Here, in the Northern Hemisphere, on June 20th
at 8:32 pm PT, we are at Summer Solstice again.
Eairth* has awoken in flowers and flourishing plants and new leaves. She is bearing fruit and food and warmer days filled with light…
Here we are with the longest day inviting us out into the light, and many of us are still experiencing what I’ve heard called “cave syndrome.”
We are more comfortable inside, or at least, at home.
We have been staying home, sheltering from the pandemic. We have, if we are lucky, had the companionship of animals and family, but most of us have led circumscribed, smaller lives. And now this lack of outer contact feels normal… And safe… And secure.
At my last two Chant & Song evenings, we sang a number of songs about surrounding ourselves with protection. One of them was a prayer I set to music from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of prayers, songs, and incantations from the Scottish Highlands and Islands.**
To save, to shield
To surround the hearth
The house, the household
This eve, this night.
O, this eve, this night,
And every night,
Every single night.
This is a prayer based on a practice from earlier times of smooring the fire for the night so that there will still be coals to ignite in the morning.
To smoor, the woman of the house subdued the flame by dividing the coals into 3 piles, one with the blessing, “the God of Life,” one with “the God of Peace,” and one with “the God of Grace” (the sacred three representing the Trinity). Peat was then placed between each pile and ashes on top with a final blessing, “the God of Light.” ***
You can listen and sing along to my recent version with guitar accompaniment, and to the a capella original with harmony and drum on my Welcome Brigid CD.
We reflected as a group that we need these kinds of rituals in our lives to help us connect with not only the safety around us, but also with the inner hearth-flame. And especially now when leaving the cave can feel threatening, consciously or unconsciously.
I particularly like the image of keeping the hearth-fire lit because of the image of hearth as center of the house and household, which it truly was when this prayer was originally uttered. It kept the house and people within warm, protected, and fed.
I can’t help but see this connection even though the words are not related etymologically.
Keeping the hearth warm keeps the heart warm.
The center of the home is the hearth. The center of the human is the heart.
Our hearts also keep us warm and fed. The heart’s capacity to feel, to love, to connect, to create meaning makes this possible.
Since that evening, I’ve been singing this song when I close and lock up the house overnight, feeling the circle of protection here in our home.
And in the morning, when I travel the same circle, opening up, unlocking, I sing a morning welcoming song.
These rituals provide a gentle holding in my life.
They reinforce a sense of sacred center, sacred hearth and heart, held in reverence and respect.
Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron explains the power of ritual in this quote:
Ritual is about joining vision and practicality, heaven and earth, samsara and nirvana. When things are properly understood, one’s whole life is like a ritual or a ceremony.
Then the gestures of life are mudra [sacred gestures]
and all sounds of life are mantra—sacredness is everywhere…
Someone can have an insight, and rather than it’s being lost,
it can stay alive through ritual.
~ from The Wisdom of No Escape, p. 77
I love that wisdom from earlier times can be passed down in this way—through a prayer of protection. I feel more deeply the connection to those who came before and those who continue to live closely with the land and cook and heat with fire.
So, as we find our way out of our caves into the light this summer, it may be helpful to practice or create for yourself some kind of ritual for protection.
In Celtic lands, the Irish call this a lorica and the Scots Gaelic a caim.**** A simple one is just to hold up an index finger and turn around, drawing a circle around your body. You are creating a circle of protection with you at the center. You could also add a song or prayer or mantra to the turning.
From my study with women’s work teacher, Sara Avant Stover, I also love the practice of feeling myself in my protected heart-cave as I move in the outside world.
Then as you leave your house, you take the gentle holding and flame of your heart-cave-home with you as you move out into the world.
Do you already have rituals of protection?
What might you incorporate into your daily life?
* Earth and Air = Eairth
** Alexander Carmichael, editor