Ritual & Renewal

We thank our friend Mary Underwood for this lovely guest post. She invites us all to pause, reflect, and listen to the wisdom of nature to see what guidance it has to offer us for the rest of the year to come -- and always.


By Mary Underwood


Over the years I have gathered what I refer to in my mind as a pantheon of wise women. This collective includes many powerful women in my personal life, as well as poets, artists, authors, and seers of all kinds, whose work I have grown to respect over time. While not related to me by blood, I claim these women as spiritual ancestors and keepers of wisdom who I can trust for guidance. Among many others I claim Annie Dillard, Joanna Macy, Nina Simone, Mary Oliver, Pema Chödrön, and Frieda Kahlo. I keep them close around me, guardians of the deep, their books, poems, and paintings stationed throughout my apartment like cairns on a trail.


Four years ago, I happened upon an article by one of my wise women -- author Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, she detailed an annual ritual she had created for herself. I was immediately struck by this concept -- it felt wild and daring. This was something I had never thought to do for myself. It had always seemed that, in order for a ritual to be valid, it had to be handed to me by someone else -- preferably from a large venerable institution. But here was Elizabeth, offering up the chance to create my own ritual, infused with my own personal meaning. Since that time, I have created many of my own ceremonies to honor momentous life events or as a way of sealing commitments to myself. But that first year I decided to borrow Elizabeth’s ritual and try it on for size. It goes like this: each year, on the first morning of the year, you go for a walk outside, preferably in the woods. The first wild animal you see is your totem animal for the year and is meant to teach and guide you. After all, all of our fellow beings have something to teach us, if only we are willing to listen.