Deep Winter Reflections

Deep Winter Daylight AltarGinny here. We’ve been having our own version of Deep Winter this past weekend. A foot of snow had us buried and power outages had us isolated—makes the days that feel like they’re out of sync, slipped into another space and time.

We’re back in the sunshine now and it’s steaming off the melting snow crust. Time to tell you about the workshop earlier this month; it was a Winter winner.

Northwest Modern KitchenWe met up on a very chilly Saturday morning on the north shore of Lake Whatcom and sat in the cheerful kitchen, most of us with hot caffeine, getting to know one another better. The colors of Laurie Potter’s Cool Branch Road were just outside. It was already fun and got better, with a group of contemporary women who live in the now but were ready to travel freely to the past and the future.

Deep Winter SistersThe day was full of stories, laughter and revelations as we shared how we perceive the turning of the seasons and the celebrations that light up the winter dark: Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras. By evening we had created an altar we all loved and designed a ritual for Deep Winter that had meaning for all of us.

DDeep Winter Candlelight AltarMore photos from the workshop can be found here.

Here’s what our friend Sara Holodnick, co-founder of The Bureau of Historical Investigation, has to say about her experience:

Sara HolodnickSara here. When I decided to go to the first Sacred Return workshop I said something aloud like “Oh yeah, I’ve never been spiritual, but it’d be neat to learn about tradition and ritual with cool, accessible people.” But reflecting back on that explanation, I realize it wasn’t the full reason I wanted to be there. True: Ginny and Jess are incredibly cool, accessible people with big hearts and warm smiles. It’s hard not to feel at ease with the two of them in front of you, which makes learning new things from them seem like a great fit. They opened the workshop recognizing that this sort of thing can be pretty woo-woo (or “out there”), but that they wanted to give people like me—those without any real experience—a bridge to exploring rich history and tradition… With maybe only one woo to start with.

I doubt that I could’ve articulated the real reason I wanted to attend Sacred Return until after I had already gone. I don’t mean for that to sound sales pitch-y or hippy-dippy; neither of those things are my style. I do mean it in the sense that it feels so clear now why I needed to be there: My sometimes hectic lifestyle and big changes I’ve experienced over the past few years should’ve been really good indicators that I needed to reclaim my time and rebuild a connection to things outside of the very important work I love, and exert a little more control over my life.

So why did I really go to Sacred Return? What is the reason that seems so clear now, but that I couldn’t see before I walked through that door?

Well, let me put it this way: We live on a massive globe that is hurdling through space. This big rock spins and shifts, and the life on it shifts in time with it. We waltz: The Earth turns and tilts, and we often stumble along without realizing its lead. Box-stepping our way through life, we’re regularly pivoted into a new season. Much like taking a dance lesson, I went to Sacred Return to learn how to follow.

It’s said that the best dance leaders are those who can communicate their intentions, and the best followers those who can read those intentions and respond to them. Rather than being whipped from one season to another by exclaiming “How is already the end of February?!” I’d prefer to pick up on the signals I’m sent, to be more connected to the world around me.

Even amid the sleet and snow this past weekend, I saw our lilac bushes beginning to bud. Did you smell the change in the air last week? Could you swear the sun felt different than it did a few weeks before? Did you start craving that bottle of rosé as much as I did (that is, before the snow left you leaning more toward hot toddies)?

Once at the workshop we began by learning a bit about the wheel of the year: the equinoxes, the solstices, the physical changes in the world around us. After some general context for all the changing seasons, we focused on how the turning of the Earth was (and still is) celebrated in a variety of cultural traditions. The focus of the workshop I attended was Deep Winter, when the light is growing daily and little hints of Spring are starting to show, but things like snow still happen (sound familiar?). Brigid’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Lunar New Year are a few examples of the historical traditions we explored.

It’s easy to write holidays like Valentine’s Day off as an annual capitalist game we all play, but in the context of the changing seasons it feels much more valuable. Suddenly finding ways to cherish those around me are part of recognizing and honoring the passing of time. Tokens and chocolate and flowers seems sweeter, more pure. But embracing the turning of the wheel doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing exercise: Cards with cartoons or TV show characters have a place just as much as a Brigid’s cross. Maybe one tradition makes you feel better than another? That’s cool. Take what you need, leave what you don’t.

