December 21st marks the first day of winter and is the shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks a time of colder months to come. After the Winter Solstice, each day becomes longer until the longest day of the year arrives around June 21st, the summer solstice.
The term solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, meaning ‘the Sun stands still’. This is because, on this day, the Sun reaches its southern-most position as seen from the Earth. The Sun seems to stand still and then reverses its direction. It’s also common to call it the day the Sun turns around.
Long ago, we use to honor this time because we had such a deep spiritual connection to what it meant for us.
Many Native American tribes would observe the winter solstice through rites and rituals that honor our ancestors, beliefs, and is also a way of offering prayer and gratitude.
Traditionally, a prayer stick or paho was made by each family member starting four days before the solstice. Then on the day of the solstice, the head of the household would dig small holes and the members would plant the prayer sticks in the holes. They were then given back to the earth in honor of our ancestors. It was common for family members to all participate in ceremony.
Prayer sticks are most commonly made out of a piece of forked cedar that was equivalent in length from your elbow to your fingertips.
In a respectful way, you would find a tree that you feel a deep connection with then ask it permission and offer tobacco, if you can have this part of it to use for your ceremony. You will know by listening to your intuition whether you are permitted or not. Most often, if done in a respectful way, you will be permitted.
Once permission was granted, you could then begin to personalize and decorate the stick with your medicine.
In Prayer, you would begin to add sacred items to your stick. Some of the most common ways to decorate would be to remove or carve into the bark. You can add a feather, traditionally turkey feathers were used. Tobacco may be placed in a red cloth and tied to the stick. Fur, bones, teeth and other parts of animals can be added depending on the type of prayer or medicine you wish to bring forth into your life.
Happy winter solstice everyone!