It’s damp out there, and frequently cold. The place I’ve been visiting regularly in the summer is on top of a hill, and windswept. I was up there a few weeks ago, and it was simply too cold and inhospitable to stop for more than a few minutes. I have yet to find a more sheltered place that feels right and would be big enough to take a group.
I’ve been doing winter rituals for years now, working outside in all weathers. The thing about ‘all weathers’ though is that there’s a world of difference between a sheltered spot in a wood, and a totally exposed hilltop. There’s also a lot of difference between working miles from anywhere, and being close to a tea shop and toilet. If it’s cold and wet out there, your wild and edgy Druidry becomes a good deal more viable if you have a nice, warm pub or café to fall back to afterwards.
During most of my life, I’ve lived in sensible places. This meant that going out and getting wet and cold in the name of nature religion was wholly available to me. I could very easily come back to get warm and dry afterwards. During the boat period, getting wet things dry was a big practical issue. Coming back to a cold boat with no fire lit was miserable, and untended fires can and do go out. Doing the whole freezing your arse off to celebrate nature, works a lot better when you have a lot of warm, dry civilization to rely on afterwards. It also makes more sense when that cold, wet immediacy of the season isn’t a regular feature of your life. When connecting to the wheel of the year is a big part of how you get around, you don’t feel the same draw to go out there and make a fuss about it at this time of year.
This has left me repeatedly wondering what our ancient ancestors got up to. The warm weather rituals, Beltain through to Lugnasadh, are attractive and lend themselves to being outside. This time of year, too much outside can kill you. Life would have required our ancient ancestors to do a fair bit of the going out as part of normal existence. They had skins and woollen clothes, not waterproof coats. Once those are saturated, they take some drying, and the ancients did not have airing cupboards. Wet clothing must have been an on-going difficulty at this time of year. Staying as warm and dry as possible, would have mattered.
Of course if you’re celebrating in groves of trees, you will be a lot more sheltered, and that does make a difference. Even so, I don’t think the ancient Druids would have been out in the dark in snowstorms doing their thing. Well, only the mad ones with a death wish.
Both the need, and the feasibility of working outside in the depths of winter, are a direct consequence of modern lifestyles. We can easily get warm and dry, and deal with our clothes, and we all have other clothes to change into at need. We don’t get outside as much, even when the weather is good. And thus it does make a degree of sense to take your modern Druids outside and get them cold and damp to honour the winter, now and then. I suspect our ancestors would have been as bemused by the need, as they would have been startled by the things that make it feasible.