Easter: A Time to Weave an Intergenerational Fabric Made of both Sacred and Secular Threads

© Jane A. Simington PhD, 2017

Easter is a time for resurrecting from the old; it is a time to honor the good that has been a part of our past and to consider how we can use that good as fertilizer for the new seeds we will plant during this particular springtime of our lives. Reflecting on the good that has been a part of past Easter celebrations can help decrease the emotional responses we may experience related to any anniversary reactions that might surface as we plan for and participate in Easter celebrations.

Anniversary reactions triggered by this season are reminders of what we once had. The memories that surface surrounding the events of family gatherings and Easter traditions and celebrations can stir emotional responses of loss, ranging from feeling mildly distressed to more extreme reactions including significant mental health and/or medical symptoms.

My life experiences related to anniversary reactions surrounding my own grief have taught me that the best way to manage these symptoms is to spend time in reverie; focusing on the many experiences of joy and happiness I have experienced during the Easter Seasons, both prior to and following my losses. In doing so, I now recognize how my positive memories of childhood Easter celebrations were interwoven into the ways in which I celebrated Easter with my own children and how I now do similarly with my three grandsons in the hope of solidly braiding them to intergenerational ties of goodness.

Celebrations of Easter during my childhood were strongly connected to church feast days, yet my Mother sprinkled her own flavors of mystery and magic on each of our family activities. One of my favorite recalls happened in early life. Mother directed my older sister to bring to her a large kettle for boiling the eggs that we children would all later take part in decorating. My sister was then asked to remove the lid and fill it with water. As she did so, to all of our amazement, out jumped a young rabbit. After capturing the rabbit and freeing it to the outdoors, we children in our excitement were easily convinced that this was the Easter Bunny and that he was hiding in that kettle listening to our Easter celebration plans and deciding how he could be a part of them. Now as an adult I am sure my Father had found the young rabbit when he was doing early spring field work, but the logic of that remains lost within the magical memory I can easily recall.

As a mother I modeled my Mother’s abilities and infused my Easter celebrations with my own touches of beauty and playfulness. One favored memory is how my children splashed onto the remaining snow, the dyes left over from the coloring of their Easter eggs, and how we would then examine the snow, for any Easter shapes the dyes had made on it. Sprinkling our Easter Celebrations with magic has and continues to be a rich part of my Grandparenting. In preparation for each Easter, their Grandfather Bill and I examine our photograph albums of the Easter joys we have witnessed of our grandsons’ experience. One photo that always brings us delight is of our oldest grandson at about three years of age, standing in the box of his Grandfather’s truck, proudly displaying a blue Easter egg he had just discovered there during our outdoor Easter egg hunt.

I believe that by keeping alive and bringing into our present practices those from our past that have brought joy and happiness help us and those who follow behind us to acknowledge the special gifts and traditions of our families. In doing so, we strengthen the awareness of how our family’s particular blend of spirituality is woven together in a fine fabric made of both sacred and secular threads.

Nurturing Seeds of Optimism and Hope

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

As the days became longer and the cold of winter was giving way to the warmth of spring, as a child I could sense the optimism and hope being shared by my parents as they discussed their plans for the seeding of spring crops and gardens. Signs of new life abounded around my farm home and the potential for the gains my family could acquire if that new life was nurtured and properly cared for, while covert, were palpable.

Those childhood days have imprinted correlations in my mind between spring, new beginnings and hope. Our spring celebrations and family meals offered a sacred space for giving thanks and for inward visioning of the promises held for the coming season.

My sacred and treasured childhood memories of the holiness of spring are in many ways comparable to the teachings which since ancient times have surrounded the Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox, because of its association with light and new growth, was in ancient times, also known as Ostara, This title derived from the name of the Celtic Goddess of fertility and springtime. She was celebrated during the Spring Equinox as the balance between darkness and light and as the bringer of increased light. Many other cultures and traditions including Christian, Orthodox and Pagan have also marked this powerful turn of the seasonal wheel with symbolism of resurrection and rebirth.

The sun’s journey throughout the course of the year holds strong symbolism to our own journey. The Spring Equinox is positioned upon a point of balance, with one side of the equinox representing the dark half of the year and our struggles with the dark and death aspects of ourselves. The other side of the equinox represents the light half of the year and our possibilities for rebirth and new beginnings.

Spring is for me a time to celebrate the resurrection of what went beneath the earth at the Winter Solstice, both real and metaphorically; and to joyfully anticipate the new life that is appearing in field and womb. It is a time of new beginnings, of action, of saying goodbye to the old, and of creating sacred spaces to hold the new seeds we plant and, when nurtured and properly cared for, will produce abundant fruit.

Earth teach me, to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me, regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.
~ William Alexander

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Summer has ended and during this week we are in the energy of the Autumnal Equinox. Since ancient times, the Earth’s Peoples have re-enacted rituals to draw in the energies of these days believing that during the equinoxes, the universes are more directly in line; and thus celebrations of gratitude as well as rituals for supplication were more likely to be received and responded to by the heavens. According to NASA, there is indeed a change in geometric activity that takes place during the September Equinox. These changes actually increase the chances, for those of us who live in the higher regions of the Northern Hemisphere, to view the Northern Lights.


