Category Archives: Seasons

Flowers in the ice

This point in January often combines the first signs of spring with some of the most intense manifestations of winter. And so we get flowers in ice.

Yesterday I noticed that the hazel catkins are opening. They’ve gone from small, tight green potential to open, yellow and active. The alder trees have catkins on too, and the tips of their branches are slightly reddened by the presence of those flowers. Trees have male and female (from our perspective) catkins. If you’re new to all this, have a look at this article – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/12/which-trees-have-catkins-and-how-to-tell-them-apart/

Yesterday I also saw my first snowdrops of the year, some daffodils in bloom, a primrose and I’ve seen a lot of bulbs putting up leaves in the last few days.

This morning the temperature was down to minus 3, and the frost that was on the ground yesterday is still here. Puddles have become ice sheets. The mud has frozen solid. This is the most wintery it’s been this season, and yet at the same time, the first flowers are appearing. That’s normal, and I might choose to read some significance into it.


Time outside time

This is the time of year when I tend not to notice any seasonal shifts. Nothing much is growing. The catkins on the trees were there a month and more ago, and aren’t open yet. The first flowers should be a few weeks away. We may have moved past the solstice, but in practice I’m not feeling much return of the light – the overcast skies often negate any feeling of longer days.

Where I live, there hasn’t been much weather drama. It’s cold, but not freezing. There are no predictable patterns – the whole winter could go like this or we could get a sudden dip in temperature, frost, ice, winter storms and so forth.

It’s a time of waiting, for me. Waiting for the light to return. Waiting to see what challenges I might have to contend with. Waiting for spring. I think many wild things are waiting at this point – be that seeds in the ground, seasonal migrants, or anything else that will crack on with life changes when spring comes. Of course some creatures are already underway – deer mate in the autumn. Mammals giving birth in the spring may well be pregnant already, or pairing up. The hibernating female bats are pregnant, although those pregnancies won’t really get going until spring wakes them.

Mostly I want to hibernate too. Thankful not to be pregnant ready for the spring. I find the longer hours of darkness gives me the urge to sleep more. I’m at the same time affected by personal-seasonal changes in my own body and not sleeping well. I am out of kilter with some things, and perfectly aligned with others, and I think that’s often the way of it.

Modern Paganism tends to foreground the sun cycle as something to be in tune with. However, when you look at any season, what creates its distinct flavour and energy isn’t just the sun, but the way other living beings respond to it, and to each other. There’s always diversity. Hungry migrant birds are not in the deep sleep of winter. The owls outside my flat are active for much longer each night because the darkness is for them. There’s always something to empathise with, even when the sun cycles don’t resonate with your experiences.


Looking ahead, and something like resolutions

I changed tack with New Year resolutions some time ago, having figured out I was just using it as an opportunity to beat myself up. No diets for me anymore. No unworkable aims to somehow bully my body into being thinner despite that never having worked for me. Instead, I started coming up with ideas and aspirations to improve my life. That’s gone well. Last year I was short of ideas. This year, I am not.

I need to plant trees. This has been a thing for me for more than a decade, but until now I haven’t seen how to do it. I don’t have a garden at the moment. I do however have a cunning plan that will, in the coming year radically change my life as a whole, and move me towards the orchard I long for. More of this as I go along.

I aspire to having my normal working week be under 30 hours, and to work a four day week. That won’t be feasible around events, but I want to do it when I can. I will use the time this gives me for taking better care of myself, and doing non-economic things, like planting trees. I will read more, dance more, live differently.

I will spend more time in wilder places and at the coast.

I’m making the headspace to think more about how we do Druidry in the current political climate and in face of climate disaster. I’m going to be taking about that more as we go along.

I’m going to learn Welsh.

I want to wake up in the morning and wonder what I will be doing that day, and get to decide – clearly not all the time, but at least some of the time. I want to start the day feeling excited about what it might bring me.

I want to spend more of my working time doing work I am genuinely excited about. This looks increasingly realistic.

I’m going to treat my happiness and wellbeing as important – which I’ve not really been doing. I’ve got to the point where I can afford to, and there is no one who needs me to do otherwise. I’m going to re-invent my life, on my own terms, and in collaboration with the people who are choosing to be part of my life.


