21st December Winter Solstice - It's the depth of winter. The ground is frozen and nature is sleeping under a thick blanket of snow. But deep within the earth womb life is stirring - the sun is reborn. At the Winter Solstice, when we have reached the longest night the flame of hope is born and carries us through the rest of the winter. For the time being, there are few signs that life will return, but over the next few weeks the light we steadily increase. For now it is a time to celebrate and dip into the larder's reserves to celebrate the birth of the baby sun. Winter Solstice is a time to share your resources with friends and family and, inspired by hope, make plans for the future. It is a time to select the seeds and ideas we want to plant and grow in the coming season.
Everything has its season - there is a time to be born and a time to grow, a time to learn and a time to mature, there is a time to live and a time to die, a cycle of seasons that marks the passage of time. Each time of the year has its beauty and its special gifts, but inevitably the wheel must turn and the season will pass - until its time comes around again. The seasonal cycle gives rhythm to time.
Today it is easy to ignore the necessities of time that dominated the lives of our ancestors until quite recently. It is easy to forget that time is not linear, but cyclical in nature and although we may ignore it, deep within our hearts we move to that same rhythm as the earth.
Our ancestors could not escape the seasonal cycle as we can today. On the contrary, it was crucial to their survival. Naturally, they were much more keenly aware of the seasonal changes, which they celebrated with their annual festival cycle. In the Celtic traditions of northern Europe this cycle consisted of 8 festivals, the quarter days, which marked the equinoxes and solstices and the cross-quarter days, which marked the 'in-between times'. The cycle of the season was envisioned as the story of the Earth Goddess and Sun Child, which becomes her lover and husband and together they make the Earth fertile and abundant. At the Summer Solstice he reaches his peak and must die. His declining power still ripens the fruit, but by the time harvest comes he is dead. The life-force retreats and the Earth Goddess is mourning, until she realizes that she is pregnant. At Winter Solstice she gives birth to the Sun God once again. His power is restored and her womb is fertile once again and so the cycle of life starts all over.
The seasonal festivals marked the ‘stations’ of the year. At these times we are at a threshold when time, for a moment seems to stand still and everybody, young and old came together to celebrate the cosmic drama of the Earth Goddess and the Sun King. For a brief interlude the rules and routines of everyday life were set aside and the focus of the community was directed towards the Gods and the changing balance of male and female forces in nature.
As without - so within. The seasonally shifting energy reflects on the inner rhythms of the soul. Today, most of us are out of touch with the seasons of nature and the crucial points in time that determine the rhythm of the growing cycle. However, those rhythms still beat within our hearts. Celebrating the seasonal festivals may harmonize the soul with the rhythms of nature.
HOW TO BURN INCENSE:
Place a self-igniting charcoal disc on a fire-proof surface, well away from flammable objects. The charcoal disks can be ignited simply by holding a match or lighter to the rim. Be aware that these discs may occasionally spit and sparkle profusely upon ignition. Allow plenty of air to flow around the charcoal to ensure that it burns evenly. Some people prefer to open the window while the charcoal is igniting as it gives off quite a bit of smoke. Once the charcoal disc has finished sparkling it will start to glow, usually first on one side, then slowly spreading over the whole disc. When the entire disc is glowing red hot it is ready to use and you can place a little pinch of incense on top. As the disk glows through, the fire will concentrate in its centre. You may occasionally want to scrape off the ashes to expose the glowing centre and add fresh incense as desired.
CARE FOR YOUR INCENSE:
Incense keeps well and often improves with age if kept in a cool and dark place. Charcoal, on the other hand, does not, as it has a tendency to absorb moisture from the air. Once the packet has been opened, keep it in an airtight container to preserve its self-igniting properties.
Keep incense and charcoal out of pet’s and children’s reach. Charcoal discs are highly flammable. PLEASE BE CAREFUL when igniting your charcoal disc. Once the disc has been lit do not touch it, as it will cause a burn. Make sure your incense dish is fire proof and does not conduct heat to the surface on which it stands. Glass (even glass ashtrays) will break. Do not dispose of the remaining ashes in a waste paper bin or plastic garbage bin as it may cause a fire. Do not hold the disc in your hand while lighting or burning.
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