No matter how far removed we are from the soil and the smells and colors of this beautiful season, each of us is affected by the movements of the planets; and thus each of us can purposefully harness the energies of these days for our own life shifts. Here are some ways to draw into your own as well as into your groups, the power available to each of us during the Autumnal Equinox. Remember that rituals and ceremony do not have to be observed following any particular tradition or religious ceremony. In my experience, the best outcomes of any ceremony are achieved when they result from actions based on pure intentions that flow from my own Spirit to serve my personal needs and those of my groups.

 

  1. Examine the Balance in Life

This year the official day of the Autumnal Equinox is September 22. On that day the hours of daytime and nighttime are relatively the same. This has long been interpreted to mean that during this short period of time the world is in balance. Metaphorically, we can use this time to determine and re-establish the balance in our own lives.
 

  • Purchase two candles for each person who attends your equinox ceremony. Select one candle for each in a bright autumn color and the other in a dark color. During the celebration each person in turn, lights first the brightly colored candle and speaks of how and in what ways, since the Spring Equinox, they have been able to balance their soulful and personal needs and desires with their commitments to the outside world. The colored candle is then placed on the centre altar and the dark candle is lit. As the dark candle burns the person speaks about what actions are needed during the upcoming dark days and nights, so that the balance that is already achieved can be maintained; and so that there can be, by the Spring Equinox, a celebration of having achieved an even greater balance, between soulful and personal needs and desires, and their commitments to the outside world. The dark candle is then placed on the central altar. When all members have spoken and all the brightly glowing candles are on the centre altar, lead a group prayer in which you honor the balance in the universe; express gratitude for the balance each member has found, and request that each receive whatever they require to achieve the further balance they seek.

 

  1. Make a Wreath
     Invite each person to pick a piece from the bowl that you have previously filled with items representative of nature in autumn. After each person has picked their item, ask each in turn to speak of the significance of that particular piece to them and what drew them to select it; and to then place the item on the empty wreath (which you have earlier either purchased or created from willow, grape vines or birch bows). You will want to have a good quality glue gun available for the purpose of gluing the items to the wreath. Once all of the items are secured to the wreath, place it on the centre altar. Invite members to join hands and form a circle around the altar and then lead a closing prayer of gratefulness for the gifts of the Earth; acknowledging that as we celebrate the gifts of the Earth, we also accept that Her growing time is dying. Pray that each member of your group is able to embrace the dark times ahead as opportunities to be more inner-focused and from that, to place their newly gained strength and renewed purpose in readiness to meet the light of the Spring Equinox.

The Earth grows cold.
The soil lays barren. Six months of dark
Without dark we do not know light.
 Without barrenness we do not know growth.
Without death we do not embrace life
Without sorrow we do not appreciate joy
Great Mother, in your dark time, support me in mine.

Honoring Darkness Prepares Us to Welcome the Returning Light

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. 2015

As the winter solstice approaches we are once again reminded of how the seasonal changes in nature mirror the cyclic rhythms within our own lives. When we pause to examine our interconnections in the web of all existence we acknowledge that times of darkness fall upon every life. As the light fades and cold settles in we recognize that each of us experiences times of darkness and isolation.16426_882031781829415_5278592370910128062_n

As the world around us lies mostly dormant, if we allow ourselves to seize the opportunity, we settle in and re-centre. As we do so we become aware that this time of stillness allows us to amass energy for our next great movement forward. Being thus connected with the seasonal changes in our own lives, as mirrored by the cyclic changes in nature, we bless the darkness knowing that the balancing messages of the Winter Solstice promise that it is always darkest just before daybreak, and that very soon a door will open through which the returning light will stream.

Winter Solstice celebrations are a meaningful way to gather with like-minded friends to honor the spirit of darkness and the spirit of returning light. The following ideas for a Winter Solstice ceremony acknowledge what has been gained from our times of inner darkness so as to find the new seeds to plant during the times when the sun returns to our outer and inner worlds.

Honoring the Darkness
Allow some time at the beginning of the celebration for participants to sit in almost total darkness as a way to allow them to ponder the dark times they have experienced during the past year. After this time of stillness invite them to reflect on and perhaps journal what they have gained from their darkest time/s. The following questions can help in their reflections and in the acknowledgement of the gifts and abilities resulting from that darkness.

1) How has your darkest experience of this year changed your life?
2) What strengths do you now have that you did not have before that experience?
3) How has that experience influenced what you view as important?

Honoring the Light
After each participant has responded to one or more of the reflective questions, pass a jar of seeds. Have each pick two seeds and reflect on the following question:

1) What new seeds are you now able to plant when the sun returns, as a result of having that dark experience?

As each responds, invite that person to light a candle representing the return of light into their inner and outer worlds. As each candle is lit, ponder the increasing brightness each light brings into the darkness.

As a parting gift, you might offer some of the evergreens and pinecones used to decorate your ceremonial centre. A small Rosemary plant can also be a meaningful parting gift since they were known to our ancestors as the “herb of the sun,” and were included in early solstice celebrations. To close your solstice celebration, a prayer of thanksgiving for the cyclic teachings of nature will allow each one present to ponder how year after year, nature generously repeats her cycle.

