The Winter Solstice has become a very symbolic evening for me. It marks the shortest day and darkest night of the year and the beginning of lighter days. For so many, celebrating the solstice has been a way to mark a renewed connection with others, say goodbye to the year and welcome the new. The word solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “to stand still” (it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky). The solstice is about tuning into the stillness and continual growth of the natural world around us.
I first celebrated the Winter Solstice three years ago. A four year relationship had just ended because my partner didn’t want to stay rooted and cultivate a home; he wanted to move to eastern Europe and travel around…without me. He couldn’t promise that when he came home we’d resume living together and he’d stick around. As someone who’s home life was disrupted at an early age (my mother dying from cancer, in our home, the eventual eviction from our home when I was 17, and moving from low-income housing into a more stable and healthy environment when I was 20), building a stable home has always been an essential part of who I am. After eight months of honest and painful conversations, compromises, and couples therapy, we realized the relationship wasn’t going to work. We broke up in October and the Winter Solstice was a particularly painful day for me, as that was the day that he was flying out of the country. My best friend called me and asked if I wanted to go to the Kensington Winter Solstice Festival with her. There would be a parade and then we’d gather around a giant lotus flower and watch as it was set on fire while ceremonial dances were performed around it. I said yes.
I didn’t really know much about the Winter Solstice. In fact I’d say I’m somewhere in between an agnostic and an atheist (depending on the day) and I’ve never really believed in God/gods. But I have always felt some connection to the idea of spirits. And I was feeling like witnessing this ritual and celebration could be healing, could be a way for me to mark the day not as one where my ex was now officially gone, but as a day where I could say goodbye and say hello. It was the day in which my BFF’s metaphor of the open palm finally hit me. Having an open palm would enable me to let go of the things that weren’t serving me and say hello to those that might. So we went and stood in the rain and snow and watched this celebration.
Afterwards we went to one of her friend’s houses — a friend that I didn’t really know. During my period of grieving it was incredibly difficult to be around people that I didn’t know, and so I almost surprised myself when I agreed to join her. We ended up in a room with a bunch of strangers and were led through a Sufi ritual hex — not hex in the “I’m going to make bad things happen to you” but in more about letting go and setting our intentions for a new year. The ritual involved holding our hands up in the air in a variety of postures and movements for 5-10 minutes at a time. It involved chanting. My more skeptical self would have looked upon this and thought “this is ridiculous.” But because I was committed to keeping my palm open to the world, I joined in and found this communal experience to be a beautiful one. And then I woke up the next morning to a city covered in ice.
Last year I went and did a quiet yoga class on the solstice. Just me and 10 other yogis moved through the poses after setting our intentions for the next year. I remember the intention that I set was one word: FUN. For me, this word symbolized my own desire to be open to new experiences, to take part in more artistic activities, and to embrace my inner goofball. Tbh, I’m not sure that I remembered my intention, as in the past month or two I realized that I wasn’t having as much fun — or really any fun at all — as I wanted to. Perhaps this was due to the fact that my new partner and I were going through some serious relationship problems, problems that made it next to impossible for us to have fun with each other. I was outsourcing all of my “I wanna have fun” activities to my pals. And this worried me a lot.
As those of you who read my last post know, my partner and I split up recently…like a little over two weeks ago recently. We lived together and now we’re rotating our weeks in our apartment until we each find a new place. It sucks. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do anything to celebrate the solstice this year. My friend was having a solstice holiday party, which I planned to go to, but that was really all that I had figured out. Then my dear friend Carla sent me a message and asked me to do some Winter Solstice Rituals with her. Now Carla just moved back to Toronto after living in England for four years. So hanging out with her to mark the solstice was basically the best possible thing that could’ve happened. Carla had a ritual that she wanted to perform with me. So first we went to the Beaver for Jenna’s holiday party, shared some beers, and then we embarked on our night. Here’s what we did to celebrate:
1. A girl’s got to have priorities. When you’re a couple of shops away from a hotel that has an old photo booth in it, and you’re a girl who LOVES photo booths, you have to stop there before continuing on with your witchy solstice night.
The first set of photos are mine. I asked Carla to pose making teen girl feelings faces. The first is sadness (obvi); the second is where we’re supposed to look at each other with so much teen girl love, but Carla couldn’t handle how spectacularly I did this face, so we got that sweet shot; I’ve realized that I’m not super good at making an angry/angsty teen girl face, so I’ll need to work on that one; and finally these are our “loving ourselves selfie” faces. We went total freestyle for Carla’s photo booth photos.
2. We hopped in a cab and went back to my place to perform our ritual. First, we picked out objects that felt powerful to us. They included our recently taken photo booth photos, Carla’s cat figurine, a photograph of my mom that I feel holds some witchy power, a matryoshka doll, my Anne of Green Gables doll, a white ceramic rabbit, and my strawberry coaster.
And then we went onto my back deck to set up the candles and our little ritual shrine.
As you can see, the cats we’re really interested in joining us. Oh, and because it was raining (another rainy solstice…so strange!) I brought out an umbrella for us to sit under.
Carla told me that she’d made a list of things that she wanted to burn: old habits that weren’t serving her; certain memories that were getting in her way; things that she was holding herself back from doing. So I created a list of things that I wanted to burn, which included: people/relationships that don’t serve me or make me feel sparkly; feeling like I’m not good enough; making excuses for not going to yoga; the negativity in academia; the idea that I’m not creative or artistic; and people who aren’t willing or able to celebrate me. There’s this narrative that goes: good self-esteem must come from yourself, not from others. I don’t know if I buy that narrative though. We’re creatures who need affirmation and wanting others to affirm us isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of our humanity.