Looking back at the year

While the calendar change from one year to another is an arbitrary thing, is creates a useful point for contemplation. It’s good to stop from time to time and take a look at your life and ask what’s working and what isn’t. As I blog about this each year I also have something I can easily look back at to see where I was last time. A lot has changed for me, it turns out.

This time last year I had no ambitions, no creative sense of direction. I wasn’t really excited about anything and my major aim for the year was to daydream more and try to find something to want to do. Over the year I’ve found new forms I want to work in, people I want to work with and an array of projects that I’m excited about. It’s put me on a totally different footing.

It’s been a challenging year. I’m not sure I get any other sort! I’m conscious of wanting things to be a bit easier, or at least to have times of respite and rest so that I can re-charge. I’m trying to make that space and to see what would help me feel better. I need to make more time for things that nourish and uplift me. I think most people do. I think we get a lot of spiritual and emotional input that’s about as good for our hearts and minds as a diet of Haribo would be for our bodies.

I’ve become better at boundaries over this last year, and a good deal more willing to say no and walk away when something doesn’t work for me. I’ve become less anxious. I’ve started asking some really big questions about the kinds of relationships I have, and have had with people, what I really want and who I can do that with. I’m finding my people. I’m finding the spaces where I don’t mute myself and second guess everything. I’m recognising the people who want me as I am, and who I can afford to trust with that.

Tai Chi has had a big impact on me over the last year. It’s changed my relationship with my body. I’m tackling the impact of hypermobility as a consequence. I’m building strength around troubled joints and learning how to move in ways that cause me less pain. For the first time in my life I’m confident that my pain issues aren’t me making a fuss, and that I need to take it seriously and am entitled to look after myself. Between the Tai Chi and some of my interactions with people, I’ve become more patient as well.

Creatively it’s been an interesting year. I started a mumming side and took that to a few events. I got a singing group going with mostly the same people, and there are plans for taking that forward. I’ve focused more on my voice because problems with hand pain have made musical instruments tricky. I’m now exploring ways to not have the hand pain and getting on top of that is a new aspiration. There have been some collaborations, and more to come, and I’ll be sharing more about that here in the coming weeks.

I feel, for the first time in years, that I am on the right track. I’m doing what I need to be doing and I know where I need to go. All kinds of things are falling into place for me. I find that happens when I’m working along the right lines. It helps that when I know what I want, I can spot what will serve that.

I’m in the odd place of being horrified and alarmed about the state of the world, and also hopeful about my own direction for the coming years. It’s strange territory, emotionally, but perhaps it will keep me honest and useful in equal measure.


Midwinter ravens

I recorded this little film for the Pagan Federation online festival this winter. It was done at short notice and I’d not been well so I do not look great, but there we go. I’m very much in favour of being able to share your face when you don’t look like a photoshopped twenty year old!

A few thoughts about ritual at midwinter, and a story about ravens…


Seasonal Cold

The temperature often defines how I experience winter days and what I’m able to do. A milder year is likely to be wet, and while that’s no joy to be out in, the footing is safer on tarmac. In wet winters, paths that aren’t hard surfaced can become unwalkable with all the mud – which makes walking slow and hazardous. A warmer, wetter winter means more cloud and less sun, which has an impact on my body chemistry.

I can enjoy a crisp, sharp winter day – the bright blue skies and crystalline clarity. However, these tend to go with colder conditions. Icy ground is more likely to give me numb feet, running the risk of chilblains. There’s the risk of falling. My entire body will be sore to a greater degree in really cold conditions – so being out is a mixed bag. I weigh the attraction of sunlight and fresh air against the state of my body.

Of course, a warmer winter is much more easily dealt with indoors. Cold weather makes it harder to keep warm. I can afford to heat my home at the moment, but not everyone can. Being cold all the time is exhausting and if you are ill in any way, that illness will be made more miserable. It’s difficult to relax and harder to sleep when you aren’t warm enough. It will also make you hungry, and anyone choosing between heating and eating won’t have a budget for extra food.

