Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Beannacht ("Blessing") for the New Year

 On the day when

the weight deadens

on your shoulders

and you stumble,

may the clay dance

to balance you.

And when your eyes

freeze behind

the grey window

and the ghost of loss

gets in to you,

may a flock of colours,

indigo, red, green,

and azure blue

come to awaken in you

a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays

in the currach of thought

and a stain of ocean

blackens beneath you,

may there come across the waters

a path of yellow moonlight

to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the Earth be yours,

May the clarity of light be yours,

may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow

wind work these words

of love around you,

an invisible cloak

to mind your life.

~ John O'Donohue 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Midwinter Reflections: Light in the Dark


Midwinter Reflections: Light in the Dark

by M. Macha NightMare, aka Aline O’Brien

In our modern world, we tend to take light for granted. We’re used to living constantly amidst all manner of human-made lights. We seldom reflect on the fact that for most of human history our only sources of light came from the sky and from fire. We easily forget that there was a time when torches were a new invention, oil lamps were valued possessions, and chandlers toiled so people could see in the night by candlelight.

Of necessity our ancestors lived their lives finely attuned to Nature’s cycles – of light and dark, then later the cycles of sowing and reaping. They knew that their lives depended upon the Sun, so they created rituals to ensure its annual return.  Today many homeless people remain acutely aware of the changes in sunlight throughout the seasons.  They also bed down at nightfall as our ancestors did.

In fact, marking the return of the light was so important to them that at least 5,000 years ago some of our Western European ancestors built megaliths such as Brugh na B√≥inne in Ireland and Maes Howe in Scotland. Brugh na Boinne, or Newgrange, is a mound near the Boinne River (named for Boann, a cow goddess) comprised of a passage leading to inner chambers carved with spiral designs. The builders constructed the mound so that the light of the rising Sun on Midwinter morning shines a shaft of sunlight deep inside to illuminate the innermost chambers. 

Some ancestors decorated their dwellings with evergreens; they cut a tree and decorated its branches with twinkling little candles.  This tree represented the World Tree that unites the Underworld, the Middle World, and the Upper World, and it never dies.

I think humans are hard-wired to gather around fires, especially during the long nights of Winter. Other ancestors gathered round a Yule log -- Yule is a Scandinavian word usually taken to mean “wheel” -- to keep warm through the cold longest night of the year as they sat together, while bards and elders told stories, musicians played and people sang and danced, ate and drank.

We Pagans, at least the majority of us, view the Winter Solstice as the night when our Great Mother labors to bring forth the reborn Sun God. We see in images of Mary and the baby Jesus something ancient and primal, an icon that speaks to us.

When we perform these acts – when we sing the carols, trim our trees, light candles – we reenact the things our ancestors did, we reconnect with them, and we honor our heritage. Celebrating Midwinter together allows us to reaffirm the continuance of life.

I wish all a joyous Solstice, warmed by the loving hearts of friends and family and a toasty fire.

© 2010 M. Macha NightMare, aka Aline O’Brien

                           All artwork and text unless otherwise specified is COPYRIGHT Lauren Raine 2024

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Winter Solstice: Return of the Light


Saint Lucia Swedish Celebration 

The longest night, the sweet and Blessed Dark, and the Rebirth of the Sun.  Perhaps the oldest of all human holy days, and source of many different sacred celebrations. In Sweden it is celebrated with St. Lucia's Day.  "Lucia" derives from the Latin word for "Light", and one such story concerns the arrival of a Christian martyr named Lucia who appeared in white, with a crown of light around her head, to give succor to the hungry and suffering.  Different stories and traditions surround St. Lucia in different countries, but all focus on central themes of service  and light.  Lucia symbolizes the coming end of the long winter nights and the return of light to the darkened world.


As the dark is holy, the generative place of rest, so is the Light holy.  On this, the longest and darkest night,  we light our candles and our bonfires as ancestors have done for uncounted centuries, around the world and in many languages, before us.  We bring light to darkness, light to each other, and we honor the Blessing of the Return of the Sun.  And I also reflect on the healing and creative powers of  what poet David Whyte called "sweet darkness", the times of silence and incubation that are wedded to the times of  illumination.

For myself, I ask what  Light I might hope to  ignite within myself.  What light can I offer that might illuminate not only my path, but perhaps assist the pathways of  other Beings of the Earth as well?  

"To go in the dark with a light
is to know the light. 
To know the dark, go dark.
 Go without sight, and find
 that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
 and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."
Wendell Berry

Winter Solstice, Willits Community (2012)
 Photos courtesy JJ Idarius and Ann Waters

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Blue Stars


A poem I wrote a long time ago for someone, and never shared with anyone. He died very recently.  Remembering him, I think it is time to share the poem.  Beyond even what we call love, there is a place where we meet, perhaps, where we go Home.

Blue Stars 

"Who wants to understand the poem must go to the Land of Poetry"

...... Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


Weary ideas rise and fall

the mind retreats at last into blessed exhaustion

I taste that blood-red honey wine


I entered a lucid dream,

and found a lucid life.


Through an open window,

Night reveals a black, far horizon

a landscape layered with memories

made of memories


I hear the blue stars singing


     "Wait for me,

      Wait for me"


I wish I could tell you

what I have seen

in the homelands.



in that country,

we are of each other at last......


