Realms of the Soul – Solstice -June 2019

Journal Entry June 14, 2019 “I picked up the bell we placed in the Realm tonight, (noticed as I held it – for some reason – not only the rust and dents on the bell, but the wrinkles and sunspots on my hand,) shut my eyes and from within the bell’s sound, that day came back, that memory of Kathy and Jim and Pat ahead of me on the trail. Ahead of them lay the traced outline of the Alps against the color of the sky and that inn on the side of the mountain and the taste of the thick bread and sausage sandwich I had for lunch. The memory of the wildflowers spilling down the hills and over the edges of the rocks rolled out of the second ringing of the bell as did the sheep – hundreds of them – walking in a serpentine line up the hill and creating music with their plaintive calls, the noise of their hooves against the ground, and the soft clanking of the bells on the collars around their necks. And – (Kathy always tells me I have trouble letting go of things,) – the loss that day of my all time favorite t-shirt. Damn. Still, think I left it on a rock outside the tiny church we came across. I picked up the bell from the tray tonight, closed my eyes and breathing in the smell of orange blossoms and the smoky scent of pine – the day came back – it all came back.”

The sun is heading towards its highest point in the sky – the summer solstice.  Like the winter solstice, “Midsummer,” this year on June 21st, has been celebrated throughout history with ceremonies and rituals. The summer solstice – like its winter counterpart – became the inspiration for legends, their primary stories depicting struggles between the seasons of fertility and rest.  The enduring legends involve the battle between the “Oak King” and the “Holly King,” two rulers of one being who fought for supremacy as the year turned on its seasons.

This month’s Realm of the Soul acknowledges the mythology and potential of the solstice and the energy that exists in the precise balance between the light of summer and the darkness of winter.  It also acknowledges and honors memories that Kathy and I associate with the season and the hopes we have that some of its references may resonate and encourage you to make an object gathering of your own.

In our Realm’s case, the solstice brought the opportunity of engaging a brass sun-symbol that has spent over a quarter of a century on an outside wall of our house. The sun disk overlooks the darkest part of our yard. We’ve also included in this month’s Realm, a small profile of the Oak King that has hung just above a counter in a bathroom for nearly as long as the sun disk has brightened a shadowed portion of our yard.

Like any object that at one time had meaning and has since lounged around in one place or on a wall for so long that it has become barely noticed; once given a new place of honor, the object’s initial specialness and meaning is returned. You will then find that once the object’s original importance has been restored that it will be resistant to going unnoticed after it resumes its former position on a shelf or a table, or a wall in shadows of your yard, or placed once again to watch over the washing of hands.

This month’s Realm acknowledges the relationship that exists between light and darkness by using objects whose colors span from blackness to the brilliance of yellow; our black tray and vase serving as transitions from darkness to colors of the sun and the rainbow hues found in an abalone shell. The sunflower arrangement – with its inclusion of black feathers –  represents the interrelationship between the night and the day.

Burning in the vibrant colors of the abalone shell – an ocean vessel long used in smudging ceremonies because of its beauty and ability to safely catch ashes – is a stick of Palo Santo wood, a wood considered sacred and as a source of healing in some cultures. Palo Santo wood, when smoldering, emits hints of the scents of pine, mint, and lemon. Research carefully to be certain – as you should also do when purchasing abalone shells and any product used in ceremonies – that the wood or object purchased comes from companies who employ only eco-friendly and sustainable practices.

Feathers are used in ceremonies to fan incense sticks and smudging bundles and sticks. Black feathers – in addition to representing the darkness along side the light in our Realm – have traditionally been used as symbols of protection against negative energy and as transitory symbols of moving positively away from a dark situation and into one that is better for the spirit.  I have read that many cultures have believed that black feathers are dropped by angel-like beings in order that they be found as protective and spiritually uplifting objects for the specific finder. 

The sunflowers came from Trader Joes; the sun disk came from friends. It arrived as a housewarming gift twenty-seven years ago along with a card we’ve kept that reads: “We wish more sunlight in your lives than darkness; more love in your lives than moments of doubt.”  The face of the Oak King, or Green Man as he is sometimes called, is one of two we have at our house, their profiles always reminding us of the potential of another year, another spring.

Our orange tree blooms every June. Any flower could be used in a Realm or on an altar to celebrate the summer solstice, but we like to bring in sprigs of orange blossoms from the little tree. We brought the tree home in our car eight years ago from a trip to Arizona to see our youngest daughter.  From the tree’s blossoms, nearly a dozen oranges grow every year and in January, in the warmth of the greenhouse, we pick the oranges and eat them over a period of winter weeks. Both the blossoms and the oranges always remind us of the special road trip we took after a very challenging period in our lives and of the trips we used to take to visit our daughter. You can easily grow an orange tree if you bring it into the house and place it by a bright window over the winter.

A chunk of Orange Calcite is believed to encourage a sense of playfulness and creativity.  It is also thought to keep energy moving and to be a source of inspiration.  Its planet symbol is the sun. I keep my piece of calcite on my drafting table beside my drawing pads and it makes me think about summer in the winter, the patient body of a seated lion, and because it constantly reminds me of a Creamsicle.

Turkey feathers are widely and historically used in smudging ceremonies and by some are thought to represent the abundance and the wildness of the Earth; earth that man, though he tries, can never control. I found this little feather during a backpacking trip in the Sierra’s. It may not really be a turkey feather, but for the benefit of our need to believe that some of our truths may be really true in the face of being told every day that almost everything is “fake,” Kathy and I have decided that it truly is a turkey feather – and the smoke probably doesn’t care.

The rusty sheep bell is a souvenir we found at an open-air market in Switzerland just around the time of a summer solstice thirty years ago. We had just been hiking the day before and had encountered a symphony being played by the baaing voices and tinkling collar bells of several hundred sheep. They were walking up the side of a hill and along a trail which was encased in an avalanche of wild flowers.

The bell, the rock, the shell, the feathers, the sun, the flowers, the dark, the light – all such everyday things and symbols – once gathered together from around our houses and from our histories – become more powerful in the Realms of reflection and the altars of personal intention.  Realms of the Soul, “altars,” and “shrines” – done not for deities themselves, but rather for our own learning and the sharing of the stories that lie within our hearts – have the power to change not only our own lives but the lives of the people around us. The real Realms, the real altars and the shine you make are you. So have fun; be playful and learn and grow from your own process – your own stories.

It’s near the summer solstice,- a time of Litha as some call it, (Litha meaning, “light, revelation, and insight”).

Go find stuff; sort through a drawer, look across your shelves, pick some flowers, add some incense – a candle and some lights perhaps – and once you have gathered things important to you into a statement, an intention, welcome the longest day of the year into your life. Stand back and while being conscious of your breath, become reacquainted with your own story – reminding yourself and the universe of who you are and where you have been – and most importantly, to where you are traveling.

Light – Darkness – Memories. Wrinkles. Sunspots. Time. Thank you for all of that.