Interfaith group drums up winter

By Brie Handgraaf

Staff Writer

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While Saturday’s unseasonably warm temperatures hid the fact, Dec. 21 marked the Winter Solstice and a group of residents gathered to celebrate the end of the shortest, darkest day of the year with a drum circle.

“The Winter Solstice is an astronomical event that plays out culturally in different ways around the world, but is very agrarian when people call on things that are growing, like pine trees, to decorate their homes and bring light into the dark,” said Lynn Caverly, a volunteer director with the Interfaith Alliance of Eastern Carolina. “This time of the year is all about getting rid of the darkness and bringing more and more light to the world.”

Trish Wilson said the Winter Solstice is intertwined in holidays of all faiths that are celebrated around this time of the year. She and her husband, Kevin Wilson, have been holding drum and healing circles and meditation times for about two years at Saint Anne’s Chapel, the historic chapel they own near Tarboro.

“In most traditional religions, you are not made to experience it, but this is very experiencial,” Trish Wilson said. “Once you start to drum and get into the rhythm, it is very natural and helps to syncronize the left and right sides of your brain.”

Prior to gathering around a small bonfire, attendees lit a candle and wrote down intentions – similar to New Year’s resolutions – then toasted with wassail – a warm blend of ale, port and spices.

“As we end an old year, let us let go of those things that no longer serve our highest good and raise a glass of cheer to welcome in the new year like one welcomes in a new babe,” Caverly said before the toast.

Some attendees brought their own instruments from drums of all sizes to an acoustic guitar to a finger piano Sister MaryAnn Czaja got while in South Africa.

“I wanted to unite with those people who are so good to me while I was there,” she said.

People took turns to start the improvised beats.

“Play what your heart feels,” Kevin Wilson said.

Some played along with the leader while others played an accompanying beat on their instrument, creating a communal rhythm under the starry sky. People ate snacks or had second and third glasses of wassail as they wanted, chatting with friends and strangers around the bonfire.

“Each drum circle takes on its own flavor,” Trish Wilson said. “There was a wedding here, and two grandmothers from Russia were drumming around the bonfire until 11:30 at night.

“Drumming really breaks down all barriers and forms of inhibitions,” she said. “It was profound to see these two women drumming with smiles on their faces because we have almost nothing in common, but there is a universal language in all of us. Every tribe and culture started with drumming, and we all have a rhythm in our hearts.”

Meditation helps many strengthen their spirituality – such as nuns and monks, Trish Wilson said, and for her, drumming individually or with others helps her meditate and relax.

“Everyone feels their faith differently, but if I label what I feel as God, but someone is agnostic, it can turn them off to the experience altogether,” Trish Wilson said. “We embrace that by avoiding labels and share the love in our hearts with the community.”

For more information on Saint Anne’s Chapel, go to