This Winter Solstice, I participated in my first Druidic rituals. I didn’t know what to expect when I journeyed to the well-known Cosmic  Center of Lancaster, Pennsylvania to commune with a mysterious pagan cult, which, it turns out, bears a remarkable resemblance to my everyday nephew, Jeff, and his family.

I had some trepidation, not so much because of my Christian sensibilities, but because I doubted I could get up before dawn to greet the sunrise. While I wanted to show respect for my only nephew’s faith tradition, I also like to sleep.

But I’m ahead of myself, as usual.

Not Lancaster, Pennsylvania

GATHERING AT THE TABLE

The rituals began in the early evening of the longest night of the year, with the roasting of a sacrificial offering; in this case, it was peanut butter cookies baked by my grand-niece, Savanah. While we munched the sacrificial cookies (nary a crumb was left for the Gods), we painted symbols on black rocks to be used in the rituals. The Druid princess and artist in residence — otherwise known as Jeff’s new wife, Ali — helped me transform my fingerprint into a mystical golden bear track with the help of a paint-stick from the local craft store.

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God's protective love for everyone and everything  -- betcha didn't see that!

My Rock, with bear paw and symbols of light & hope, Saint Francis (patron saint of ecology), balance & integration, and God’s protective love for everyone and everything — betcha didn’t see that!

While the rock images dried, we partook of a traditional pagan repast.

Spaghetti, followed by mint chocolate chip ice cream.

After the feast, the table was transformed into an altar (although even with the lights off, it still looked suspiciously like a suburban dining room). Ali’s parents and her brother, Jeff and his four kids, and this blogger each explained the symbols they had painted on their rocks, and we sang a nice song about being children of the earth. Ali lit a candle and some incense (to symbolize fire and air, she said) and explained that pine needles (from the earth) and water are natural elements with which we are all connected.

No argument there.

Druidism is a form of Paganism (earth-based religion) that is connected with Celtic traditions, and I am fully aligned with Celtic Christianity, which honors the earth as God’s sacred creation and recognizes that humans are a part of God’s creation and co-creators with God, working to make the world a more loving place.

candle

IN THE BEAR CAVE

The Bear was the theme of the night. Ali told the story of Leto, a goddess from ancient Greek mythology whose dalliance with Zeus resulted in the birth of twins, Apollo and Artemis. The bear is sacred in this story, but I have to admit I have already forgotten why. It seems the protective mother bear goddess does not save us from absent-mindedness; besides, I got all distracted when Ali said that bears will not give birth to cubs unless there is enough food. If Mamma doesn’t put on enough weight before it’s time to hibernate, the embryo will reabsorb instead of implanting itself. How cool is that?

grizzly bear: adult grizzly bear with cubs -- Britannica Online ...

Mama Bear and Cubs
Credit: Britannica Online

But I digress.

Jeff led us in a chant, and while there was a good bit of kid-giggling at first, it slowly subsided as the mellow tones soothed their inner goofballs. Then he led a guided meditation where we ended up in a cave with a bear. It’s OK, though. Nobody got hurt. In fact, my bear morphed into a kind of motherly Jesus, and I felt safe.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

The thing I found most interesting about these rituals is that they mirror almost exactly the rituals that I employ for Christ-centered contemplative prayer services. In our “prayer practices,” as we call them, we use candles, purifying water, different types of soils, and natural elements. I lead guided meditations and visualizations of the natural world. Last Ash Wednesday, I led a chant.

There is nothing new under the sun, as the book of Ecclesiastes says. Humans have been reaching for God in the same ways ever since we became aware of our “disconnected” condition. Except for the humans who have decided there is nothing to reach for and nobody to connect to.

The Christian narrative is different from the Pagan stories, of course, since we believe that the Spirit of Jesus allows us to access the very power of God to transform ourselves and our lives as we become who God intended us to be. Pagans have lots of Gods and Goddesses.

Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit lives and works in everyone, regardless of what we call It, and whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. It’s just that when people intentionally work with the Spirit and are open to “going with the flow,” they will get farther in becoming the unique, whole, healthy humans they were designed to be.

THE LIGHT

After the lights came on and the incense smoke cleared, we all cuddled on the couches and went back to watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas and the whole night felt holy and sacred.

Cropped screenshot of Bing Crosby and Danny Ka...

And yes, I did manage to make my appearance on the morning following solstice, and we stood on a hillside at a local park and serenaded the sunrise.

Just as I trust that the days are now getting longer, I trust that God’s purposes will be accomplished, no matter how we label ourselves or divide ourselves.

The Light will overcome the darkness. That is the Plan, whether the candles are lit by Druids, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

We are all One. We all love, we all grieve, we all long for wholeness and truth. If we reach for God, we will find God reaching for us.

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and may you see the sacred in everyday things like peanut butter cookies, black and white movies, and children’s giggles.

Lancaster Sunrise

Lancaster Sunrise

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