I am pleased to announce officially that the new self published edition of the Wheel of Change Tarot is here! Ken and I (mostly Ken, truth be told) have worked on this project on and off throughout 2015 and in late November we received the shipment of boxed decks from China.
It was a wonderful thing to be able to redesign the cards so that the cards conform to my original plan with the "maker's mark" on the backs. This image was originally the 79th card in the Inner Traditions/Destiny Books first edition. Owners of the original will know this is also the colorwheel with flames as seen on the 8 of Wands. I was also able to re-color the borders of the cards, green, yellow, blue, red, gray so that they are all slightly lighter, except the red which I didn't want to appear as pink. The explanation for the choice of color for each suit is explained in the text of the book which will be available in January 2016 in a print-on-demand version.
The new cards are wonderful, easier to shuffle since they are coated and printed on thicker card stock... but the very best thing is that they come in their own perfect little box. It is the box that really makes me happy; no more of those flimsy boxed sets with all the wasteful and useless cardboard.
It is a wonderful time of year to be celebrating this new edition as the Sun is born again at the Solstice and we go into another new year, 2016....
At our house we have an overnight New Years party, beginning in the afternoon and continuing into New Years Day. We started having this party when the Grateful Dead stopped playing on New Years and over the years the party has evolved into a bit of a ritual in which we celebrate a renewal of whatever; commitment, creativity, will, whatever is needed for each of us.
One of the highlights of the evening is the 10 pm Winter Garden Candle lighting ceremony that we have adapted for use from the Waldorf Schools movement. In 2002 I wrote a piece for use by the school my child attended and where I now teach Astronomy in the middle school. The essay was handed out to inquiring parents and older children so that they could understand the symbolism and meaning of the ritual.
Since we walk the spiral outdoors at our new years party we put the candles into mason jars with "stickum" so that the candles will not blow out once lit.
Winter Garden; the Tradition and its Symbols
The celebration of the return of the sun in the dark of the year is one of the most important festivals in cultures all around the northern hemisphere. These festivals are celebrated sometime in December to coincide with the astronomical fact of the sun's standstill at this darkest time of the year - which we call the Winter Solstice (from the Latin 'sol' sun + 'sistere' to stand still.) In the Waldorf schools this time of the year is honored in our hearts in the Winter Garden celebration. In this festival we come together as a community to renew our connections to each other and to symbolically give birth to a new or renewed self that lives in the symbol of the physical renewal of the sun. It is also a celebration in which we mirror the changes of the world around us in an expression of sympathetic magic that allows us to participate in the life of our planet and its cycles as it moves around the sun.
For those of you who have never participated in a Winter Garden Festival, it is a beautiful but simple ritual that honors each child and family and their own connection to the school and community. The room is dark and a large wreath of greens is laid out on the floor in a spiral path. In the spiral there are stumps placed regularly along the path and at the center on the largest stump is a beeswax candle, lit before the ceremony begins. The central point is also decorated with beautiful crystals and fruit - pomegranates and apples, berries and special greens. Each child is given a candle placed in an apple ...she then walks alone to the center of the spiral, lights the candle from the central light and returns, placing the candle on one of the stumps along the path. Through the course of the ritual the entire spiral is slowly illuminated. Watching each child walk the spiral and seeing their faces illuminated in the glowing light of the candle is very special. As you move through the grades you develop close relationships to the parents and children in your child's class. In this moment, watching the class move into and out of the spiral, you are especially aware of each family and of all the bonds that give your child a loving community in which to grow and thrive.
The symbols used in the ritual derive from various celebrations of solstice around the northern hemisphere but the ritual itself seems to be unique to Waldorf schools. To understand the ritual fully it is important to understand the purely astronomical event involved. In its apparent path around us, the sun's position changes subtly every day so that as the sun moves along its daily path from east to west (bringing us night and day) it also moves backwards (west to east) along its path, called the ecliptic, so that each day as it rises it will appear in a slightly different spot along the horizon. On the summer solstice, the sun will rise as far to the north as it gets, so that the sun travels in a large arc over us producing the familiar long days and short nights. In the winter at solstice the sun reaches its most southerly position and it makes a very low arc in our sky - it is the shortest day of the year. From this point outwards our hours of daylight increase eventually bringing us to spring and around again to summer. In visualizing this path over the course of the year one discovers that the sun forms a perfect spiral around us so that the spiral path that the children walk in the Winter Garden is a reflection of the path of the sun through the year - winding in for six months and then out for six more.
