wisdom

Stoke Your Agni, and Celebrate Your Inner Radiance.

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus

The winter season is a time for reflection and introspection. This time of year gives us a chance to slow down and prepare ourselves for a new beginning. It is a time to allow our inner radiance to shine like a candle in the darkness, reminding us that there will be light again when spring arrives. It is a time to celebrate our inner light. 

Each December, the Northern Hemisphere reaches a critical juncture — the winter solstice, the day upon which the hours of daylight are at their least​. In the old almanacs, the winter solstice or Yule was symbolized by a wheel, The Great Wheel of the Zodiac, The Wheel of Life, representing a turning of the year.

Pagan traditions describe this time as the turning point at which the Goddess once again becomes the Great Mother, and gives birth to the new Sun King — a symbolic reminder that we too can give birth to new beginnings, new hope, and a new dawn. 

“How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its being, otherwise we all remain too frightened.” ~ Hafiz

Regardless of the short days, and cold dark nights, we can notice and appreciate the light that is still flickering around us and inside ourselves. According to ancient Indian texts, each of us possesses an inner sun — our solar plexus (Manipura), one of the seven chakras or energy centers within the body.

Located in the area around the digestive system, your solar plexus can be thought of as a personal furnace, creating nutrients from the food you eat, and sending those nutrients to replenish the cells around your body. 

In Ayurveda, this digestive furnace is also called the Agni, which is Sanskrit for fire and connotes the Vedic fire god of Hinduism — he is regarded as the friend and protector of humanity, and in particular, he safeguards the home. The Ayurvedic concept of fire, or agni, is critically important to our overall health, our homeostasis — our home for the soul. 

Agni is the force of intelligence within each cell, each tissue, and every system within the body. Ultimately, it is the discernment of agni that determines which substances enter our cells and tissues, and which substances should be removed as waste. In this way, agni is the gatekeeper of life.

Our agni governs digestive fires, mental clarity, a lovely glow to our skin and complexion, vitality, the creation of digestive enzymes, all metabolic activities, and much more. 

Traditionally, the solar plexus is responsible for the transition of radiant energy down to your root for grounding (and keeping your toes warm) and up to your crown, helping you realize your bright beauty. It is considered the seat of your intuition, a symbol of your guiding inner light, and the source of your creative fire.

It is your core energy, keeping you centered and strong within your yoga practice, essentially stoking your agni. Ways to have a healthy agni include nourishing warm foods, yoga, meditation, chakra-balancing, laughter, joy, good digestion, good sleep, massage (abhyanga), and more, essentially giving yourself time for rest and self-love. 

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” ~ Hafiz

In Ancient Greek mythology, the inner fire is associated with goddesses such as Persephone, Hecate and Hestia. These are reflective, dark goddesses, archetypal symbols of retreating into the underworld but guided by a gentle flame either by lantern, staff, candle or hearth. The ancients knew winter is a time of  retrospection, rest, flame-gazing and quiet story-telling.

The Symbolism of Persephone

Persephone represents the dark night of the soul. In stories, she is taken into the underworld against her will and much to her mother’s sorrow. We’ve all experienced this form of trauma, and it can hit us like the cold breath of winter, but it is here that we also gain wisdom.

Persephone is a quiet goddess. She is naive, a day-dreamer, and then she is hit with harsh reality and it makes her grow up and thus gain insight and discover her essential self — her inner flame. It is here that she transforms into the queen of the underworld, depicted holding a torch, and becomes Hecate, the goddess of the crossroads, guiding souls through their bleakness to find radiance and rest.

In agriculture, Persephone also represents the descent into winter, darkness and death. Persephone leaves the underworld in spring, making her mother happy, who then brings life back to the earth. This story is a metaphor for the seasons of the planet and the collective unconscious. 

Persephone is also known as Kore, pronounced kori (ko-ree), which means maiden or girl. To this day its spelling is similar to the English word core, as in apple core, which is symbolic of our core selves — finding the seeds associated with rebirth and inner potential, that spark of life which lies dormant in the dark.

In ancient India, Sikh women used Kaur, pronounced kawr, as their surname, which means princess. The root of these words implies we need to find our inner goddess, our Sacred Feminine, our inner light. Much like the word Devi, which is Sanskrit for She who shines.

The Symbolism of Hecate

Hecate (Hekate), pronounced hek-uh-tee, is often linked with Persephone, and both are sometimes linked with the triple moon goddess symbology of Maiden, Mother, Crone, with Persephone being the Maiden, Demeter being the Mother and Hecate being the Crone.

