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Burning Away the Darkness: A Winter Solstice Ritual

Winter Solstice seemed like the perfect time… a time to move from darkness to light.

It had been a bad year. Memories of a short and failed marriage lived in my bones, my shoulders hunched from their weight. I’d moved to a new state, knew my emotions would tag along, but I hoped against hope they’d get lost along the way. They didn’t. Some days the repetitive thoughts that circled my brain were almost more than I could bear. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake them. They stalked me around every corner, and every night they slipped into my bed.

I had the idea that if I performed some sort of ritual, it might help me shake my constant companions of anger, worthlessness and despair. The weight. The inability to let go. I needed help. Winter Solstice seemed like the perfect time, the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, the longest night of the year: a time to move from darkness to light.

I didn’t know much about rituals, other than the ones at church and the little prayer I always wrote out and placed in my kids’ suitcases when they went on school trips. I did know that my ritual, whatever it would be, had to have personal meaning. It had to signal a transition, a moving on, to take me out of the darkness into the light. I needed to feel different after it was over.

To begin the process, I took strips of notebook paper and wrote specific feelings I wanted to toss away, feelings that in no way were serving me well. These feelings had held me in the darkness for way too long. I wrote sentences like “I feel blame,” “I don’t feel love” and “I was rejected,” stuck them in my backpack, then headed outdoors.

The water bottle made sloshing sounds in my backpack and the leaves crunched beneath my boots as I entered an area near my home called the Arboretum Woods, part of the Arboretum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. I spotted a fallen tree, long and lean, with heavy brush on one side and immediately knew it would be the place where I’d hold my ceremony. I sat, my back leaning against the fallen tree, opened my pack, turned it upside down and watched the matches, garden spade and slender slips of paper land in the dirt.

I brushed away twigs and brown leaves and dug a small hole with the spade, the water bottle open and ready for dousing. One by one, I picked up the strips of paper and read each one out loud. “I give away feelings of blame,” I began. After I’d read the words, I put the slip of paper in the hole and lit a match, watched the smoke weave its tendrils in the damp, grey air. As I waited for the smoke to dissipate, I imagined the darkness of the thought leaving me, giving room for light. “I give away feelings of rejection,” I continued. As I read and lit each strip and visualized the smoke sending the feeling away, I noticed I felt lighter; I no longer felt trapped in my past. There were eight slips of paper in all and when I finished with the last, I poured water over the ashes, then filled the hole with dirt.

The silence in the woods was the sound of my mind taking in air; I had space to move forward. In connecting with nature’s transitions, I found a framework for change. The ritual of burning had given me the freedom to take responsibility for my life’s direction. My body felt lighter as I walked back home, looking forward to being in the light.

Kimi Hardesty is a writer, essayist and poet. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. Kimi is a lover of nature and exploration and believes wholeheartedly in self-love.
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