The winter days I like most are clear and bright, but a degree or two above freezing. Enough to seem like winter without causing any problems. They’re rare, but when they come round, I treasure them.


Sliding into winter

Over the last few days, there have been heavy frosts, and ice on the ground at night where I live. For me, this means winter is definitely here. It’s a localised definition. There are parts of the UK that have already had some snow – but, down in the balmy south west of the country, it’s possible to go a whole winter and not see any. What winter means varies a lot depending on where you are.

I become very aware of my body in these conditions. My balance – or lack of it. How readily my hands and feet go numb in the cold. I also note that I’m doing a bit better this year on both of these – I’m less panicked by slippery ground, and I’m not having quite the same degree of circulation problems. There’s only been one significant change in my life since last winter and that’s the Tai Chi, so it could be that both shifts relate to that. I think it has improved my balance. It’s given me body knowledge about ways of walking carefully so I can do that without having to over-think it. I was told it might improve my circulation, and this is the first evidence this could be happening.

How we experience the seasons combines body and location, health, affluence, resources – it can be incredibly revealing. What’s easy often goes unnoticed, so if winter is easy for you it may be worth spending some time with that and asking why.


Talking to Children about Santa

My son was rather young when I took the decision to debunk Santa. I was never comfortable with it – for the first few years of his life he had no idea what was going on, but once he was talking, the idea of lying to him became deeply uncomfortable. I did not want to tell him a strange guy had come into his room at night and to be ok with that. I remember how uneasy I felt about that as a child. As a Pagan parent, I did not want to tell him about ‘magic’ I don’t believe in.

What swung it in the end was that his Primary school were collecting toys and gifts for poor children in the area. I could tell this made him uncomfortable, so I asked about it. Of course he’d figured out there was something really wrong with the magical Christmas guy giving extravagant gifts to the children of wealthy adults, while poor kids went without. I sat him down and explained – and he was much happier. I asked him not to let on, and as far as I know, he never did. Not even to adults who asked him what Santa was bringing.

I doubt he’s alone in having questioned this. Why do starving children not get a magical food delivery at Christmas? Why only at Christmas? Where is the magic guy in the sleigh while children are dying in war zones and suffering through other disasters? Why is the magic guy dishing out so much planet-harming plastic and wasting so much paper when the planet is in crisis? For a child to be happy with Santa, they have to ignore the plight of much of the world. Which of course makes it a good entry point into capitalist society. Play along, don’t ask questions, don’t ask about your privilege and you can have lots of presents.

Many of our kids are inherently better than that. Many of them don’t want to believe in a corrupt system rewarding those who have most and ignoring those in genuine need. Many of them care deeply about the future of life on this planet. They may be happier if they know the truth.

This is a story whose roots are indeed magical and generous, but the tale has been co-opted for commercial purposes. It’s not magic any more, it’s capitalism and consumption in peak flow.


Commercialmass is coming

The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.

We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.

We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.

We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.

We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.

Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.

If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.


Shades of Winter

I’ve never really paid attention to the shift from autumn to winter before. I don’t like the winter, so usually I’m trying not to engage with it. This year, being better resourced I’m more able to cope, and trying to change my relationship with this time of year.

I’m not sure what marks the edge between these seasons. The first frosts were some time ago. The leaves are still on the trees. The nights are long, and it is cold. I need my winter coat most of the time when I go outside now. I need thick socks in my boots and heavy gloves and still I struggle to stop my hands and feet going numb. This is more about my body than the temperature.

Today there is sun, and the colours on the trees are pronounced so it feels like autumn. Yesterday was cold and grey, and I was more conscious of where the trees are bare, and it felt like winter.

We’re not into frosty or frozen ground yet. I haven’t had to break out my microspikes. As someone with poor balance and a lot of anxiety, slippery surfaces are a seasonal nightmare. I put fell-runners crampons on my boots, and those keep me safe and radically reduce the fear. The point at which those come out is definitely winter. Which is a useless measure for those wet and grey winters where frost and ice are never really a thing.

I’ve spent most of my life measuring winter in terms of discomfort. I know this is the reality for many other people. As I work on changing my relationship, I’m conscious of the shift from insufficiency towards privilege.