Carla began by setting some intentions for our ritual. Then we each shared our lists and talked a bit about the items we wanted to burn. Carla’s list kind of blew me away because she’d also included things that she wanted to ignite (in other words, not the things that she wanted to burn down, but the things that she wanted to make more visible in the world). As we sat in silence after reading our lists, I thought about what I wanted to ignite as well. We used the candles to light our lists on fire, watched them burn, and went inside to perform the next step of our ritual: tarot reading.
3. In the last year or so I’ve really wanted a tarot deck. I guess I started to want one three years ago when Carla did a tarot reading for me over Skype after my previous relationship had ended. But as someone who’s kind of skeptical and also a little superstitious, I held off getting my own tarot deck. Also, I’d heard this rumour that your first tarot deck should always be a gift from someone else. But no one had given me a tarot deck yet. And so when Carla and I decided to have our Winter Solstice night of rituals, I decided that I was going to take matters into my own hands and I went and bought my first tarot deck!
Now this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. As it turns out, it’s not easy to find a feminist, queer tarot deck on the night of the Winter Solstice. Because I don’t know anything about where to buy tarot decks or which ones to buy, I posted a call out to pals on Facebook. After doing some research on different decks that I might be into, I started calling shops only to find out that they weren’t open or that they were out of stock. Eventually I found a shop that had the Wild Unknown Tarot. I loved the title. I’m someone who’s never done well with the idea of the unknown. Going through a lot of trauma as a kid and so much uncertainty and instability, I LOVE being in control. But my need for control/fear of not being in control has made life difficult for me. I get a lot of anxiety when something in my life changes or when the outcome of a particular decision or event is dependent upon someone other than myself. When there’s a problem that needs to be solved I come up with at least five possible solutions and consider all of the possible outcomes. The unknown and I aren’t friends.
But I loved that this tarot deck is called the wild unknown. The wild symbolizes a couple of things. First, so many of the cards have images of wild animals or the outdoors. Second, the word wild signified a sort of playfulness; a thinking outside the box; a pushing back against the boundaries that have been set for us by patriarchy, capitalism, misogyny, racism, and other harmful narratives. The title and the images spoke to me. And so I took the plunge and bought the deck.
Carla helped walk me through the steps. First, she drew a circle of salt and we placed my cards in the middle. The circle represents your intention to bind your cards — bind in the sense of “here’s the energy and intentions that I want these cards to hold.” I placed my hands on the cards as Carla gave me a hug, and I set my intentions. I’m going to keep those to myself, because there are some intentions that are maybe more like wishes and so you want to keep them for yourself. And then we did my first spread with three cards, each position symbolizing the past, the present, and the future.
Okay, so first of all, let’s just take a moment to recognize that all three cards are part of the major arcana. The major arcana signify a complete journey of the psyche. They reveal the archetypes that we hold within us, the characters or themes that hold us back or set us free. These cards usually address long-term or deeply-rooted problems in our lives. These cards kind of couldn’t be more perfect.
So in the position of the past is the judgement card. Here’s what this card is all about:
So judgement has been a major issue that I’ve been dealing with in therapy. And, in particular, the relationship between judgement and shame. I pride myself on being a rational human being who makes good decisions. In October I wrote about how I was having a hard time confronting and making space for shame and judgement in my life. I ended the post with these words: “Some don’t have the privilege or energy or desire to turn pain into something beautiful, or to find peace in sorrow. But I’d like to think that shame doesn’t have to be lethal. I don’t know what else it could be. But maybe it could just be.” Getting this card and having it fall in the position of the past was incredibly meaningful to me. I don’t think that this means that I won’t still struggle with shame and judgement. Rather, this card signifies my desire to not let those feelings take over me. To not let my fear of making mistakes and my fear of being judged by others when I make mistakes, take over my life.
The next card I got was The World:
Now right off the bat I’m going to admit that I feel a lot of resistance whenever I see the words “wholeness” or “completeness.” I don’t really believe that those are achievable states of existence and that our attempts to become whole or complete often end up harming ourselves and/or others. I also believe that neoliberalism and capitalism have done a good job making those narratives of wholeness even more compelling and even less achievable. So I’ve chosen to interpret this card as representing my desire to branch out from the world of academia and to engage more with the world through the community work I’ve been doing and through my blog. Setting out to broaden my feminist circle has given me a greater sense of contentment, as just thinking through the ideas that matter to me in a purely academic setting was making me feel pretty miserable.
The final card I got, and this was is my absolute favourite, is the High Priestess, and she is in the place of the future:
The final line of the card “Acknowledge the shadows,” speaks to me. We often don’t pay much attention to our shadows or that which falls in the shadows. Shadows represent darkness, parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge are often referred to as our “shadow selves.” I want to continue to make space for that which isn’t obvious, which is kept secret or hidden, and also that which I often don’t want to see. I want to embrace the mystery of the wild unknown. Right now the wild unknown feels really scary. I’m single. I have to find a new place to live. Right now is one of the times when I have to remember to keep my palm open to the mysteries out there in the universe. I will find a new and stable home. I will process the feelings of anger, confusion, and sadness that this breakup has caused. And hopefully I’ll be able to open myself up to my own magic as well.
This post was written by Margeaux