I’ve thought a lot about Sacred Return since I attended a few weeks ago, reflecting on what resonated with me. I have plans to continue to practice ritual as the wheel turns, and have started talking to friends about doing the same. I’m exploring some other ways of paying better attention to the world around me. Taking the time to think more concretely about the seasonal changes around us, the history of human celebration, and the practice of ritual has given me a sense of clarity and inspiration that I didn’t expect. In other words: It was just enough woo for me to take away and play around with.

Tea Party with Myself

Smallest Tea“If you live in a studio apartment, a room, or other small space, the smallest altar is your cup of tea.”

Ginny here. This sentence, by Luisah Teish in her wonderful 1985 book Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals inspired us at the Deep Winter workshop to talk about tea. That fragrant, steaming cup that warms your hands and calms your stress and feels like an honoring, even if it happens every day.

I’m a coffee drinker in the morning but that doesn’t stop me from loving to unplug, usually mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea. It also doesn’t stop me from going Wonderland Tea in downtown Bellingham, breathing and sniffing the wonderful scents, admiring the beautiful pots and cups and then spending way too much on enough tea to last me a loooong time.

WonderlandTea-TeasDid I mention that I love teapots? A hopeless Anglophile, every description of tea and cucumber sandwiches in the garden or high cream tea in the drawing room seems to have led to another fabulous find or gift over the last several decades.

Tea PotsOf course we’re far from the first generation to bask in the rituals of tea. Evocative, that’s what tea is—the smell, the taste, the history, the paraphernalia…the magic.

Tasseography, reading tea leaves, evokes the stereotypical Hollywood gypsy in 1930s black and white. (How I love Maria Ouspenskaya in The Wolf Man)!

In A Little Gypsy Tea Room, anyone?

But I digress. Tasseography is thousands of years old and is thought to have originated in China. No surprise there. Reading tea leaves was arguably THE most popular form of divination in Victorian England, Scotland, Ireland and America.

Then there’s Japan. In A Victorian Grimoire, Patricia Telesco writes, “To the Western mind, the Japanese tea ceremony takes great patience, self control, and discipline to master, yet it is one of great beauty. Underneath the drama, unfolded through the implements, the tea, the flowers and the paintings, is something of an ancient Buddhist ritual. Here the Tea Master becomes a king of priest conducting a sacrament, where each motion of the ceremony reflects a law of the universe…Japanese tea rooms during the Victorian era had no colors or sounds to distract the weary traveler from enjoying the “art” before them.”

Tea. It’s a fluid way to ignite your creative mind, an avenue for conversation and the beginning or rekindling of camaraderie and friendship, and a soothing escape from everyday stress. It’s a tool and an art. How do YOU love it?  Count the ways in the comments below.

What’s Your Precious?

Ginny here. At the Deep Winter workshop last weekend, we had some fascinating discussions about celebrations, holidays and honoring the Turn of the Seasons in real time, in the real world. Of course Valentine’s Day falls smack dab in the middle of winter, one of the lights in deep winter’s darkness. Most historians agree that the ancient origin of this holiday is the Roman Lupercalia. What they don’t always agree about is the biography of the man himself, St. Valentine.

Be that as it may, for some, Valentine’s Day is a festive romp and a delight but for others it’s a challenge because we’re coached to think of it in only one light. That light is pink and it has lace on it. But we can choose what and who we honor as our most precious—as our beloved—on this Cupid-y day of flowers and candy, and it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship.

Some of us have ‘em and some don’t. Some of us used to and don’t anymore and some never did and never wanted to. Romantic relationships can be forever, they can sit in the background as a constant presence or they can come and go. Whatever our significant other status, that kind of relationship isn’t always the focus of our most tender devotion. Sometimes our attention really is elsewhere. Perhaps we’re focused on a creation—a piece of art you’re working on, a book, a play, a painting, a dance that’s taking up the most space in your life, attention and excitement. Sometimes it’s a project or an object you’ve longed for—a new business, a new job, a house, a boat, a car. Maybe it’s an experience, a trip or an event.  Maybe it’s a workshop series…hmmm.

I would submit to you that we get to decide what The Beloved is at any given time and celebrate it, them, her or him because the most important thing is that we accept and celebrate ourselves, our creativity, our interests and our obsessions. We have to give ourselves permission to be excited and thrilled about whatever we’re nurturing this Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not a romantic relationship. Take that, greeting card companies!

Whether it’s someone or something making you feel warm and fuzzy this Valentine’s Day, love it up, Precious! Make your celebrations personal. Embrace the traditional imagery or adapt it to make you smile. How will you turn the Valentine wheel of the Deep Winter season?