Around this time of the year, we look outward at winter’s beauty and inward to our goals to see where we can begin anew. We seek creativity, the awakening of the spark of life that lies in each of us. As we trudge through days that may seem leaden in their monotony and repetitive motions, we may question where the fire that drives our dreams, our souls, our spiritual lives, and our waking steps.
For each of us, as we lay down our bones each night, we seek the solace in dreams that seem to be reality. Enforced confinement breaks the inertia that sometimes surrounds the tasks of daily life. At some point, we must break free into new ideas, movement, stirrings, and new beginnings.
Just as we celebrate the traditional symbolic reversals of fortune during the season of Saturnalia in December, a time of merriment when servants were fed and served by the masters, we find our needs met through the warmth of the hearth fire, as new ideas that have germinated since the start of winter begin to pop out into the open air.
This year began with a call to break the stereotypes which often impact the public image of the larger Pagan, Heathen, and Polytheist community by being more open and as present as we can be to support the community as a whole. One way to break stereotypes is through the nurturing the spark of life which lies within each of us at this time of year.
For some, creativity and its spark may take on simpler forms. Traditionally, cleaning encourages the removal of what is no longer needed in exchange for the ability to see what remains more clearly. In 2017, the publication of Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter expressed the need to help out family members from future pain through the practice of Döstädning, a practice and philosophy that considers the benefit of sorting what is valuable to leave behind to loved ones while we are still living, as opposed to the all-too-common occurrence of leaving one’s possessions for others to sort after our deaths. Leaving too much behind for loved ones to sort can be a large burden.
The term “death cleaning” can be rather off-putting, as the initial implication is that one needs to be dying or that one has died before this type of practice can be implemented. In fact, what works with this philosophy is that the giving and sorting of items that matter starts long before physical and mental infirmity renders the need to disperse worldly possessions an urgent manner. Regardless of when it is undertaken, the thoughtful choices of what matters in one’s life is a type of creative renewal that brings a spark of life, even as the practice asks for a consideration on some level of one’s own death.
Just as the artist Margareta Magnusson’s work sparked life with a focus on death, Marie Kondo, author of the the suddenly-popular KonMari Method, focuses on the question of whether an item sparks joy. Like many other trends, there are conversations about which one works better. Regardless of the method, we create a new focus and a new vision by removing what is not loved and what is no longer needed in our homes and our lives.
In the cold of winter in the northern hemisphere, we take shelter, perhaps roasting marshmallows or enjoying some special treats with friends and family. We hold the spark in our hearts, our minds, our tentative steps towards goals that we hope will be realized with the first awakenings of spring around the equinox and the furtive blossoming six weeks after that.
For some, awakening the spark of life comes with the the acknowledgement of a new journey: the initiation ritual itself. Perhaps this is the time one begins the path of dedication to a new tradition or continued development and growth in a present tradition. Cleaning out our spiritual home, finding what still works, and seeking the dark spaces that need the light of the hearth fire are parts of the initiatory process.
In working a divination system, such as tarot, there is a period of time after a deck is purchased when one spends time getting to know the deck and what meanings are being said. This may be an enhancement, a deepening of what is printed in the book that comes with the deck. The acts of cleansing the cards with the four elements, carefully wrapping the cards in silk or keeping them in a box or bag, and the act of sleeping with the cards under one’s pillow at night to gain wisdom during the early stages are all parts of a process where one comes out of the darkness of not knowing into the light of awareness.
As new initiates on a path, there is a growing energy and joy at the wonders of new discovery. This reflects the natural world outside where each day presents variations in landscape and weather fluctuations. For example, even in a climate of snowy, harsh winters, no two days are alike. The sun peeking through the snow-laden branches of an evergreen tree at seven in the morning at the start of the month is very different from the the sun’s position later in the month where it reigns just above the trees at the same time of day. Fresh snow falling looks different in the morning than it does in the evening.
Waking up to a layer of six inches of snow outside is itself a type of initiation: we consider what to wear to clear a path for the household and those who walk down the sidewalks. We carefully look at layers of clothing are needed for travel to any destination safely.
The beauty of the snow and its presence can be found when we approach it like children and simply play. Many times, financial responsibilities mean that the spark of initiation may remain in the struggle to drive, walk, bike, or use public transit to get to work and to stay warm while doing so. The luxury of building snow castles, igloos, and snowmen remain in the hands of children who have the day off from school and the parents who are able to be home to play with them.
For others, awakening the spark of life may be in remembering who they are and why they are here in the first place. Death and birth do not stop, regardless of the season; for those in mourning, the spark of life is a both figurative and literal. There is a period after a loss when the world does not seem real, and when a haze or veil rests over the eyes. Words may not carry the same meaning to the mourner; the tendency to move through life one step at a time without a sense of joy may be present for a time. There is a time when speaking of the loss with anyone at all or even a few may be too painful. Silence and absence become treasured companions: to not speak means that facing the pain can be put off a bit longer; to remove one’s presence from past regular evens means that there are fewer reasons to speak to others who might trigger a recollection of the loss.
Regardless of the time of year, the budding of renewed life within is a true awakening of the soul. The loss is never forgotten, nor does the loneliness ever completely go away; however, what reaches up through the cold snows of winter is the reminder that life continues through a re-affirmation of understanding who one’s self and why our personal journeys matter. The journey of mourning is an initiation that tempers the individual. The exit on the other side for the the mourner is an awakening of the spark of life that encourages the start of a new path.
Wherever we find ourselves at this time of year, we must allow winter’s inertia – sometimes known as cabin fever – to drift to the surface. When we acknowledge that something is missing, it is easier to change. It is in trying something different whether it be cleaning, initiation, embrace of winter, or catching the moment when life peeks through mourning that we can gather and truly awaken the spark of life within us.