• Gordon MacLellan

Winter spirals

Winter Spirals

walking a turning path into Advent

As the northern hemisphere walks into the darkest time of our year (you southern folks can always do a Midsummer spiral instead?), there are many ways of acknowledging the increasing darkness and using that for reflection, for contemplation as the world feels like it is closing down, taking a deep breath and waiting.

With our CelebrationEarth! emphasis on relationships with nature, outdoor (garden, park, nature reserve, very transient on a playing field maybe) spirals are a great way of combining, a sense of exploration of the world around us with ceremony and reflection.

Albion Millennium Green

Spirals invite movement and thought: that sense of movement inwards, to pause at the centre before bubbling outwards again seems to physically mix inward reflection with outward celebration.

A couple of communal examples follow but if you start thinking “spirals” you can find them everywhere from the twisting tendrils of pea shoots to the arrangements of leaves on some plant stems, the packing of seeds in a sunflower head. Snail shells. Eddies in a stream….I’ll stop this before we end up in a discussion about Fibonacci sequence and patterns in nature.

Advent Spiral

I won’t post everything from the Sparklestories blog: please follow the link to get the full effect of their lovely work….but here are the opening paragraphs and a summary of the ceremonial side of their Spiral

Long ago, when our oldest was very little, and we were living in New Hampshire, we were invited into a beautiful neighborhood celebration that centered around a Winter Spiral (or Advent Spiral). Each Sunday of Advent, as the sun was going down, we gathered in a friend's urban garden. We held lanterns and sang songs. We read verses and heard stories. And most importantly, we each took a walk to the center of the spiral, where a single candle was lit.


In the traditional Waldorf spirals, each week of Advent has a different offering. The first week is of the mineral world (stones, shells), the second week is of the plant world (acorns, berries, branches), the third week is of the animal world (and so we make wax animals), and the fourth week is the world of people.

The fourth week at our house, each person is given an apple with a small, unlit candle in it (see photo below), which they light on the central candle and place along the spiral. So by the end, the entire spiral is covered in little lights. And it is extraordinarily beautiful.

simple bottle lanterns bring light and delight

There is ceremony built around the spiral: the lighting of a central candle, the choice and position of the natural materials that make up the spiral. They sing their spiral, too, using rounds and Taize chants and carols and there is a lovely sense of both contemplation and celebration contained within this work

Links: Sparklestories


Tucked away in south-east London, in Forest Hill, there is a spiral that grew out of a community arts festival a few years ago. Maria Strutz, the artist who created it, described her work and the use of the spiral

I created the labyrinth in May 2013 during a 4-day community arts festival (LEAF) on Albion Millennium Green in London SE23.

The materials used were sticks and stones found on the Green. It was meant to be a temporary structure but in the end I was loathe to let it go.

The first maze at Forest Hill: twigs and stones

Initially I had to rebuild it nearly every day as the stones and branches got dislodged and the paths could no longer be recognized.

Over time some borders of the labyrinth gathered moss and sprouted grass (also eventually encouraged by me by strategically moving around grass and soil from where it shouldn't grow to where it 'should'. In heavy rains soil is washed away, wherever it wants to go. Maintenance is necessary but less so than in the beginning stages of the labyrinth.

grass grows to mark out the Forest Hill Maze

In summer however the labyrinth dries out completely and seems to disappear in most places but it slowly comes back in autumn with the rains.

Response to the labyrinth is/was mostly positive but also encountered some suspicion regarding its spiritual aspects whilst others seem to be totally oblivious to it.

The labyrinth is used and walked by a variety of people, most of whom I am unaware; I sometimes receive unexpected and quite moving feedback how the labyrinth affects people’s lives.

I also come across pigeons wandering the paths and I dream about foxes walking the labyrinth at night.

Other spirals

Yes, there are spirals everywhere! Spirals to walk ( St Catherine’s Hill, Winchester, springs to mind as does the Willen Labyrinth near the Buddhist temple in Milton Keynes). The Willen Spiral is based on the ancient Turf Maze at Saffron Walden in Essex. There are other turf mazes and ancient carved stone spirals. There are new spirals (try the Touchstone Maze at Strathpeffer for a spiral that walks you through millions of years of geological history). There are transient ones.

the simple beauty of autumn leaves might shape a transient maze

But more personally there are the mazes we can create for ourselves: a simple in and out, marked out on a lawn with sawdust and glass bottle lanterns. A bigger spiral in a field marked with little flags to be walked in silence. A wide green space to be danced in a spiral, leaving a pattern of trampled grass that will linger through to spring. We’ve danced spiral dances with a hundred people, at its height having that sense of inward and outward movement at the same time as the dancing spiral turns.


Many thanks to

Lisbeth Sewell and the team at Sparklestories for their enthusiastic support and permission to use their words and pictures

Maria Strutz for words and pictures about the London labyrinth

Other pictures: Bottle lanterns, leaf: c/o G MacLellan

70 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All