Category Archives: Seasons

Season of the Yule Badger

This year’s Yule badgers are made along the lines of paper angels I used to have as a child. The internet has lots of templates for cone shaped foldable paper angels. Having looked at a few, Tom figured out a Yule badger for me, and I coloured a few.

The Yule badger has become very much part of my winter celebrations.


Winter Light

The place I live is made up of hills and valleys. The town of Stroud nestles (mostly) between the hills, with villages occupying other valleys. This place was carved out of the limestone by water working its way down to meet the Severn.

In winter, the sun doesn’t clear the hills much in some places. I have a friend whose home gets no direct sunlight at this time of year. For those on the hilltops there is still plenty of light, but also a lot of wind. Down in the valleys, where I live, it is a lot more sheltered, but also gloomier. 

I don’t experience the solstice as having any great impact. For me, the dark part of the year starts in early December and continues well into January. My sense of the light and the season has everything to do with how I experience light – and the absence of it – in my own home and that in turn has everything to do with where I live in relation to the hills.

I think it’s important to be specific and personal in our relationships with the natural world. Thinking about ‘nature’ as some sort of vague abstract won’t give you much. It’s easy to pay lip service to a vague idea, but a real relationship calls for specifics. 

How does the wheel of the year turn for you? What are your personal experiences of the seasons? What happens where you live?


First Frosts

While the first frosts can come a lot earlier in the autumn than they have this year, they are always a sign of the winter to come. For me, they never feel like a good sign. Granted, there is a kind of sharp beauty and clarity that also tends to come with the frosts. Frosty mornings tend to be bright and crisp, and can feature some intensely blue skies. However, cold weather tends to hurt.

My body doesn’t handle the cold well. I get stiff more readily, and I hurt more. I’m never going to appreciate the prettiness of frost with uncomplicated feelings of joy. At the moment I’m enjoying a life where I don’t have to head out on frosty mornings. It’s easier to enjoy the light and the sparkles while not being out there dealing with slippery surfaces. I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to afford to keep my home warm enough not to suffer at the arrival of frosts.

Being able to enjoy the winter tends to involve privilege. Enough money for heating and a body that isn’t threatened by the conditions are key. For some people, the reduced amount of sunlight causes depression. For many, winter is isolating. If you can enjoy the season, that’s lovely and you should do so. But please remember not to berate or shame people who express difficulty. And yes, while it’s true that there are no bad weather conditions, only unsuitable clothing, it is also true that you have to be able to afford that clothing, and not everyone can. A winter without a substantial coat is tough. I’ve been there. 

If it gets cold enough, you can’t wear enough jumpers to make up for not being able to afford to heat your home. If your home is a van, or a boat, if you sleep in your car, or are living in a tent or rough sleeping, winter is a very hard season. You can’t always tell by looking who is dealing with such issues. There are working people in the UK who live in cars and tents and hide it well. Please be gentle with the people who find winter difficult.


Nature at Samhain

Some twenty years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between modern Druid festivals and the wheel of the year as it turns where I live. The solstices and equinoxes make total sense because of their relationship with the length of the day and night and all the impact that has on the rest of nature.

Imbolc is traditionally associated with sheep lactating and with snowdrops. Lammas (which is at the same time as Lugnasadh) is associated with the first of the grain harvests. While lambs don’t reliably appear in the fields this early, we have some obvious markers for these two festivals. Gathering May blossom is traditionally associated with Beltain, and it’s also the time of year when bluebells come out, and when it’s warm enough to be barefoot outside (or to have sex outside, but barefoot is probably more inclusive!). 

I spent a long time considering Samhain. The pumpkin harvest may seem obvious, but pumpkins are from the Americas and not part of UK tradition. If you’re growing them, it may well make sense to take them as a key seasonal marker. Twenty years ago is struck me that the leaves are usually down from the trees by Samhain.

Climate change is impacting on the wheel of the year. How we relate festivals to seasons may need serious consideration in light of this. Do we stay with the ancestral dates? Or do we adapt based on what those dates mean to us? I suspect the answers will be individual. For many people around the world, those ‘Celtic’ dates have never related much to a lived experience of the local seasons anyway.

It is Halloween. Most of the trees in my area still have all their leaves. Many are barely beginning to turn yellow, and there’s a lot of greenery present. There is no sense of the dying year, not yet. It’s still warm enough to be outside without a coat during the day. Grazing animals are still out in the fields. If your focus for Halloween is the idea of bringing animals in and choosing which ones will live, then we aren’t at that point in the year yet, either.


Celebrating the days

As a Pagan, I’m predisposed to celebrating. Every day, there are awareness raising campaigns, commemorations, and celebrations. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether to celebrate, or raise awareness – as with International Women’s Day or Pride month. All too often it feels performative and superficial. We wave the right hashtags about and make vague supportive noises and move on to the next one, but has anything changed at all?

Today isn’t World Mental Health Day or Suicide Prevention Day. The ill and depressed people haven’t gone away. The social pressures contributing to people’s mental health problems have not been fixed. It isn’t Bi Visibility today, but here I am, back to being my usual invisible bisexual self and wishing for a world in which I didn’t have to routinely flag up my own existence to try and make space for the fact that I and my fellow bi-folk exist and would rather like to be allowed to exist, free from both prejudice and erasure.

Earth Day isn’t enough. Peace One Day isn’t enough. We can probably do with just the one international apple day, and there are a fair few cheerful, innocuous world celebration days that aren’t big issues. But for everything else, one day a year of trying to make the right noises really doesn’t cut it, and it doesn’t beget serious change.

Real and meaningful change takes dedication. It makes more sense to pick a few causes you can properly support and commit to doing that all year round. Raising awareness and educating people requires more time, more insight and more effort than is possible showing up one day a year. Rather than being awash with Day of the Whatever and performative allyship, it is much more use to focus and commit to some specific issues.

You can take on quite a few issues on these terms. I’m a longstanding woodland and tree campaigner. I talk about mental health a lot, I raise awareness around domestic violence and queer issues. I talk about disability, accessibility, diversity and inclusion. I make this part of my everyday work and part of how I do my Druidry.  I used to spend more time as a campaigner for Paganism but that feels less urgent right now. There are, inevitably, a lot of issues I don’t really show up for as a campaigner. But, I can always undertake to learn and to educate myself, to pay attention and try to improve my understanding. There’s always more to learn.


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.