My dark eyes look to the night
in the hope of dawn to come.
What do you hope for,
you who take day as your father and mother,
when day is done?
The turning of the year is a traditional time to make New Year resolutions. Ideally, we reflect mindfully on the year that is passing and think ahead to how we would like the next year to evolve – what we would like to do and achieve, what we would like to change about ourselves and the world around us. Most of these resolutions will fade quickly from memory, but one way to help fix them in our psyches is to create a ritual around New Year to reflect on the year – the successes and failures, the pains and joys, to resolve to treasure the good things and to let go of those that are best forgotten, and to find new ways forward. Some painful memories we want to keep – the memories of loved ones who have passed away for example – but others we do not need. The cycle of the seasons that we celebrate as Pagans teaches us the reality of the universe – that all is impermanence. The past no longer exists except in our memories. If we have courage, we can let go of that which we no longer need.
Finding the point at the centre
Where does this courage come from? Often we are not courageous. Many of the world’s problems are born of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of who or what is different from what we know. Difference is challenging. It represents the void between how we would like things to be and how they actually are. We react to fear in many different ways. Sometimes we run, sometimes we attack. Sometimes the strategy we choose is right. Sometimes it is born of instinct and habit and leads us astray and into being so much less than we have the potential to be. When life becomes difficult, we need to draw on all our spiritual and magickal experience to help us to stand at the centre of the opposing forces that pull us in one direction or another, to be that still point within the centre of the circle at which we can find calm and peace and the ability to choose. The ability to choose is what makes us human – conscious beings capable of acts of will.
The turn of the year is a time for celebration. It is also a time when we can feel most desolate if all is not well in our lives. If the bells are ringing and the fireworks exploding with seasonal joy and this is not how we feel, then the gap between reality and expectation can be painfully intense. Most times we can find the will to go on and to look for brighter days to come, but all of us have times when life seems overwhelming. Fears, griefs, and disappointments invade us. Instead of standing at the centre of the circle, harnessing opposing forces, we can find ourselves overwhelmed – lying prostrate, unable to face what is around us and unable to make the choices and decisions that we need. What can we turn to for help? What is it in Paganism that can give us something to hold onto?
Turning to the Mighty Ones
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone,
for the heroes of all time have gone before us:
the labyrinth is thoroughly known;
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination,
we shall find a god;
where we had thought to travel outward,
we shall come to the center of our own existence,
and where we had thought to be alone,
we shall be with all the world.
–Joseph Campbell (with Bill Moyers). The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1988, p.151.
In some spiritual traditions, in times of trouble people turn to a patron deity with whom they have a personal relationship. We may have a relationship with a Goddess or God whom we serve as priestess or priest. When the shadows grow long, we can turn to our patron deity to ask for assistance. But many of us as Pagans have a more distant relationship with deity. If our primary orientation is to Gaia, or to the consciousness of the universe, we may not feel that that the Divine is so concerned about our personal problems. Overwhelming though they may be to us, in our heart of hearts we know they are pretty trivial in the greater scheme of things. In fact, reminding ourselves of this may be all that it takes to come to the realization that maybe we can take control of our life and make the decisions that we need to go forward.
If we do not have an intimate and personal relationship with a deity, this does not leave us spiritually isolated and alone. There are forces in the universe that are closer to us than the consciousness that moves the universe – and I don’t mean angels or demons. Many of us honor spiritual ancestors, or Mighty Ones, human beings who pioneered the path that we now seek to create. No one’s path is exactly the same as another’s, but the innovators who have helped create the post-Christian Paganism that we practice today have left us maps of the territory that we are seeking to navigate.
Our spiritual antecedents are not saints
At Samhain as the veil between the worlds grows thin, we often invite the Mighty Ones to join us, but we do not need to ignore them at other times. Those who have stepped out of the body do not necessarily forget this world and leave it behind. Many stay close to it, concerned for its fate. They often draw close to us when we meditate and when we do our rituals. They have love and concern for those who follow.
Ritual activities are ways of harnessing energies. These can be the energies of the people in the ritual space, but also the energies of times and seasonal tides. At this season when so many are turned towards the renewal of the year, it is a good time to harness the tide of renewal in our lives. If we stand within our circle or ritual space and ask for the guidance of the ancestors at New Year, this can be the ideal preparation for divination to help us see the way forward for whatever we need to do in the year to come.
Paganism is an earth tradition, and if we are grounded, we will remain realistic enough to know that human beings are never perfect when alive and that being dead doesn’t suddenly make them all-wise. The Mighty Ones may not be all-knowing but, when we step out of the body and into the timeless realm of death, we come to a state of being where past, present and future are equally ‘now’. If we invite the Mighty Ones to draw close, to advise and to guide us about any problems we face, they can prompt us with those helpful hints of synchronicity that make us notice insights, avenues, opportunities, connections, that otherwise we might not notice. They can help us come to the place at the centre where all the potential we have within us lies latent, to reconnect with the hidden sun child and solar hero within us, and to make ready once more to face and embrace the world and the year to come.