Monday, September 21, 2009

Fully Seasoned: Astrology and Ritual

© 2009 by Joyce Mason. All Rights Reserved

Happy Autumn Equinox! What’s not to like about this time of year? The Sun moves into Libra, the sign of love, relationships, and beauty—in gorgeous, breathtaking color. This is the time of crisp air and abundance in the Northern Hemisphere. In the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving and our gratitude for Earth’s plenty. It’s a time I relish.

As I’ve shared in other posts on both my blogs, I’ve been celebrating the solstices and equinoxes for over 20 years with a groovy group of women known as the Solsisters. I cannot begin to tell you how much these rituals have enriched my life. Celebrating these seasonal changes brings astrology, spirituality, and the cycles of life down to earth for me where I can hug them in community.

I have a special resonance to the Autumn Equinox, because I was born on the cusp of fall, less than 24 hours before the Sun moved into Libra. My first Autumn Equinox was part of my first day on Earth. What a way to get off to a good start in an incarnation!

Harvest time is the reward of a life well lived, the goodies we get out of all the work we do. Astrology may help us to understand ourselves, others, and even world events. Ritual does even more. It brings the dancing sky down to earth where we can dance with it. In that dance, we can feel, discover and show our gratitude for the magnificence of creation by offering our awe at these times of shift. If you don’t believe me, try it! That’s the point of this post--to tempt you to create ceremony under the stars in thanks for the cosmic symphony.

Getting Started

All it takes is a few people who are interested in exploring the idea. The Solsisters were born out of the annual candlelighting ceremony at our largest, local Unity church. Inspired by the Season of Light, several of my friends wanted more. I was the astrologer, so soon we decided to create a Winter Solstice ceremony in addition to attending the candlelighting service. I had never done anything like it before. This was in the late 1980s, so I was still high from the Harmonic Convergence. I had the spirit of peace on earth all year ‘round and a Catholic background. My religious roots ingrained me with ritual, ceremony, and liturgy from my head down to my toes. This kind of worship permeated my soul.

We ad libbed a lot, and I’m sure we had our share of divine direction, the ritual equivalent of automatic writing. Our celebrations were so satisfying, after the first couple of years, we began meeting quarterly at all the solstices and equinoxes. There is no right or wrong in rituals that celebrate the cosmic clock. You could just as easily celebrate any major event in the sky or the ingresses of the Sun into the various signs. Do as much or as little as you like. Do what feels good and raises your spirits. I often give a quarterly astrological overview as part of the process. For us the solstices and equinoxes offer just the right number of get-togethers and spacing to see progress in our lives. To spin off a quote by ‘70s pop poet Rod McKuen, “Love is a season and holidays (or solstices and equinoxes) like signposts mark the time.”

Evolution of Structure

Even the most Uranian of us all needs a little Saturn and structure for life to tick like the cosmic clock itself. Over time, a natural framework evolved in our ceremonies—the bones that hold them together with differing things that feel right in the moment to flesh them out. We borrow from every tradition you can think of: Catholic, Jewish, earth religions, Native American, Buddhist, and a multiplex of cultures. After nearly two decades, my friend and I who act as primary leaders wanted to encourage more women to try their hand at creating these soul parties. We came up with this outline by simply writing down what had already emerged naturally:

Basic Elements of Our Solstice and Equinox Ceremonies

1. Smudging – Purification of each person participating in the ceremony by sage or incense smoke. Alternatively, especially when we’re out of doors in high fire hazard areas, we use sound—bells, chimes, or rattles. The concept is to clear the energy field and help each participant let go of worry and concerns and come into the celebration with a clean slate. One person starts and each person then smudges the next person after being smudged until smudging is complete around the circle.

2. Casting the Circle – Calling in the Directions to create a sacred and safe space for ceremony. The circle is a space defined by the raising of energy. It replicates the zodiac and division of the year into four equal parts by the equinoxes (spring and fall) and solstices (winter and summer).

3. Opening Prayer

4. Opening Remarks on the Meaning of the Season – If there is a theme, this is the time to share it. For example, last Winter Solstice, our theme was The Magical Child Within.

5. Optional additional prayers, special blessings, or discussion of seasonal holidays and/or astrological overview.

6. Activity reflecting seasonal theme, e.g. preparing seeds of our growth in Spring, going into the “river of life” or play in Summer, harvesting seeds in Autumn, candlelighting affirming our inner light in Winter

7. Meditation – usually on the theme

8. Praying for Ourselves and Others - After a general prayer for all present and absent members present in spirit, anyone in the circle can put forth a prayer request for others.

9. Optional Oracle – We love drawing tarot cards or other oracles and use various decks to reflect the theme of the particular ritual. With last year’s inner child theme at Winter Solstice, we used Isha Lerner and Mark Lerner’s Inner Child Cards (A Fairy-Tale Tarot).

10. Communion – Sharing recent growth or our experience in any other part of the ceremony, such as what tarot card we drew. The card or inspiration we received in meditation often reflects what's been happening in our lives. These parts of the ceremony help focus our sharing updates.