She is the Greek goddess of the three paths, guardian of the household, protector of everything newly born, and the goddess of the crossroads. She is a bridge between worlds.

​A lover of solitude, Hecate could be found walking the roads at night or visiting cemeteries during the dark phases of the moon, and was described as shining or luminous. She was gifted with farsightedness, and could see in several directions at once (even the past, present, and future).

Hecate’s ability to see into the Underworld of the sleeping and the dead made her comfortable and tolerant in the company of those who most of us would shun out of fear or misunderstanding. She also reminds us of the importance of change, helping us release the past, especially those things that are hindering our growth. She helps us accept and even welcome change and transition.

She sometimes asks us to let go of what is familiar, safe, and secure, and to courageously travel into the scary places of the soul and bring it to the light.

The Symbolism of Hestia 

Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home. She is the loving fireplace at the center of the home or kitchen. As the goddess of the hearth, she personified the fire burning in the hearth, essentially in the heart of the household.

In ancient times, Hestia received the first offering at every sacrifice in the household, with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

Though Hestia did not have a public cult, she was worshiped at any temple, regardless of the god the temple was dedicated to.

Hestia is described as a kind, forgiving and discreet goddess with a passive, non-confrontational nature. So with her, we learn patience and love for ourselves and others — to be kind to ourselves when our surroundings are dark, to allow ourselves to rest and get cozy by the fire over a good book, nourishing warm foods and loving people.

Sometimes, we may struggle to uncover our innate luminescence. It can feel as though we are enshrouded in a dark cloud looming over us like the bleakness of winter, the way Persephone may have felt being trapped in the underworld. We may find ourselves walking down a slippery precipice of self-loathing and destructive thoughts and paths. 

I too have been there. 

Not that long ago, I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I had lost touch with my core self, my flame was dwindling, and I felt like I did not deserve to enjoy the good things in my life. I had no creative spark, and I felt a raging darkness enveloped me on a daily basis. 

Yes, those days are difficult. Those days may dampen your spirit, as they did mine. But they cannot fully extinguish your light. Your inner flame remains. Find your torch that lights the way like Persephone, or the homely flame that comforts you like Hestia, and one day you’ll transform into Hecate who can guide lost souls through their darkness, with your lantern showing the way. 

Thankfully, I found my way out of the darkness, guided by the beacon of light in my heart, a reminder that we are not small, insignificant or alone. We all matter because we are made of matter! We are made of the same particles as the moon and the stars that shine brilliantly in the night sky. We are the twinkling, vast beauty of the universe. 

Knowing this, I began to pick up my paintbrush to paint again, I danced every morning to songs that lifted my spirit, and I continued my weekly yoga practice to ignite my core flame and stoke my agni once again. And with time, I felt exuberant, I discovered a lightness of being once more. 

To me, there is no more grounding and comforting knowledge than this: everything we wish to seek is already within us — even the cosmos resides within every one of us. 

When I envisage the magical, vastness of the universe and how we are all connected to it biologically, chemically and atomically, it greatly humbles me. During the days that I am hard on myself, I cannot help but be in awe of the fact that the lights which span the heavens, planets, and stars also flicker within us, like warm and enchanting  lanterns in the bleakness of an inner winter. 

When we know that we are all made of the same stars that beam beautifully in the night sky, we can celebrate our light during our darker days. 

This wintertide, embrace the bright flame that resides in you, regardless of the bitter cold and darkness outside. Remember you are Devi (or Deva) — she (or he) who shines, you are Hecate — she who is luminous on dark nights, you are Hestia — she who gently burns with warm loving kindness, and you are Persephone — she who is the spark of life learning about her core self. 

Be kind to yourself, and nurture your inner flame with whatever ignites your radiant soul. Celebrate your light. Let it roar from within your belly like a sparkling fireplace lighting up a gloomy room!

And remember to take heart. Trust that everything is unfolding and smoldering exactly as it should.

“One kind word can warm three winter months.” ~ Japanese Proverb

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Katie Ness is an Ayurvedic Yoga teacher for all ages, Reiki teacher, Women’s Circle facilitator, belly dancer and artist from the UK. As a traveling yogini, she has visited over 20 countries and hopes to facilitate international Yoga and Sacred Feminine retreats in the near future. She spends her free time illustrating in her nature journal, reading an absurd amount of books, playing with her tarot cards, or crafting dream-catchers. At present, she is studying herbalism, floral design and botanical illustration. She can be found practicing yoga and writing poetry in woodlands and by the sea. You could contact Katie via Instagram.

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