Each solstice falls upon the ecliptic midway between the equinoxes, when the sun reaches that midway point, generally about June 21 and December 21. Winter Solstice on December 21 is the shortest day of the year. After Winter Solstice each day becomes longer until the longest day of the year arrives around June 21st. The solstices have been observed and celebrated by cultures throughout the world.
A central aspect of the winter solstice rites observed by many Native American tribes includes the making and planting of prayer sticks. Prayer sticks are made by everyone in a family for four days before the solstice. On the day named as the solstice, the prayer sticks are planted – at least one by each person – in small holes dug by the head of the household. Each prayer stick is named for an ancestor or deity.Here’s how to make a prayer stick; they are usually:
- Made out of cedar and are forked;
- Are equivalent to the measurement from the maker’s elbow to the tips of
their fingers; and
- Are taken from a tree that the maker feels connected to.
- Tobacco is offered to the largest tree of the same species in the area and
permission is asked to take a part of its relative.
- The bark can be stripped.
- The bark can be carved on the stick.
- One feather should be added to the prayer stick; traditionally this is a
wild turkey feather.
- A bit of tobacco is placed in a red cloth and tied onto one of the forks.
- Fur or bone from an animal that the maker wishes to honor is tied onto the
- Metal or stones should not be tied to the stick.
- It is also customary to say prayers silently as one makes the prayer stick.
Next: Winter Solstice Project #2
Winter Solstice Project II: Discover Stones
All matter whirls at incredible speed, atoms in constant, breathtaking motion. But the rock people are seemingly still. We are all of us surrounded by the stillness of stone; if you dig in any patch of earth, you are likely to find bits and pieces that are unimaginably old and likely to outlast us by countless lifetimes.
Just as trees may be intuited to have individual spirits and personalities, so the humble rocks beneath our feet may be known and their energies felt in ways that have much to teach us.
Children are inveterate rock collectors, often seeing unique power and beauty in a rock that looks plain and nondescript to us. By seeing with the open inner eyes of our children, we can share their fascination for the magic of stone. And when we surround ourselves with rocks that are special to us, when we take time to hold one in our hands or stroke its weighty smoothness or striation, we make a bodily connection with the oldest matter on this planet and with the element of winter.
Particularly at this often harried time, building a relationship with rocks–allowing them to permeate our consciousness in quiet and stillness–is a great gift of peace for the entire family.
First, find some. This shouldn’t be hard to do, but you may be surprised at the variety of rocks you and your children can come up with, and you may notice that particularly varieties attract some children more than others. Take small trowels or large spoons outdoors with you to help pry things loose. After al of you have brought your finds inside and thawed your numbed fingers, you may want to wash the rocks in warm water to remove loose dirt and bring hem to room temperature.
Now spread them out so everyone can look at them. Pick them up one at a time and really examine them, turning them slowly to savor the complexity or simplicity of their shape and color. Do any rocks remind you of something else? Are there shapes hidden in the stone?
Try this simple exercise: Ask your children to close their eyes and choose a rock at random, and then hold it in their hands without looking. Allow them to sense the rock–does it feel light? dark? heavy? Does it make you feel anything in your body? tingly or slow? energetic or relaxed? Then put the rock aside; choose another and repeat the process, making sure to notice any similarities or differences. Then ask the children to open their eyes. Look at the two rocks and compare them.
Rocks that make your children feel a particular way may be utilized to help relax and ground them, or to energize them when needed. A rock that your child experiences as slow and soothing may be placed near her or his bed to be held before sleep. A small bright-energy stone may be worn in a pouch or carried in a pocket to school.
We have found that keeping special rocks all around the home is a wonderful way to stay balanced and grounded: simply seeing the stones becomes an inner reminder of stillness and serenity.
The stone project is an excerpt from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw.
The stone project is an excerpt from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw. Copyright (c)1995 by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw. Reprinted by permssion of Inner Traditions International.