A Day in a Life: Of Witches & Pyres

Is it really spring? The last vestiges of the old season will soon melt away... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Is it really spring?
The last vestiges of the old season
will soon melt away…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

I lived in Sweden in the 1970s. One day there was a knock at the apartment door. I answered it and saw three little girls standing there.

Dressed in long skirts, with kerchiefs around their heads and brightly painted red cheeks, they held out copper kettles, singing something indecipherable in lilting voices. It looked a lot like Halloween to me, but it was Pink Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

Luckily, I was baking cookies for the guests who would be arriving the next day. I couldn’t speak Swedish very well at the time, so I held up a finger—wait a sec—and went into the kitchen to grab a handful of warm chocolate chip cookies, a rarity in Sweden at the time. (I’d had the chocolate chips sent to me by my parents as they were not available there.)

“Kakor?” I asked, reappearing with cookies in hand.

“Ja!” they replied, quite happily.

Grabbing the cookies they gobbled them down, making pleasing sounds while I smiled at them and nodded, saying, “Ja, ja,” or something like that. We waved goodbye as they turned to knock on my neighbor’s door. I shut the door and ran back into the kitchen, just in time to rescue the next batch of cookies from being burned in the oven.

Those little girls were enacting a tradition, playing the witches who supposedly cavorted with the devil on that day; all part of the springtime rituals, I was to learn. Usually coins were placed in the tea kettles but, as I told my husband, those little girls didn’t mind the cookies at all!

A few weeks later, at the end of April, another spring ritual was enacted. We’d traveled to spend a few days with my in-laws at their summer house on the West coast of Sweden. A bonfire ensued, the natural consequences of doing winter cleanup of the yard, but this too had significance. It was Walpurgis Night, the annual ritual to greet spring’s arrival. Many bonfires were lit that night along the coast, songs were sung and a lot of alcohol, another part of the tradition, was consumed.

It was the first time I was being exposed to ancient traditions outside of those of my Catholic upbringing. I found them intriguing. It was an eyeopener that nature itself was not only leading the way, but was actually being celebrated as the most significant guide in breaking through to new life. It made perfect sense to me, but I’d never encountered it before. Everyone knew the ritual, and everyone participated. Without judgment, it was a tradition that just was, nature allowed its place in a celebratory, honest, and most practical manner. As that Walpurgis Night fire burned, the ritual of the witches cavorting with Satan made perfect sense too. All of a sudden, I understood that nature was a real and powerful ally and entity, and it needed to be paid attention to, honored, and reckoned with.

Light the ritual pyre... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Light the ritual pyre…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

I’m ready for my own bonfire now. It’s been on my mind that we should have a fire soon in our outdoor pit. The idea has been stirring for weeks, as we’ve waited for the snow to melt so that we could actually see the fire pit! It’s time to intentionally enact the ancient ritual of shedding and burning that which we no longer need. It’s time to begin anew.

Last night I dreamed. My skin was cracking and peeling away. Not like skin that has been sunburned and peels in thin layers. No, this skin was about an inch or two thick. It was old crusty skin. I knew, as I dreamed, that it symbolized that which is no longer necessary, a protective layer that no longer has any use. I was wearing it for no good reason, only out of habit. Beneath the thick old skin lies new pink skin, the tender, innocent and true self. It’s time to fully expose her, to let her live all the time, not just when it feels safe or appropriate, because I suddenly understood that it is always appropriate to live from the tender and real self.

My dream reminded me of a dream I’d had when doing my recapitulation. At that time I’d dreamed of removing a layer of the same kind of thick crusty skin from the soles of my feet. I still cringe as I recall peeling it off only to find beautiful pink soles underneath. In that dream, I put the crusty soles back on because I still had a lot of recapitulation work to do. But it was enough to know what lay in store for me, the innocent and pure self revealed by those tender pink soles. I wasn’t ready at the time to do more than hold the secret of this true self, but last night’s dream tells me that I’m more than ready now. I’ve been walking on the soles of that tender self for a long time now, but as my dream tells me, it’s time to shed everything else I’ve used to keep her protected and let her fully live!

And so, in celebration of spring, I intend to shed the trappings and ideas of an old self. I intend to set upon the altar that which is no longer necessary or desirable. In lighting the pyre, I intend to sacrifice that which oppresses and keeps me from experiencing my fuller self, all the thoughts and ideas that no longer belong in my life. I also set the intent to no longer hide the pure tender soul of who I am. I will be burning that crusty old coat of skin that I no longer need to wear!

In the melting away of the last coating of ice and snow... the true beauty, struggling to fully live... is revealed... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
In the melting away of the last coating of ice and snow…
the true beauty, struggling to fully live…
is revealed…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

I will allow nature to be my guide, both through this ritual burning and in the next steps. I have no idea where I’m going, but in this shedding and burning process I declare that I am open, willing, and ready for new life.

We’ve all come so far in our lives and in our work. Let us not be held back. Let us light the fire on the altar and raise a glass to nature and to spring, to renewal of the true self, and many happy new beginnings.

As I light the fire and raise a glass to spring, I hope you will too,

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