In the winter garden spiral the path winds in to the center counterclockwise, or "widdershins", to use the older word. The child symbolically walks the path of the sun over the course of the year and for older children and adults walking the spiral it is a good time to reflect on the passing year. As the child turns from the center with her candle lighted she now walks clockwise ("deosil"), the familiar and comfortable course of the sun every day. This symbolizes the movement into the new day, the birth of the sun from the darkness of winter into the coming light of the year. It is a time to think about what the new year brings.
Although most of us today do not follow these changes very closely and don't understand the astronomical events very well - for the ancients these were the obvious facts of their lives which were by necessity more directly connected to the earth; its tilling and husbandry cycle on which their lives directly depended.
This important time of year was honored in virtually all cultures as a festival of the sun and of the light. In many ancient Mediterranean cultures it was the birthday of their important solar deities. Zeus - the sky and thunder god - was said to have been born in darkest December. Adonis and Tammuz - both gods who embodied the spirit of the living grain whose life was dependent on the sun - were born in December. Mithras the Persian god of the sun was also born on the winter Solstice.
Celebrations in pre-Christian Europe were often based around fire as a symbol of the sun. The Jewish Feast of the Maccabees is also called the Festival of Lights. This festival was instituted in 165 BCE but occurs at the same time as a more ancient Jewish solstice festival which celebrated the birthday of Jehovah. In the more ancient version of the Hanukkah candlestick there were seven candles to represent the seven ancient planets, later there were eight candles surmounted by a pomegranate - the eighth candle stood for the oneness of Jehovah contrasted with the diversity of his works. The Pomegranate was especially sacred as it was the only non-corruptable fruit. Probably the pomegranate bush was the ancient source of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life as well.
Later, Christians took up the tradition of a strong winter solstice celebration and fixed the date of Christ's birthday as the 25th of December, in line with Pagan Festivals of Light. Christmas also is a festival of the lights and traditions of lighting candles are included both in the Advent wreath and in the Christmas Tree (a wholly Pagan custom carried over from Germany). In Waldorf tradition each candle of the advent wreath celebrates one of the four weeks leading up to Christmas and symbolizes the four kingdoms - mineral (earth), plant (fire), animal (water) and human (air).
Advent, like many other Christian festivals, was borrowed from very ancient traditions which seem to originate in the Jewish story of Moses. Moses is born in secret, dressed as a shepherd child and then set out in an ossier (willow) harvest basket to become the son of the Pharaoh. Versions of this story occur in Wales (Taliesin, Llew Llaw) and in Rome (Romulus) as well as other places. The ossier basket becomes a manger in the Christian story and in some stories it is a winnowing sieve. In each place where the myth occurs the advent is a period of weeks of celebration and ritual that lead up to the birth of a sacred King who, with his solar crown and sun related birthday was a stand in for the power and glory of the sun itself.
Today, as in the past, we celebrate the season of darkness with evergreen boughs. The power of the sun to return from its darkness and to live strongly again is magically contained in trees that stay green through the darkness of winter. The evergreen symbolized eternal life and was considered to be a charm against the darkness. Bringing the boughs into the house was a way of bringing certain life and hope of renewal to the family in the darkest and coldest time of the year. In the spiral we use many many branches from evergreen trees to form a hedge which defines the spiral path to the center where the light dwells.
The Winter Garden tradition varies a lot among Waldorf schools. Ours will be a beautiful spiral ofCalifornia native evergreens, including the live oak. At the central candle we will include branches from various non-natives that hold relevance in various traditions connecting them to the winter season.
It is a magical time of year and we hope to inspire the children and their families in this reflection of the pure magic of the dance of the sun and earth. The children will walk the spiral first and then we often have a few candles for parents to walk the spiral. As you walk the spiral path remember: the sun is a symbol of the selfand, as it renews itself this December you also renew your energy - walking alone to the center of the spiral you return to your community with hope, light and energy for the coming year of growth and change.
Copyright 2002 Alexandra Genetti