The gifts of Winter may be difficult to embrace since this season can also include illness, severe cold, hardship and a descent into darkness, not only with longer nights and shorter daylight, but also with a descent into the hidden shadowy places of the psyche. The superficial glitz of the holidays that drives people into shopping and parties distracts us from Winter’s deeper purpose and the profound opportunity it provides for an inner contemplative retreat. For me, the qualities of Winter include purification, patience and perseverance, along with bringing to light what we might find in our inner darkness.

Just as the energies of nature have withdrawn underground to nourish the roots of the green world in snowy lands, so we are beckoned to go within for deep rest, reflection and renewal. If we wish to follow nature’s flow, the time period of the four Advents, the Solstice, and the Twelve Holy Nights that begin at Christmas offer a framework for undertaking a meditative journey of rebirth and a symbolic re-emergence on Epiphany of January 6. This is an ancient practice drawn from the Western Esoteric Tradition and is one that I find enables us to deeply benefit from this peak spiritual time of year.

Without having a clear framework to follow, we may feel adrift, depressed or anxious and subject to the materialistic manipulations of our capitalistic culture that is outwardly focused. So what then does this rite of passage entail?

We begin with Advent which means  ‘await and prepare.’ The four progressive Advents start the Sunday after Thanksgiving and end just before Christmas, with each one honoring different aspects of our being— the body,  emotions, mind and soul. You can bless each one by lighting a candle and creating a ritual of your own design. Marking this as a sacred time period sets it apart from the ordinary flow of days and heightens our awareness of these aspects. In the exoteric Christian tradition, each Advent prepares the practitioner for the arrival of the Christ spirit or esoterically, for the renewed spiritual power held by the Winter Solstice. I like including both.