Lighting the Flame of a New Year

    Posted by Mara Freeman
    24 December, 2011

    The month of January is very deceptive: Winter may seem to drag on with its leafless trees and gloomy skies, yet, as our Celtic ancestors knew, it is actually a threshold into new light, new hope, the new dawn of the year, and a wonderful time for new beginnings. In Scotland, not so long ago, the family prepared for a clean start by saining (cleansing and blessing) their houses with holy water and herbs.

    This is something we can do today and can be a most enjoyable family ritual: Collect fresh water from a local spring or pool, preferably toward the end of the first quarter of the moon. If this is impossible, use bottled spring water from a pure source. If you live with other people, form a circle around your fireplace if you have one, or else around a large lit pillar candle. Pass the water in a sunwise (clockwise) direction for everyone to drink, then take it around the house and sprinkle some in the four corners of each room.

    A saining can be done by water alone. But you can also use juniper, as was the custom in Scotland. This shouldn’t be too hard to find, being a popular garden plant as well as one that grows wild in many parts of the world. If you can’t find juniper, other fragrant herbs such as rosemary and lavender can also be used. Cut a few sprigs a few days before the ceremony, and put them on the hearth or other warm place to dry out a little. When you light them, have a small bowl or shell to catch any ash or sparks that might fall. Using either your hand or a long feather, fan the smoke around each member of the household in turn, then take it to each room and blow some into the four corners.

    For an even simpler house blessing, light a white candle and slowly carry the flame sunwise (clockwise) around the threshold, the hearth and four corners of each room while reciting this blessing from the Hebrides, (slightly adapted from the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael) which invokes the goddess and saint, the Light-Bringer, Bridget:

    May Bridget give blessing
    To the house that is here
    From crest and frame,
    Both stone and beam; 

    Both clay and wattle;
    Both roof and foundation;
    Both window and timber;
    Both foot and head; 

    Both man and woman;
    Both wife and children;
    Both young and old;
    Both maiden and youth

    Plenty of laughter,
    Plenty of wealth,
    Plenty of people,
    Plenty of health,
    Be always here.

    This connection between the New Year and the sacred feminine is also found in Ireland, where Epiphany (January 6th) was often referred to as the Women’s Christmas. Cakes and wine were served and a circle of white candles was lit to invoke Bridget, who was originally a goddess of the Sun and the fertile Earth. At midnight, as the Twelve Days came to an end, three miracles occurred: Water in the well became wine, rushes became silk, and sandstone turned into pure gold.

    Bridget’s feast-day begins at the end of January. The early Celts called it Imbolc, which may mean, ‘in the belly,’ referring to the body of the Earth Mother in which the grain and other crops would soon begin to sprout. An old Scottish rhyme tells us that this is the time when Bridget emerges from the Earth, just as in the Greek myth, enacted at this time of year as part of the Eleusinian mysteries, the goddess Persephone came out of the underworld and Spring returned once more. Such myths are not only about the return of Spring to the land, but also the return of the Soul – traditionally depicted as feminine – from its dwelling in the obscurity of the subconscious mind. In the western world, we tend to get so caught up in material pursuits that the soul is forgotten most of the time – even though we never feel truly at home to ourselves without that connection. At the dawn of the modern age, a poet wrote that ‘affairs are now soul size.’ His words are even more true today: with the escalating crises in the world from wars to global warming, now is the time to fully awaken into what each of us has been called to do during our time on Earth, to emerge into a life that catches fire from the soul-flame within each of us.

    When humanity listens to the voice of the soul, rather than being seduced by the astral glamour of consumer-driven culture, then the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi, will also emerge, like Bride or Persephone, from deep within the Earth where it has been hidden, and the long estrangement between ourselves and our first Mother will be over. This is the true meaning behind the Quest for the Holy Grail, a symbol of the Divine Feminine that was withdrawn from the world when our insatiable desire for dominance turned it into the Wasteland. For the Grail to be found, for the Wasteland to be restored to the Courts of Joy, we must learn to become co-creators in partnership with all the Living Intelligences of our planet: human, animal, faery or Devic.

    In England, Bridget’s feast-day later became the festival of Candlemas, for it was marked by the blessing of the candles to brighten the long nights. Today we might regard this time as an opportunity to rekindle our own inner flame upon the shrine of the soul. So light your own candle this season, and as you do so, see this tiny flame as a spark of the One Light that shines through all the worlds. Then sense your own inner flame within your heart and know that you, too, are a spark of the Divine. Breathe in the peace of this knowledge, and listen to your soul telling you how to fully awaken into Light in the emerging year.

    Blessings, Mara Freeman

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