Category Archives: Seasons

Ethical horror for Halloween

At this time of year, the Halloween tat comes out and the shops are full of low quality, throw away rubbish for us to spend money on that we can’t really afford, and then send to landfill, which the Earth really can’t afford.

Here are some more (and less) sensible suggestions for spooky seasonal decor, without buying plastic rubbish.

Welcome those autumn spiders and let them make webs for you!  

Go a bit Miss Haversham with dried flowers and dead plant matter. Nothing says gothic like dead roses. Also these can be composted when you’ve had enough of them.

Actual bones. Source your dead things carefully and make sure they are clean because you maybe don’t want to go so far as actual maggots… but dead things are better for the environment than fake plastic dead things. 

If you like the colours, the patterns, the look – you can buy cotton fabrics with Halloween vibes online. Consider investing the time in making your own seasonal objects. Eldritch bunting is always a good look. Decorate with seasonally appropriate table or altar cloths made from natural materials, and re-use them next year.

Don’t buy cheap and nasty costumes made from synthetic fabrics. They don’t last, they will end up in the bin. Buy vintage, buy from people who make costumes, buy your own fabric and improvise wildly. 

Make a lantern out of a swede or turnip, these are cheap and proper hideous, and the more wrong they are the better.

Make disgusting food. Marzipan slugs. Worm and eyeball soup (noodles and small whole onions) use tomatoes and beetroot for blood. Smear raspberry jam about. Ice fangs onto things. 

Buy things from artists and artisans – it will cost more up front but you’re helping a creator survive and you’ll get something really cool that you will want to live with for many years. 

Horror doesn’t have to be mass produced and shipped around the world at a high environmental cost. Horror can be sustainable. You can source your horror ethically, you can make your own.


Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.


Singing at the end of summer

Seasons seldom end in clear cut ways in the UK. We move from summer towards autumn and some parts of the day are significantly more autumnal than others. I noted recently about the way early mornings feel like autumn long before anything else does. Now the evenings are drawing in and the nights are colder, autumn is also here after dark.

In the daytime, it is still summery and can be quite hot. However, the days are much shorter than they were back in the summer, and this means we’ve reached the end of singing outside season. This has been an important part of summer for me both this year and last year. Amidst all the covid hazards and limitations, it’s been evident that meeting up outside is reasonably safe. I’ve run a singing circle in the park once a week.

When we started singing in 2020 the level of hazard presented by singing wasn’t clear, and there had been a lot of government restrictions on singing indoors. However, all the other evidence suggested that air flow seemed to be one of the biggest factors in people catching covid. In a well ventilated indoors space, the chances of catching it are low. A small group of people outside didn’t seem like a big risk, and we’re able to spread out and not sing into each other’s faces. We’ve all been covid-free around this.

Singing outside has been a major part of my social contact. It’s also not as demanding as socialising, because people can just bring the words for songs and take it in turns. Emerging from isolation, and most of us being either introverts or ominverts, it has been good to have that extra crutch and not need to figure out so much about how to talk to other people.

The evenings have been drawing in for some time. Darkness marks the end of the session, in part because the jackdaws come into roost and they aren’t quiet, and the key of jackdaw is challenging for human singers. Also it gets cold after dark. We’ve hit the point where this all happens too early in the evening to have a decent session, and it won’t be long before sitting out in the evenings is too cold anyway.

This autumn we may still be allowed to meet up inside. We may have some options for sheltered daytime singing sessions. I’m exploring the options. Singing has been a big part of how I’m sociable for a long time, and I hope I can keep it going through the winter without putting anyone at significant risk.


Spider Season

Where they spend the rest of the year, I do not know, but clearly it is autumn now because the spiders have started showing up. I found a massive one in the laundry bucket recently, and another large one turned up in the bath.

There’s a place on the canal near town where the canal and the towpath go under the road. There are lights in the ceiling, and this is always a popular spider spot in the dark part of the year. Here they grow to considerable sizes, and their webs fill with strange objects – crisps and other food items, perhaps offered as placatory gifts from the young humans who frequent the tunnel at night. 

I rather like spiders – so long as they aren’t unexpectedly on my face, we’re good, we can be friends. They are in fact helpful members of the household, likely to eat the insects that might otherwise do their best to eat me, or my clothing. I’m enough of a goth not to be offended by having a few spiderwebs around the place.


Signs of summer’s end

For me, the first signs of summer’s end appear last thing at night and first thing in the morning. We sing in a local park most weeks, and last week we had to stop because the jackdaws were coming in to roost, and they are not quiet. The sun is setting that much earlier, and so the end of our session coincides with the start of theirs. The evenings are colder now, and what I might wear for daytime activities really isn’t warm enough for the end of the evening.

The sense of autumn creeping in is strongest in the morning. I’m awake early, when the air is cold. It reminds me of those back-to-school September mornings of my childhood, and more recently, getting James to school. I’m glad not to be doing any of that this year.

I note that the local chestnut trees are doing a lot better this year. They’ve all had some kind of disease for some time now and most years it has meant autumn comes early for them. Their leaves start turning and falling about this time, normally. I think they’ve benefited from it being such a wet summer. There’s still green in their leaves, although they are starting to turn, and the leaves themselves seem a lot less disease-ridden than usual. It’s cheering to think there might be occasional benefits from the climate chaos – clearly not enough to offset the harm being done, but enough to create little pockets of hope.


August Flowers

August tends to be a month for focusing on the grain. This year I’ve not been able to walk so far and there are no grain fields in viable striking distance. I’m noticing the flowers a lot though.