11. Optional parting poem, prayer, or remarks

12. Releasing the Four Directions, Opening the Circle

Tips for First Timers

Here are the tips we share with Solsisters who are creating the ceremony for the first time:

Order. While the beginning and ending rituals such as casting and closing the circle need to be in those positions, the rest of the steps can be reorganized, if they feel more comfortable in a different order.

Extras. Don’t hesitate to add an extra step or swap one out if it feels right to the flow of the ceremony you are creating. This is a basic structure so we have the comfort of repetition that helps us reach the relaxed altered state of consciousness for getting the most out of a ritual. Within those minimal boundaries, the more creativity and variety, the better. Music always enhances. We do many of our celebrations at the river with the natural sounds of water rushing and birds singing.

Resources. The Solsisters celebrate our oneness with all creation, the reason we often use material from many faiths, paths, and sources of inspiration. When it comes to material, you’d be amazed at what you can find at the Pubic Library, often your library’s online resources. The Internet is one of the richest sources of material for ritual available to humankind. Plug words like ritual and a season name such as spring into Google and see what you get. The more words you try, the more you’ll find. As you do ceremonies over a period of years, your previous ceremonies become part of your resources. Most people barely remember what we did last year. Go back two years, tweak it a little, and you’ve got a brand new ceremony with minimal effort. I keep copies of everything in files that are easy to sort and access: ceremony outlines, different options for calling the directions, prayers, poems, and meditations. You can create a file of your most helpful links online.

Co-creation. The most important ingredient in designing a ceremony is letting Spirit flow through you and with you in its creation. Allow yourself to be “led” from one idea or resource to another. You’ll be amazed at how the ceremony creates itself once you merge into the mental and spiritual place where all things are joined.

It Only Gets Better

Even though I was born on autumn’s doorstep, my big ritual every year goes back to where it all started for the Solsisters—Winter Solstice. I lead this one solo and hold it at my home, including a potluck following the ceremony. I go a bit crazy with creativity on this one because I love the winter holidays and I resonate to the season of love, light, and giving. Our winter solstice always includes a candlelighting ceremony and many surprises. Most of the Solsisters met in our environmental work for the State of California. If you love the earth, you have to love the sky above it.

Honoring the earth/sky interface—and interplay—is part of a philosophy where everything is holy, infused with the gifts of the Creator. I know of no other time when I feel more alive—or luckier to be.


Photo Credit: Lovely Autumn © Шпорт Олександр |Fotolia

For more solstice and equinox inspiration, check out these posts: Autumn EquiKnocks  and Happy Autumn Equinox; Spring: New Beginnings, New Blog; and Summer Solstice – “Let the Sunshine In.”


Eileen Williams said...

Your circle of Solsisters and your celebrations of the earth's journey through the seasons sounds like an unforgettable experience. Taking time to honor our mother planet in all of its seasonal abundance provides an opportunity to focus on spirit, the stars, and the cycles of life.
Thanks for laying out your process so that we can each start our own Solsister circle. Sharing such a celebration would certainly be profound and I'm already thinking of some sol (or soul) sisters I'd like to share it with!

Joyce Mason said...

Eileen, I'm so delighted to know that you're thinking about starting a Solsisters group. Let me know if there's any way I can help!

Sandra Mosley said...

This post is certainly "On Time" for me.

I was recently asked to lead a ritual for the New Moon in Libra at an astrology conference I'll be attending on the 18th.

It's been a while since I've facilitated ritual; your message helped me to relax and trust the process. I especially appreciated the reminders about the ability of ritual to bond, the need to remain flexible, and the importance of interactiveness and group sharing.

Thank you!

Joyce Mason said...

Sandra, how exciting! I'll be thinking of you on the New Moon. I remain in awe of the magic that comes through the ritual creation and delivery process. When we're in synch with natural cycles, we are truly in rhythm with All That Is. After 20 years, I'm convinced that through an open mind and heart, a leader simply channels or "picks up" whatever she needs. Let me know how it goes! Wish I could be there ...

Sandra Mosley said...

Aloha Joyce,

The Libra New Moon ritual was a great success. Had my doubt's about attendance, since it was scheduled to begin at 1:15 am, about 18 minutes before the new moon. I was expecting 6 and prepared for 12; 30 showed up! Pretty amazing, as it was an small conference with barely 60 people in attendance. Good thing I was in the moment and able to adapt (thank you). The chart had Jupiter just above the horizon in the west. Guess I should have know there would be a large attendance. In keeping with the relationship aspect of Libra, used an oracle deck called "Mirror Cards: A Tool For Enhancing Relationships". Because of the hour, my intention was to keep it brief. Instead of the 20 - 30 minute ritual I'd planned, it lasted an hour and 15 minutes. I was "high" for hours afterward and heard the same from many the next day. Wanted to let you know how it went because of the synchronicity of your post and how helpful your information was.

As they say in Hawaiian, mahalo!

Joyce Mason said...

Sandra, your feedback alone makes me so happy I shared about our Solsisters rituals in this post. Wish I could have been there, and that tarot deck you used piques my curiosity! The big middle-night attendance reminds me of a Harmonic Convergence event I attended in '87. Yours had a lovely Jupiter placement. There's nothing like "ritual high." It stokes me for a long time to come, and I think that energy surge is why I've kept doing it for 20+ years.