Featured image: Winter Solstice — for some, just an annual astronomical event; for others, a deeply sacred time of renewal;
photo by by zsv3207, stock.adobe.com.
by Shannon Toye
Winter officially begins on Tuesday, December 21st at 10:59am EST. Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and serves as an advantageous reminder that we have already made it through the darkest days of the year. As we stand present in the darkest day, we are offered the opportunity to plant seeds of intention regarding what it is that we want to birth in the coming season of spring.
The ritual practice I take part in during the turning of every season is to take a personal inventory of habits, people, things that are no longer serving me and writing these out to acknowledge lessons learned or things I simply want to cut out of my life and let go of once and for all. This is done to clear metaphorical space in our own being to make room for the new, to welcome blessings into our life. We can’t put new items on the mantle if the mantle is already full.
I follow the list of releases with a list of intentions that I want to call in. Perhaps this is a new job, home, or relationship. New opportunities or a shift in perspective. This list is something I will reflect on and nourish throughout the winter months, looking for ways to follow through with action steps, asking for guidance and clarity to help guide me as I rest through the cold nights leading to spring.
As part of my traditional Winter Solstice celebration, I gather with friends and family, we write our release/intentions and fill the papers with dried plants from our gardens or things we’ve harvested during the months of abundance. We roll these up like a scroll, tie them with string and gather in a circle around a fire. We call the directions and honor the elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water, — above, below, and within with gratitude and acknowledge how blessed we have been to endure the lessons learned in the darkness. We then toss our intentions into the fire and howl at the moon (whatever phase it happens to be in) and welcome the return of the sun as well as the blessings and opportunities that will bestow us in the coming season.
After this auspicious ceremony, I choose a mantra word or statement that I will use in my morning meditation to anchor me to my spiritual practice and help me focus on birthing my intention into reality. Winter Solstice 2020, I chose the word “adaptation” as this felt like the most fitting thing I would embody as we abandon old ways of being and shift into life mid-Covid.
As a plant medicine practitioner, this mantra led me to an exploration of adaptogens. These are plants that contain properties that support our body systems in adapting to imbalances and help bring us back into states of homeostasis. After being completely enchanted by the film “Fantastic Fungi” I was particularly drawn to fungal adaptogens.
As the wheel turned into 2021 and winter gave way to spring, I observed the most splendid populations of fungi emerge from the snow that I’ve ever witnessed. This continued throughout summer and well into late fall. Massive growths of species I’ve never seen, explosive populations in places I’ve never seen mushrooms growing. It was truly astonishing. My observations and lessons gleaned from the fungi lead me to my mantra for Winter Solstice 2021 that I will nourish and carry into 2022 with inspired excitement.
When the sun sets on Tuesday the 21st, I will claim “community” as my anchor point for the year ahead. Fungi are not independent species, but rather they are part of a vast community that cohabitate together, connected through an extensive web of mycelium that lives just below the surface and envelopes the entire planet.
This mycelium network is the web of communication utilized by all plants, trees and microbes. It is the means through which the web of life is able to pass along information, and the network that informs the plant kingdom of adaptations necessary to endure current conditions.
You will never find oak trees debating pine trees in the forest. You won’t observe “Maple Trees Matter” signs displayed in a meadow because plants understand and thrive in their interdependence and cohabitation. They communicate with ease and flow. These communities are woven together by roots and tendril threads of mycelium, constantly sending each other chemical signals and navigating the ebb and flow of life with vitality. May humanity strive to become a thriving community of interdependence and cohabitation, eschewing hierarchy in favor of vitality for all beings.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from the fungi is their primary function as decomposers. Fungi can “eat” plastic, toxic waste, essentially anything in their path is consumed and turned into nourishment for other beings. This can be observed in the consumption of fungi as well. They enter our bodies and remove undigested food and toxic substances, restoring the microbiome of our digestive tract. They can clear out energetic sludge and mental clutter, creating new neural pathways in our brain. Cancer cells and tumors are decomposed and broken down, allowing the immune system to heal at accelerated levels that are only now being observed and understood by science as an immensely portentous field of possibility. Quite simply: “fungi is the future.” — Paul Stamets
If we collectively set the intention to be present with the notion of community, we can look at this as a welcome invitation: “come unity.” In doing so, we agree to abandon practices and systems that keep us divided and separate and instead embark upon the task of unifying for the sole purpose of thriving. Every system is broken. Healthcare, politics, education, finance- there is not a thriving system in site.
From this awareness, we can choose to embrace the doom and gloom and continue investing time and resources into these dying systems, or we can abandon the sinking ship and bravely embark upon unification. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”- Buckminster Fuller
This Winter Solstice, I implore you to be present with the invitation to create community in your life. How can you honor the communities that reside within your own body? What ways can you be more nourishing to those communities through more mindful awareness of the things you are consuming? How can you be more present in the community in which you live? Where can we all be more active in the global community?
Any new exploration of habit or routine always begins with gratitude. Let me transition you to a moment of mindful practice that begins with self and ripples out to encompass all beings that share this planet with us.
Thank you to my body, and all the communities of cells that allow me to function and thrive.
Thank you to my home, and the community of things that make up my personal sanctuary.
Thank you to my neighbors and the community of humans that coexist with me in this beautiful place we call home. Thank you to people working the front lines of this pandemic. To the humans in jobs of service, making food, teaching children, coaching sports,keeping humanity safe and contributing time and labor to every single job that meets a human need.
Thank you to the people who challenge me and help me see life through new eyes and perspectives.
Thank you to the humans I will never meet, but who’s stories touch my heart and inspire me to strive for something better.
Thank you for the invisible thread that binds us all. And as we courageously unravel the collective human story, recognizing the ways in which this fabric is being woven into something new, capable of including everyone, acknowledging every thread as necessary, valued and welcome. Come, unity, join us together in community, that we may thrive and live each day in the present, as the gift that it is.
I invite you also to enjoy the following recipe, as part of your Winter Solstice celebration or throughout the dark months ahead. These plants are anti-viral, adaptogenic and nourishing to the body, mind and soul. May the winter months be filled with rest, rejuvenation, inspiration and good health.
Winter Solstice Come Unity Tea
1/4C Dried Elderberries
1 cinnamon stick
1T grated ginger root
3 whole cloves
¼ tsp cardamom
Pinch of black pepper
1T powdered/dried fungi of your choice (chaga, turkey tail, lion’s mane, etc)
Add all the ingredients to a pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and sweeten as desired. Invite community into your life as you sip!
You can wild harvest fungi if that’s something you’re comfortable with or support the good people in your local community who sell such things! Wild Soul River and Cinnamon Girl Botanicals are exceptional resources in Northern Berkshire County. Likewise, support your local beekeepers and maple syrup producers by purchasing locally produced sweeteners.
I’ll just keep it simple-
Shannon Toye is an herbalist, Munay-ki practitioner, a life-long student of Earth Magick and mother of two extraordinary humans. She is currently day-dreaming about creating an intentional community in Alaska while building local community through the Anahata Schoolhouse in Adams, Massachusetts.