As we walk through the forest and feel the old year dying around us we can look down and see the seeds of the year to come nestling among the fallen leaves. All must die, but in the heart of death we find life waiting.
A tree that the Celts associated with this time was the elder and the honouring of the elder within ourselves is a beautiful ritual that we share at this time. Working outdoors in a group we decorate a chair with elder. Then we find or make gifts for the others, to represent qualities that we wish to honour in each of them. One by one, we sit in the chair and the robe of the elder is placed upon our shoulders. The others in the group honour us with their gifts and then we are asked to own the qualities that we respect in ourselves.
Regardless of our age we are all elders of our own lives and of the cycle that is closing now. Our elder hood comes not from what we have done but from what we have felt, from the lessons that life has taught us and continues to teach us. In this respect even a child can honour the elder within themselves.
Others too. Honouring is a gift that we can give to even the most dishonoured. In a world that respects only achievement there are many that live with a perpetual sense of shame, disempowerment and failure. But regardless of whether we live in prison, in a mental hospital, in a night shelter or in a care home, we too are eating from the Tree of life and can honour the lessons that we have learned. We too can be honoured by others for the feeling qualities that they see in us. We too can accept the robe of the elder.
Ian Siddons Heginworth is an environmental arts therapist, founder of the Devon-based Wild Things community programme and author of Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life, Spirit’s Rest Books. www.environmentalartstherapy.co.uk