Its ragwort season – tall, straggly plants with yellow flowers, poisonous to cattle and horses but only really a problem if they get in the hay or silage. These plants are home to the adorable stripy caterpillars – now fattening nicely – who will go on to be cinnabar moths.

In the last week or so, the mugwort has shot up and now dominates in a number of places. The scabious and harebells are out on the common. Cow parsley is going over, but yarrow is still flowering.

Every week I see a shift in what’s coming on, what’s flowering and what is going over. The blackberry season has begun, other soft fruit will follow.  I’m intensely aware that the cycle of the seasons moves on a daily basis and that it is clearly visible week by week.

This time last year, there were ducklings and baby moorhens on the canal, and the cygnets were small. This year, everyone seems to have grown up already. No two cycles are the same.


Not a sun worshipper

I’m not great in the heat. I’m not the sort of person to rush enthusiastically into the blazing sun with the expectation of being able to do stuff. However, the sun and the summer are part of the natural world, and furthermore, I pledged some time ago that I would undertake to love the world as climate chaos manifests, and not in spite of it.

How does a Pagan who does not cope well with hot weather honour the sun while trying not to go out in it?

On some of the really hot days I’ve been unable to function at all in the afternoon. I’ve had to flop out, and this has meant being entirely focused on the conditions, as I could think of little else. It’s possible to be intensely involved with the sun and the heat without being directly exposed.

I’m outside more at twilight. For me, the summer evenings and the night time are central to how I experience summer, because I can safely go out and do stuff. Twilight is as much part of the summer as the sun is, and many creatures are abroad at this time who also avoid the heat of the day. As the air cools, I notice where the ground and the brickwork are still hot from the day. I experience the residual heat. There’s something magical about being able to feel cold at night when the day has felt like being in a furnace.

Experiencing the sun is very different if you are under trees. This landscape should be wooded. Most of our ancestors had far more access to trees than we do. I’m lucky in that there is a shady cycle path close to my home, and I can be out on it without overheating. You can experience the sun in nature without being directly under the sky.

Humans do some rather odd things in response to heat when you compare us to other mammals. That we work, and don’t normally change our sleeping and eating habits in response to the conditions is unusual. Most mammals aren’t active when it’s hot. Anyone wearing a fur coat is obliged to take things gently in hot conditions. Anyone who isn’t wearing a fur coat is at high risk of sunburn.

I spent some time with some pigs recently, and in the hot part of the day they just flopped out in the shade. Many of us are not cut out for sun worship, and there’s nothing unnatural or un-Pagan about that.


Heading towards the solstice

Recently I wrote about the limitations I’m facing around pilgrimage and my desire to see some of the specific seasonal plants. There are plants I become particularly obsessed with. However, there are seasonal plants outside my door. While my ideas about how I want to engage with the season have been thwarted, my actual ability to engage with the season isn’t really that compromised.

A very short distance from my home, the buttercups are flowering exuberantly. I don’t have to go far to see how glorious they are in the fields, even if I don’t get into the fields. The cranesbill is out, and the campions. There are foxgloves on one of my regular routes. They are glorious, and extravagant, and I am very fond of them as part of the summer.

I have a small pot garden, and a few wild seasonal plants have shown up there – granny bonnets, wood avens, ragged robin…  I’ve got small plants whose names I don’t know cheerfully blooming. The grass is full of daisies, and I’m also really appreciating the groundsman who doesn’t mow very often and lets things flower.

I may yearn for particular encounters with specific plants and landscapes, but the season is here. Summer is right outside my door. Seasonal expressions are all around me. It’s important not to lose track of that through focusing on what I can’t have.


Children’s Day

The 5th of May is Children’s Day in Japan. It’s not a religious festival but a cultural one, and I’m marking it as part of my ongoing efforts to honour Japanese festivals. Last year, this was the first Japanese festival that I was properly aware of, as Dr Abbey sent me photos of fish kites flying in Tokyo. My honouring festivals is very much about being a family even though we are in different countries.

I’m not in a position to fly a fish kite, so have drawn one instead. The carp represents strength and success – they’re a fish that swims upstream, like the salmon, so their ability to overcome adversity is important. There is a Chinese legend – imported to Japan – about a carp who, having swum upstream is turned into a dragon!

Households with sons have traditionally flown fish kites on this day. The festival is currently known as Children’s Day but used to be Boys’ Day – to match Girls’ Day earlier in the year. I’m not sure why the change occurred.


Waiting for the leaves

There was one spring, more than twenty years ago when I remember the leaves not coming out until Beltain. This year, the spring in the UK has been unusually cold. Some of the trees have leaves, some are starting to open, but there are a lot of bare branches out there. It still doesn’t feel like we’re easing into the warmth and bounty of summer.

A certain amount of variation is normal and natural, but this cold, and this late greening feels like climate change. The unpredictability of the weather makes it hard for everything – me included  to adapt.

Some time ago I made the decision that I would do my best to love the natural world in an open-hearted way, regardless of the impact of climate chaos. That I would try to embrace and love as much as I can. I find the absence of leaves, the lateness of leaves really hard. But, I can celebrate the ones that are already here, and I have felt their presence keenly.

I note that in the wooded places, the undergrowth is unusually verdant. The jack in the hedge is really tall, the nettles are flourishing and the garlic is prolific. There’s a lot more happening at ground level than happens most years. This may well be a consequence of the late leaves.  In the absence of one kind of greening, we get more of another. What that means is hard to say.