Category Archives: Seasons

Celebrating without ritual

I’ve been celebrating Imbolc for more than a week now, in a non-ritualistic sort of way. I get outside every day, normally. There are snowdrops in bloom and hazel catkins in abundance. I can see leaves coming up from the daffodil bulbs, and there were a few of those in flower at the weekend. I’ve seen winter jasmine and gorse as well. I see pair bonding activity and territory setting in the local birds.

When you celebrate as part of a community it makes sense to get together at a time that helps you connect with key changes in the seasons. When you work alone, the changes aren’t an event, but a day to day progression. The days get longer, the nights are not quite so cold. I’ve ventured out without my winter coat, and I can be barefoot in the flat without my feet suffering. The first signs of spring are here, but this is also a time in its own right.

One of the dangers of being too involved with the wheel of the year narrative, is that we come to see it as eight events. Eight big points of change when we honour the shift from one season to another. In practice, every day is part of the cycle of ongoing change. Every day at the moment, a bud fattens, a new plant pushes up through the soil, a seed stirs. Nests are built one stick at a time. There may still be days with frosty starts, there may be wintery storms, and the earliest starters may find themselves set back if the season doesn’t go smoothly. At this time of year, a warm, sunny day inviting spring feelings can lead to a clear, cold and lethal night.

For some time now I’ve been making a point of celebrating the seasons in a way that doesn’t focus on big events. I’m celebrating my own experience, day to day. I’ve done pretty well this winter for not falling into total gloom, and part of that is because I’ve been getting outside, noticing, and participating a bit more in the season. I doubt I will ever love the winter, but I can appreciate the beauty in it, and that helps me get through. My body doesn’t do well in cold conditions, and the increase in warmth makes a huge practical difference to me. This is nature as it manifests in my own body.

When you explore the seasons in a day to day sort of way, there’s more room to have your own relationship. Hitting a major festival, with all its ideas and baggage and stories and assumptions can be really uncomfortable if your lived experience doesn’t match it. Working day by day creates very different stories. Today the path is clear and the flowers are coming up. Tomorrow, everything is wet and impassable. A few days hence, a sudden frost kills the new growth. Next week, spring reboots. It stops feeling like a simple progress narrative and becomes a complex mix in which some things do better than others. Watching closely, it becomes obvious that ‘nature’ as a whole isn’t perfectly in synch with the progression of spring. Some things will be too early for their own good, and some come too late.

All we can do is be alive and aware of what’s around us. Some years we will be creatures who time it perfectly, opening our leaves at just the right moment. Some years we will act too soon and get frostbitten. Maybe we’ll restart successfully, maybe we won’t. Maybe we don’t have buds, maybe we are like foxes who have carried on doing fox things all winter. Maybe we are more like migrant birds, or the night sky. If we put down the big stories about the seasons, we might find more space for our own stories in the details of day to day living.


Seasonal wandering and snowdrops

This is a difficult time of year for walking. Footpaths through fields and woods are muddy, which can make them slippery and treacherous. For anyone less than perfectly confident on their feet, this kind of walking condition can be really off-putting. Add to that the unpredictable weather conditions, the cold, the potential for ice, or for rain turning into ice as it hits the ground, and it really isn’t walking season. Shorter days in terms of light also make longer walks less feasible.

However, walking is what I do to commune with nature, it is a big part of my spiritual life, so even in January when it’s cold I need to get out. I’m lucky in that there’s a lot of canal towpath in Stroud, and a good length of cycle path – both of which are reasonably passable in all weathers. There’s also a fair amount of lanes in villages around the town, so winter road walking is an option.

Lane walking is a bit of a mixed bag. On the whole lanes are good because they take you through the countryside without requiring you to tackle a mudslick at any point. Predictable footing is worth a lot. Mostly lanes are quiet, and you can hear vehicles coming. However, close encounters with passing tractors can be unnerving, and all it takes is one idiot racing round the bends at high speed to make it a dangerous place to be. Having done years of walking and cycling in country lanes, I remain unscathed, but I’ve been worried a few times.