You take my hand, we walk together

in that green and splendid meadow.

I offer you a glass; you raise your cup to mine.

Lips touch, a butterfly rises between us

and flies into the morning

from the other side of forever.


Through an open window,

I hear the blue stars singing.......

I write this in a small, dark room,

a cluttered here, a mute now

wishing I could be young again,

wishing I could feel something other than foolish.

I will always remember you between, always between

regret and joy, hello and goodbye

delight and sorrow, truth and lies

that bright, endarkened landscape

I saw you in.


                           All artwork and text unless otherwise specified is COPYRIGHT Lauren Raine 2024

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Hello Darkness: Why We Need the Dark


"We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us."

The Winter Solstice approaches again,  and I find myself longing each day for rest, solitude, reflection, the incubatory quietude of this time.  The Dark is gestative, and emotional states arise in myself and others that disturb, revealing what has been buried in the daily frenzy of life.  Yet if listened to, if given a voice in the dark, they can provide needed insight and healing. I believe the  cycle of the season calls for it.  Not so very long ago, we had Ancestors who, like all mammals, lived within the cycles of the seasons.  After the last Harvest, the days grew shorter, and the world colder, and the hard work of the summer and fall ceased.  This was a time of dormancy, of going within, of rest and sleep, of being enveloped by the Dark as the Winter Solstice approached.  

We don't have that relationship with the Dark, or with the Cycles of our world, that our ancestors had very much these days.  Yet I believe it is still there within each of us, still felt, perhaps felt as a loss or a hollow place inside.  I pay attention these days  to my own fear of "stopping", my own preoccupation with busy-ness as the Night approaches and wishes to be heard. I am giving myself time to listen now.  

I don't feel it's necessary to always come up with something new, to "re-invent the wheel" when it's been said well before.  I'm like that with books too:  I can read a book over and over, entering again each time into it with pleasure and new insight.  So in that spirit, I offer here again a post from last year, which includes an article I love by Clark Strand 


I remember a winter night many years ago, when I lived in the country in upstate N.Y..   I shared a house with a second story living room that had a big picture window,  A  mid-winter snowstorm had left us stranded in a shimmering blanket of snow.  One could look out on that field of white, illuminated by the dark sky, the moon, and an occasional star,  into a vast,  dark silence.   For a while the lights went out, but we had no shortage of candles, and somehow that makes the memory even sweeter for me.  The intensity of the dark and the silence  of the snow that long ago December was not frightening, but intimate,  a landscape for sleep, for the incubation of dreams,  a darkness ripe with dormant life.  A place where we could lie together in the warmth of our bed, becoming aware of  the occasional sound of snowfall, or an animal moving outside.  

I remember recently seeing a time lapse film of cities - vast networks of light, sky scrapers and traffic rushing along freeways like blood coursing along arteries, and I was struck by how much it looked like some kind of organism frenetically pulsing and extruding itself and consuming everything around it.  The truth is, it had a terrible beauty - the shimmering, glittering urban  triumph of humanity over nature, over the darkness.  Or is it truly "triumph"?  How is it possible we have so forgotten that we are not the conquerors of nature, but part of nature?  Have we failed to see, in our blinding pursuit of speed and of "illumination" that we are also animals, participating in the cycles and seasons of the life of Gaia, needing rest, incubation, renewal, and the sweet silence of the dark.

Newgrange at the Winter Solstice

In the years since, I have so often thought of those winter nights. 

I  take the liberty of reprinting here a wonderful article by Clark Strand, whose book is well worth reading.  He has had such nights too, of that I'm sure. 


December 19, 2014

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — WHEN the people of this small mountain town got their first dose of electrical lighting in late 1924, they were appalled. “Old people swore that reading or living by so fierce a light was impossible,” wrote the local historian Alf Evers. That much light invited comparisons. It was an advertisement for the new, the rich and the beautiful — a verdict against the old, the ordinary and the poor. As Christmas approached, a protest was staged on the village green to decry the evils of modern light.

Woodstock has always been a small place with a big mouth where cultural issues are concerned. But in this case the protest didn’t amount to much. Here as elsewhere in early 20th-century America, the reluctance to embrace brighter nights was a brief and halfhearted affair.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. But few of us will turn off the lights long enough to notice. There’s no getting away from the light. There are fluorescent lights and halogen lights, stadium lights, streetlights, stoplights, headlights and billboard lights. There are night lights to stand sentinel in hallways, and the lit screens of cellphones to feed our addiction to information, even in the middle of the night. No wonder we have trouble sleeping. The lights are always on.

In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.

In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.

Advances in science, industry, medicine and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of light. The only casualty was darkness, a thing of seemingly little value. But that was only because we had forgotten what darkness was for. In times past people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life. Now that deeper darkness has turned against us. The hour of the wolf we call it — that predatory insomnia that makes billions for big pharma. It was once the hour of God.

There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side.

We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us. And the earth, too, needs that rest. The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.

You, darkness, that I come from

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world,

for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone

and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything –

shapes and fires, animals and myself,

how easily it gathers them! 

powers and people 

and it is possible 

a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke