear me, know my name, be with me!
Offerings are now made. I have a hedge circle outside my home where I place offerings. Place yours wherever you are able. For the Winter Solstice I offer pomegranate seeds, garlic cloves, a mixture of dark, sweet spices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries as well as apples and slices of any cakes I may have baked. Branches of evergreens, rosemary and holly are also used. A libation cup, containing cider or wine laced with honey and spices is placed on the ground and then gently tipped over so the offering may be taken into the Underworld. For the first three nights, I begin the meditation visualizing myself standing at the entrance to a forest at dusk changing to night and dawn as I proceed through the nine nights. The following are excerpts from my journal account of those journeys.
As I placed my offerings, the wind stirred chilly and I felt the spirits of my home were beside me, waiting. I returned inside and began meditation and trance work with the intent of journeying to the Underworld.
I was brought into the presence of the four goddesses invoked. I carried a plate with my offerings and a cup of wine. The plate & cup were taken by Persephone, who smiled at me. The four goddesses danced around me holding hands as I stood in the center. I felt Their power wash over me. All around me was darkness, empty, but I did not feel alone, I was not afraid. They danced around me, chanting in an unknown language, the same words over and over. This image faded and I was back in my body feeling quiet and contemplative, a sense of peace. All around me the candles were flickering brightly, the scent of winter greens potent.
When I brought myself fully back to the present, I began the candle magic ritual I have done every Solstice for over twenty five years. I usually use three candles per night, but you may use one if you like. They should be true bayberry candles, but again, use what you can. This spell is to bring an abundance of all good things and prosperity in the coming year.
I use a large cauldron with a layer of salt, placing a fireproof dish lined with aluminum foil in it. The bayberry candles are placed in the dish, a coin beneath each. Pine needles, ash and mistletoe are sprinkled in the cauldron around the dish. I then light the candles while chanting the following nine times:
Upon this Solstice season night
I burn these candles strong & bright.
Abundance and blessings grow and flow,
As comes the light, it is so!
The bell is rung three times to conclude the rite.
These candles burn through the night until spent. This spell is repeated on each of the nine nights.
A beautiful night with the same invocations & prayers as the first. No meditation this evening, but the acceptance of my offerings was very powerful and a great sense of fulfillment & communion with my goddesses fills me.
Just the candle magic tonight – see Day One.
Tonight I cooked barley and mixed it with honey. This was my offering. For my libation I used heavy cream laced with some Strega liquor. These are white foods for the dead, the pale people beneath the mounds, as I have now entered the first of three nights in the night realm.
My meditation turned into a journey downward, stone steps, damp, roots protruding from the walls of soil. A torch was waiting for me as I started. I was dressed in a short white chiton and wore no shoes or sandals. The stone was cold beneath my feet. I followed the steps down and saw another light. Here, at a sort of landing was another torch, I took it and continued my journey, holding the two torches, one in each hand. Finally, after many steps, I came to an open area of damp sand. Ahead of me was a small river, flowing slowly. There were a few scattered torches. Across the river I could see a hooded figure, it did not glance my way, just stood there next to a strange, long boat. I waited. After a short time another hooded figure joined the first and was helped into the boat. It quickly flowed towards me. The figure easily stepped out of the boat and came to where I stood. Her hood was lowered and I knew this was Hekate. I stuck my torches into the sand on either side of us. She spread a red cloth on the sand and bid me lie on it, which I did. She began to sing and I felt myself drifting into sleep. I became aware of my surrounding. I drank some water then proceeded with my bayberry candles.
Tonight I feasted with the dead as I had hoped, however a strange thing happened. I began my rites, performed my invocations and prayers, made my offerings, in fact, performing a White Meal, then I tread the mill. As I lay down, I continued the treading in trance. Very suddenly I found myself at the door of a ruined chapel, an open grave, its head to the east, foot to the west. Those familiar with Robert Cochrane & Evan John Jones will note this is the chapel from the Rite of the Chapel of the Grave. I performed this rite in trance, but when I went to hallow the west, a passage came to light just beyond my candle. I knew this was my entrance and followed, once again, the stone steps down, picking up two torches. This time I was surer of my step and destination, I hurried along. Tonight, I noticed, I wore a dark cloak with a hood. As I came to the bottom of the steps, there again, as I had thought, was the damp sand and beyond, the river. The cloaked figure stepped into the boat and came across the waters for me; I could see Hekate waiting. After I crossed, I was taken through another cave-like opening, down deeper into the Earth. Suddenly I was in a room, a place I knew, I had been there before. This was the room from a meditation I have used for many years, a room with walls covered in fabrics of all kind, a huge hearth, the cauldron, but tonight, there were people everywhere, many I knew had passed. They were very pale, but otherwise, they were as they had been in life. A large table was laden with white and red foods, milk, cream and wine, all were feasting. I saw my uncle who had passed last year, my grandmother and surprisingly, a friend who had passed when we were both children - funny, I did not see my in-laws that I remember. After our meal. I stirred the cauldron, then was given a piece of linen and some thread, I began to stitch a sort of herringbone stitch, over & over, very quickly, losing track of what I was doing, it was just happening. This stitch was important, I felt, so I will keep it in mind. Suddenly, I was at the boat then crossing the river. I returned to the chapel, finishing the rite, then home again. I can only wonder what tomorrow night's journey will bring.
This solstice has been SO wonderful with the nine nights ritual. To dedicate myself to all these nights has been an effort, tired after work, getting ready for the holiday, etc. However, what an experience, a very real priestess experience.
The third night of Night (Day 6) was quiet compared to the night before, no intense meditative experience, just gentle prayers and true communion with the goddesses. The two nights of sunrise have been very contemplative as well. I am realizing once again what is truly important in life. Feeling the return of the Sun, the releasing of those feelings and issues that no longer serve me, I am thankful for the experiences which have brought me wisdom. I am very glad I pushed myself to do the nine nights instead of only three.
This year, 2009, will mark the third time I am celebrating the Solstice in this manner. I feel the excitement and anticipation I can only liken to waiting for Christmas as a child, for I know, without doubt that the experience will be one of blessings, revelation and transformation. Despite the normal fatigue, work and family commitments, as well as all the other interferences life tends to toss at me, making a spiritual commitment to my goddesses to honor them and the Solstice in this way is rewarding beyond explanation.
* The invocations are my own with the exception of the "Invocation to Demeter Melaina" which is adapted from the Prayer for Demeter Melaina found in The Mysteries of Demeter: Rebirth of the Pagan Way by Jennifer Reif.
Credit is gratefully given to Hector Lugo of the Hellenic Pagan Yahoo group for his outline of the Heliogenna which helped inspire the Nine Nights Winter Solstice Hallowing ritual.