The margins of lanes tend to be good places for wildflowers throughout the year. That starts now, with snowdrops putting up leaves and already flowering along the lane margins.

Winter Dawn Chorus

The dawn chorus is most often talked about as a summer thing, when it can be a dramatic to encounter. It still happens in the winter, but it’s much easier to miss. Birds tend to sing just before and as the sun is rising, and people are perhaps less likely to be outside at this time in winter hoping for bird song. I also have my windows shut, so I’ve got be really alert to hear it.

The winter dawn chorus tends to be very short. This morning there were perhaps a handful of bird voices, a brief exchange of sound and then a falling away into silence. Singing takes energy, and there’s frost on the ground, birds don’t have so much to spare for singing.

To me it sounds like a check in with other birds in area. A quick interaction to see who survived the night, and a statement of having survived. Perhaps there is joy in it, for having got through the night without freezing to death or being eaten by an owl. Coming out of the darkness of a midwinter morning, it sounds to me like defiance and hope, as well. I’m probably projecting but I firmly believe that all living things have their own forms of thoughts and feelings.

A seasonal song from Hopeless Maine

As a young human I sang in the school choir, so Christmas Carols featured every year. Most of them I don’t much like but there are some with good tunes. I like seasonal material from the folk tradition, and I mostly don’t like putting Pagan words into Christian songs.

This is not a Christmas song. Hopeless Maine doesn’t really do Christmas – not least because there are some serious disputes on the island about what the date is, which calendar to use, and so forth.  They do celebrate not being dead.


The folk tradition taught me that when people migrate, they take their songs and stories with them, but those songs and stories change. So, this is what has happened to Christmas Carols when the people who know them are shipwrecked onto a weird and fairly inhospitable fictional island off the coast of Maine…


Festive on my own terms

I don’t enjoy Christmas, for all kinds of personal reasons, alongside my loathing of the dire amounts of waste it causes. I also feel deeply uneasy about the financial pressure to buy, inflicted on people who will end up in debt as a consequence and for whom January will be miserable, terrifying, sometimes suicide inducing. I hate forced jollity, and I know too many people for whom this is the season to feel keenly the absence of lost loved ones.

If you enjoy the festive period, fine, go for it. What I object to are the people who feel entitled to tell me – and others who are unhappy during this season – that we should be happy. We should make more effort to be happy. We shouldn’t be such killjoys. We shouldn’t talk about the bad things, we should pretend they don’t exist. Sod that. Ironically, this approach adds to the misery. Being asked to fake Christmas spirit for the benefit of those around me has never made me feel better about things.

Festive on my terms. It means doing the things I want to do, not the things other people want me to do. Most years it means crafting gifts and buying things I can afford from local traders. It means not having put up any decorations, and looking forward to not having to take them down again later. It means not eating myself into a state of discomfort in a single session, but lots of evenings cheerfully nomming on root vegetables. It means pudding, because I do truly love the Christmas pudding, and I love it best when I’ve not had to get into proper festive spirit with a course or two ahead of it.

This year, I’ve done a fantastic job so far of avoiding too much exposure to shitty Christmas pop songs. That’s been a great mood improver. Empty, saccharine coated lyrics full of pretending everything is lovely. I especially hate any song that tries to tell us about peace and goodwill at Christmas. A feelgood fantasy that helps us ignore how much is really wrong. So much is wrong right now, hanging a bit of tinsel off it won’t change that. We can’t shop our way into the world being a better place.

When the stuffed full bin bags start to appear after the big day, I will mourn, as I mourn every year for the waste of resources, for the lack of care, for the total pointlessness of it. That particular phase of grief has become part of what this season means to me. It is a time to mourn for humanity, to mourn for our eco-suicide, our enthusiasm for putting short term superficial cheer ahead of the survival of the planet. It’s a time to mourn for all the things I can’t fix. And then we rush towards the shiny promise of the New Year telling ourselves it will be great and getting massively drunk to prove it.

