Sailing to Byzantium: a ritual before setting out

28 11 2006

The journey we are about to embark upon is a winter one, beginning in the heart of the winter season, December 1st . When it reaches it’s conclusion we will have crossed over the turning point of the year, having left behind the winter’s solstice. By then the first snowdrops will already have begun to push their way through the cold earth and show by their very presence that death is not the end. The cold, dark earth of winter is the matrix of new beginnings and new life. This winter wandering will be a soul journey, drawing upon the hushed stillness and peace within which everything in nature is cloaked. Such stillness in our part of the earth calls us also to a time of retreat, silence, meditation and deep contemplation. This is the time to learn to remain quiet and listen, ant to await patiently the gifts of silence that will surely follow, just as the dark days are always followed by light.

To prepare myself for this journey I created the following ritual. Now I invite you to perhaps try some elements of it for yourself and see where they might lead you. Remember too that while our journey begins in winter time, our actual itinerary shall carry us to warmer climes, which will most likely serve to quicken the blood running through our veins and even perhaps to open us to awaken more easily to the gifts of wisdom which such a journey shall surely furnish us with. (Of course, all references to weather reverse for those of you living near Heather! Still a time of quietness and inner reflection is an excellent, even essential, way to begin any new journey but especially any involving soul work.)

Note: I practised this ritual on Monday 27/11 when it was a Pisces moon, which is a good time to work on anything creative, or that requires inspiration. Accessing meditative states happens more easily around Piscean moons, as they mark spacey, dreamy times. What is particularly portentous and apt for our journey is a quote I found from ‘The Moon Lover’ by Dana Gerhardt: ‘’Every Pisces moon, find the rabbit hole that will take you there.’’ Who else but our dear L’Enchanteur can take us to such a magical place?

With this image in mind, let us begin:


This is an exercise to help us become more in touch with the natural world upon which we depend but also a part of which we are. Begin by walking to a place that is relatively open and contains some elements of nature, eg trees, bushes and shrubs, grasses, also perhaps a water element, eg. pond, lake, sea. You don’t have to go any further than your back yard or garden, or alternatively you can hike to your favourite spot. It’s up to you. All that you need to do to complete this part of the ritual is to be outdoors and to have some vista of earth’s natural wonders before you — if all you can access is the sky, well how wonderful is that!

Stand in your chosen spot and feel the pull of gravity beneath your feet. Open yourself to the experience of the earth holding you and grounding you. Feel your deep connection to the earth.

Now close your eyes and listen to all the sounds that surround you, even the sounds of the city. Can you hear the bird song? Feel the air and wind upon your face and skin. Breathe in its coldness and dampness. Now open your eyes and look all around you. Notice the little things…the colour and curl of a fallen and half decayed leaf, the heaviness of the damp soil, the last autumn leaf clinging to the branch, the rustle of the wind as it lightly stirs the bushes. Look up above you and watch the clouds sailing across the sky, notice all the myriad hues and tones that are constantly changing. Drink it all in. Open yourself to hearing the voices of all the unseen dimensions of the universe that surround you. Now focus your attention on a single point. Become aware of all its characteristics, including its deepest essence. Try and hear what it has to say to you. Remain like this for a few moments. Then slowly walk around your space and feel each step you take, holding your foot above the ground for a few seconds before placing it down. Mindfully walk like this for a short time. Cast your eyes about for a small stone, something that you can bring back and place upon your altar as a reminder of the life that exists outdoors. This same stone shall accompany you on your journey and will serve as a grounding element in times of need. Now go back inside to the warmth and comfort of home and prepare to create your altar.


Begin by identifying where you wish to place your altar. Do you have a spot somewhere that you can place your sacred objects upon where they will remain undisturbed? If so you are lucky! My altar is a portable affair, and all my chosen tools are contained in a beautiful box which can then be laid down anywhere I find an empty room to meditate in for a while! We must each adapt any and all ritual work to suit our own personal needs and preferences. In my box is contained all the elements that I have chosen for their resonance with my soul, eg. an altar cloth to lay upon my box, tiny nightlight candles in beautiful glass candle holders, statues of my favourite Madonna images and various Goddess figurines, crystals and stones, incense, and my spiritual journal which is a beautiful gilt edged notebook , pen and colouring pencils.

Having set up your altar, which may be as simple or elaborate as you like, begin by lighting your candles, and taking a few deep, centering breaths.

Now take a small piece of paper and lay it out in front of you. You are going to write down your intention for this particular journey. Take some time to reflect upon what you hope to achieve or perhaps what you pray to allow to enter your soul. Meditate and seek guidance from your Spirit Guides. But perhaps you need to find your Soul Companion first? Spend time contemplatively awaiting Her appearance. Remember they too, whether of human or animal form, will also accompany you on your journey.

Neither of these meditations should be rushed. Sit in your normal meditative posture, and wait. It is rare that an answer fails to appear. The spiritual realm always answers and the responses invariably appear to have the force and energy of inspired images. There is never any doubt in my mind that my answers have come from another dimension.

After meditating write your intention down on a piece of paper, fold it up and place it inside your medicine bag or pouch.

The intention that emerged for me was to remain open to receive all wisdom that comes my way throughout this latest expedition into the deepest realms along the inner spiral, and to learn to carry this attitude of openness, wonder and reverence outward to the world so that the mundane may become sacred. To do this I must needs learn how to live the questions, as Rilke has written.

Having completed the ritual of preparation, the time comes to write out the list of what you plan to bring with you on this journey. My list is short and simple — apart from basic necessities which I will carry in my old rucksack, I shall also take my medicine bag containing my found stone to ground me, my statement of intent, and the various gifts presented by L’Enchanteur. One last thing remains to be done…to call forth my spirit guides and companions to walk with me along the path that awaits.

Now it is time to sleep, perchance to dream, and await the call from L’Enchanteur.


Sailing to Byzantium

26 11 2006


That is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees –

Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats