Updated: Feb 6, 2022
a practice and a ritual
if you ask me, today is a pretty sweet spot. smack dab in the heart of the winter holidays, we're halfway between yule/winter solstice and new years day, we're beginning kwanzaa and celebrating zarathustra diso, and we're still aglow from hannukah and christmas. those of us who are northern hemispherians (hemipudlians?) are working hard, in our own ways and through our own traditions, to hold the dark in peace and call back the light in trust. beginnings are ending, and endings are beginning.
for me, it means that i've just rearranged my altar to reflect what i want to call into being for the next 1/8th turn of the wheel of the year, the time between yule and imbolc. not because items in space have any inherent and universal magical power (in my own spiritual understanding, anyhow, which will differ from yours). rather, my altars have more of a noetic function, a transformational capability that's more inside-out than outside-in, if you will. created and assembled with intention, this set of symbols will remind both my conscious and unconscious mind, whenever i glance at it, what i want for myself and what i want to call into being for the next few weeks. that visual reinforcement, each time i pass by, will actually cause me to move towards decisions and opportunities in my life, both macro and micro, that will help me to make what i want to have happen happen. as hokey as they might seem to some, it's the reason why vision boards can be helpful. we're using our own deep psychology to steer us towards what we want.
caveat break: these micro movements that we can steer into our own lives are always happening within systems of privilege and oppression. anyone who tells you that you're in complete control of your life and can have anything if you only want it and work for it hard enough is likely either selling you something or completely oblivious to their own privilege within a deeply colonialist, racist, classist, sexist, misogynistic, ableist, cis/het-normative system. we're talking baby steps here, and our intentions, no matter how spiritual, are also either boosted up or weighted down by our histories and identities. regardless, it's essential to have them. now back to the fun stuff...
the practice: create a an altar
an altar, a vision board, a pretty-shelf-of-great-import, a focus spot. call it whatever you want. you're gonna make one. first, i'd like you to think about what you want for the coming span of time of your choosing (month, season, year...). close your eyes and meditate on it, bullet journal about it, or free-write on it--doesn't matter. what do you want more of? balance? transformation? stability? connection? security to cover utility bills without a late payment? really zero-in on what floats to the top for you, just right now. what do you want and how do you get there (or closer to there).
next, choose a place in your home that you frequently pass and that catches your eye. it can be the entire top of a piece of furniture (my style) or one modest little cubby or corner of a shelf. it matters not--go with your gut. clean it off with the intention that it will hold your focus and desires for yourself for the next month/year/quarter. make your space.
now take a wander around your house and/or (even better!) outside, and gather up some things that in any sort of way represent that goal to you. as an example, on january 1, 2020, i chose transformation for my entire year, and i draped a tiny little shed snakeskin across my altar. (note: be careful what you wish for--four months later i was screeeeeeaming "ok, ok, less transformation!", though i can't rule out that the snake hadn't thought the same.)
assemble your gathered objects on your altar, and if you have one, consider lighting a candle (little tea lights are an altar staple at my house). every time you pass this space, you'll think about the intention you set. the hope there is that you're reminding your conscious and subconscious mind to gravitate toward large and small decisions that will help you bring it all about. it's like studying for a test, but in a personal growth sort of way. decide how long that will be your altar, and change it up when that time is over. alternately, you can just wing it and build a new altar when the spirit moves you.
the ritual: find and honor your new years "keep going" or "yes, and..."
when i think back on the younger parts of my life as a sequential set of new years resolutions, i cringe a bit. "stop doing X", "be less X", "get rid of X". for me, it has almost always included "and lose weight!". so negative and disaffirming, this yearly need to be less and less! my challenge to all of us this year, myself included (because, boy oh boy, i don't have it figured out either) is to throw the idea of the resolution into the trash. don't be less. what would this year look like if you:
identified something you're doing really well and are proud of and want to keep doing? or
accepted yourself as the non-negotiable framework (no excisions, no removals, no less), and just built on by adding something?
for me, doing the first might mean setting a new years intention (which can be identical or separate from my altar focus) to keep writing regularly. not a new thing--i'm already doing it, it's good, and i want to keep doing it. the second might mean, instead of "less comfort food", i say "more dark leafy greens". not a taking-away--a "yes, and...". mmmm. mac and cheese with broccoli.
take your new years "keep going" or your new years "yes, and...", write it down, and find something meaningful to do with it. put it in your wallet. roll it up like a scroll and add it to your altar. when i want to be fancy, i write it on a bay leaf and burn it in a shell (fair warning--they go up like crazy, so be ready!)
i tend to keep my intentions and focuses personal (speaking them to others makes me feel more pressured to "prove" i'm doing it--silly, i know), but if you'd like to or would feel supported by it, share your intentions or a photo of your altar in the comments below. and in the mean time, savor the dark, celebrate the light, and happy all-of-the-winter-holidays!
be well, keep growing, keep going.
abby hall luca
the hearth chaplain