I don’t want glut and debt. I want small good things that can be paced through the darker months. I want the warm comfort of being snuggled up inside with people I like spending time with. I want a steady supply of good food. I want lights – just a few lights, because I also want the deep winter darkness. I want real peace, not pretend peace designed to make us spend more money.

Winning at winter

For the second year running, winter is not being the awful, miserable grind I have previously found it to be. Depression and anxiety are with me, but they are at bearable levels. Some of that is about progress I’ve made with my head. Rather a lot of it has an economic angle. Some of it has a social angle. So, here’s the list of things I’ve identified that are helping me win at winter rather than being crushed by it.

  • Better diet and hot food in the day as well as the evening meal.
  • Better heating.

Being cold, and not eating well enough have in the past made me tired, more vulnerable to winter bugs, and just grind me down. In the UK we have far too many people choosing between heating and eating and worse yet, able to do neither. The strain this puts people under is awful.

  • The dehumidifier. No more black mould – a problem of small and under-heated spaces without enough airflow – again this is a poverty issue and widespread. The dehumidifier cost money to buy and money to run, it isn’t an option everyone has. It has also removed the stress of winter laundry, which has been a nightmare for most of my adult life. It is cheaper to buy and run than a tumble drier, more eco-friendly and takes up less space.

Mould in homes causes illness. Damp in homes does properties no good at all, and people no good at all. Chilled, damp bedding does not make for a good night’s sleep. Being unable to keep your clothes clean because you can’t dry it does people no good at all.

  • A social life that doesn’t depend entirely on going out at night.

Winter can be especially isolating. It is physically harder to get out, more demanding and you need more gear – boots, coat, maybe a car. Being able to socialise in the daytime takes a lot of pressure off, as do earlier evening social activities.

  • Getting outside whenever there is sun.

This is good for vitamin D production, improving health and mental wellbeing. It’s also not an option if you have to work in the day or don’t have the outdoor clothes to make it feasible. One of the huge perks of being self employed is being able to structure my day as I please, to a fair degree.

Winning at winter costs money. You need the right gear to be comfortable and well. You need to be able to heat your home, and having hot food has a big impact on morale. There are low or no cost things that can be done with time, energy, ingenuity and a woodstove, but if you don’t have those, it isn’t easy. As winter comes round every year, government strategies that routinely leave the poor and vulnerable unable to deal with it well, are appalling and inexcusable.

Leaves Falling

The wind is gentle here, the shape of the hill shielding us from the worst storms. As the wind comes through the valley it swirls and dances, forming tiny whirlwinds that scuttle over the grass. Leaves fall like painted snowflakes, gold from the heavens. A sky full of colour and movement, too lovely to seem properly real.

Slow to tumble, the leaves fall like feathers, turning and twirling towards a soft impact. As though a giant golden bird has flown by and released them. As though the sky is full of leaf tree birds shedding their feathers. As though a tree is a wing paused in motion, only revealing the feather nature of its leaves now autumn is here.

Amongst the fallen leaves, small birds and rodents practice their jumps and halting moves, sharp shifts as though they too are leaves blown by the wind. Feathers pretending to be leaves pretending to be feathers.

Perfect Autumn

Thus far this September has gifted me with a few days that are, to my mind, perfect autumn. We’ve had out share and then some of rain, and grey, overcast days, and we’ve not yet had the mists or the frosts, but I expect those will be along later.

September at its best means waistcoats, jackets or jumpers but not having to bundle up in heavy coats just yet. It means scarves for fun, not a shivering necessity. As most of my clothes preferences tend towards layers, this is the kind of weather my clothes best suit and I most enjoy wearing things I like.

It’s perfect walking weather – a dry and bright day, but not so hot as to make moving arduous, and with no risk of heat stroke. These are good laundry days too, and as someone who depends a lot on wind power for drying, I really appreciate that.

I also really enjoy the way it gets dark earlier but isn’t too cold to be out at night doing something – either moving about, or with a little extra cover. I had a fantastic evening in a tent, for example. It won’t be long before that kind of evening is impossible without a fire.