As a gentle mother, Nature annually reminds us of our interconnections and of our constant potential for renewal and regeneration. As we begin our winter celebrations, many of which are rooted in early solstice ceremonies, may each of us receive the blessings of both the Darkness and the Returning Light.

Autumn Gifts: Lessons of Death and Rebirth

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

The gardens have lost their freshness and here and there along the path red and gold leaves show themselves, like the silver hairs that now appear among my blond ones. The autumnal changes that awaken the cyclic rhythm within my own life cause me to once again reflect on how the shadow of summer’s death turns me inward, tearing away the veil revealing all that is now a part of the past.

autumn leaves

My son died in autumn. He had been in the springtime of his life. I will never see his abilities in their summer or autumn seasons. Watching the gathering of the field grains reminds me of the many years of etching my sorrow into the prairie paths. Walking those same paths today I am able to acknowledge the lessons of death and rebirth revealed in the seasonal changes of nature. I have learned to gratefully appreciate the splendor of the autumn fields, the meadow, and the lake, for their numerous tales of the continuing process of life. Over the years their encouraging whispers of perennial rebirth have reminded me that life goes on despite visible signs of death.

While the awareness of autumnal decline holds a strange mystery which adds to the gravity of my moods, I believe that autumn offers opportunities for life review and reverie that only a backward glance can provide. The season allows us to take advantage of the gifts wedged between summer’s hectic beauty and winter’s harsh decline, and in so doing can make us more able to truly focus on and appreciate the richness of our personal harvest.

Nature as Healer: Reestablishing Sacred Connections

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can
comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking
person with a feeling of humility.”

Albert Einstein

 

Summer is upon us, and for many, this season awakens a yearning to reconnect with the natural world. Deep within us, what is stirred as we watch a thrilling thunderstorm, gaze in awe at a majestic mountain range or marvel at the roar of a great waterfall?

Banff rainbow trees

Early peoples associated their own bodies and their spirituality with the Earth and with naturally occurring events. Carvings and stone monuments remaining in many parts of the world remind us of their beliefs that the Earth was their benevolent Mother; from her womb all life emerged, and into her loving arms all life returned.

Our ancestors believed that the Earth Mother provided places of the in-between where they could more readily connect with the spiritual forces. At these places they conducted sacred ceremonies in an effort to keep Her fully alive and thus ensure their own physical and spiritual survival and growth.

As did our ancestors, Earth people of today acknowledge that many of our most sacred experiences occur during times and spaces that are in-between, spaces such as where the shore meets the ocean, where the grasslands meet the water’s edge, where the mountains meet the sky, and where the prairie meets the forest. The in-between times occur at dawn and at dusk, at the change of nature’s seasons, as well as at the turning points that mark the changes of the seasons in our lives. The in-between times and spaces are sacred times, holy times. An energy surrounds these times that can be built upon and used as a catalyst to heal, for during these times we can be more readily tripped into sacred experiences, ones that help us recognize the sacredness of these spaces and which show us that we do indeed have support and help from the spirit world, and that we do indeed live, work, and play in parallel realities.

During my bleak mornings of grief and my dark days of depression, days when I felt abandoned by everyone and everything even by the universe; during my evenings of soul pain, when I lost all understanding of the God of my childhood and had not yet shaped the God of my now; and during the nights when I felt miserably alone and often somewhat suicidal, a teacher whispered, “Spend time alone gazing at the clouds, walking in the meadows, experiencing the forests, and lingering by the water’s edges. It will renew your spirit and rekindle your desire for life and to be among the living.” Acknowledging her wisdom, I trod many paths to fill the deep need for my soul to reclaim its relationship with the places where human life and the spiritual worlds meld.

As a therapeutic helper, now working with those who have experienced significant grief and trauma, I recognize that their difficult experiences have interfered with their abilities to be grounded in the Earth Mother, leaving them feeling out of balance and disconnected from everyone and everything, even from the Divine and all sources of spiritual help. To help those I work with reestablish their grounding and spiritual connections, I encourage them, once each day and regardless of the season, to get their feet on an outdoor path.

Connecting with the Earth helps us more readily connect with the seasons and the cycles within our own lives: spring, summer, autumn, winter, birth, growth, decline, and death. As we change and grow, the seasons offer constant reminders of the transformational forces all around us.

Becoming more aware of the Earth’s processes and seeing ourselves as part of the whole helps us let go of our need to control life. We are reminded to accept the seasons and changes as a part of the unfolding of the universe within and around us. Just as the fertility and newness of spring have been celebrated for tens of thousands of years we, too, can plant the seeds of newness, the ones we sorted during the days and nights of our long and bitter winters. We, too, can feel our own power as we rise to greet the summer morning’s sun. We, too, can gather the fruits of our harvest as we once again prepare for our quiet times in hibernation. Being thus connected, we are more able to recognize that there are really no beginnings and no endings. Being thus connected, we recognize that, even in death, there is no real separation.