Every season offers things to enjoy, and every season has its own challenges. I think the trick is to make the best of the good stuff without feeling like you ahve to pretend the difficult things don’t exist.

Celebrating the Equinox

I’ve always found equinoxes tricky, not least because I’ve never found much in the way of folk tradition to draw on. There is a lovely modern tradition that makes the 21st of September International Peace Day, and that’s something worth tapping into, certainly.

This equinox might, therefore be a good time to think about who we include in our ritual circles, and who we don’t. Superficial peace is easily achieved – distance, absence, ignoring, denying, silencing, disappearing, disempowering – all of this can make for a peaceful scenario for those who come out on top. However, for those who are silenced and vanished, the problems and the effect of being denied is the exact opposite of peace.

In the long term, the superficial peace that silences the unpeaceful will beget future conflicts. Real peace means dealing with the problems. It means looking at our conflicts and trying to work out what to do with them. It means asking what we do about people who mistreat others within our communities, and it means recognising that to do nothing is always to support the aggressor and to deny the victim.

It is ok for people to fall out, disagree, find they can’t work together and move on. Great things can come from people realising they don’t like a thing and striking out to make the thing they want on their own terms. This kind of division does not have to be ultimately unpeaceful. The separation may be messy, but if we can respect our differences, we can all move on in good ways.

Sometimes the actions, words or behaviour of one person will put another person in a situation they can’t deal with. We tend to treat this as an individual problem rather than a community one. We let the person go who feels least able to stay. Power and popularity may prove more important than justice and fairness. If there’s nothing more to it than a personality clash, then perhaps the only thing to do is weather the short term grief and start over. Some things cannot easily be fixed.

Groups in the habit of pushing people out are not good groups to be in. Groups that tacitly support bullying, because there’s someone powerful in the centre of the group, are not good spaces. So much of this echoes the playground, where there are always kids who will gravitate towards the deliberately nasty one in the hopes that by supporting them, they will never be the victim themselves.

So at this time of balance, I invite you to think about how we hold our edges. How we let people go when they need to, and how we work together when there’s conflict that needs collective solutions. What we do with people when they are out of order, what we do with people when they are hurt? If you are standing in circle today, or at the weekend, think about the peace of your circle and what maintains it, think about your community as a whole. Ask whether you have true peace, or the calm that comes from ignoring the issues, or making the problems go away.

Flowers for the solstice

One of my ongoing issues with the Pagan concept of the wheel of the year is that it can focus a person’s sense of the seasonal down to eight key days. Outside, the cycle of the seasons is a process from day to day, and if you aren’t engaging with it day by day, you’ll miss things. That in turn can help perpetuate the simpler eight key points narrative because we don’t tend to see the things we aren’t looking for.

The demoiselle flies (smaller than dragonflies, but different from damselflies because they have dramatic black wings) tend to show up a few days before my birthday. A week ago there was a big hatching. A couple of days ago I saw my first dragonflies of the season. Most of the garlic has died back, most fledglings are now out of the nest, but there are still clutches of new ducklings hatching. That’s true where I live, for this year, but next year may be different.

This year I have particularly noticed the arrival of cranesbill flowers and meadowsweet. As there’s a lot of foliage growing, they were able to do all their leafy growth without my spotting them, but now the flowers are out, the plants are a distinctive presence. The purples of the cranesbill flowers, the misty clouds of fragrant meadowsweet. I didn’t have them in my head as a solstice flower, I don’t remember exactly when they appeared last year. I tend to think of meadowsweet as something that blooms later on, and perhaps it is. Many of the usual rhythms are being thrown out by climate change.

You have to catch a cranesbill just right to see why it has the name – the flowers themselves are nothing like cranes. It’s the forming flower bud, which, before opening, looks just like a head and beak. There an edge plant, so look for them in hedgerows, along shaded footpaths and at woodland edges.

More about cranesbill here –

And a lovely piece on meadowsweet here with herbal and mythical properties