Tag Archives: celebrating

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.


Tom at black booksA birthday is always a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a person. Today my lovely bloke, Tom Brown, is officially a bit older. I am therefore taking this opportunity to embarrassing him in public a smidge by singing his praises.

I first met Tom through a publishing house, something like ten years ago. We were put together for him to do me a book cover – and while that didn’t happen for various reasons, we got talking and never stopped being interested in what each other had to say. We’ve faced many trials and challenges since then, survived some tough times apart, and some hard times together, and pulled through, hanging on to each other all the way.

Tom’s history has some painful stuff in it, which he shared the gist of here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/guest-blog-after-the-asylum/ But he’s managed to come back from some decidedly difficult things. Not only that, but he’s done so without becoming cynical, jaded, or otherwise on a downer about humanity and the world. Tom’s wilful optimism is an ongoing source of inspiration to me. His line, ‘we will have our revenge by being far better people’ has carried me through quite a few things now.

I wouldn’t be here without him. I would not have survived the ravages of serious depression. I probably wouldn’t have found the courage to get out of the situation that made me so ill in the first place. His belief in me kept me going when I had no belief. His courage and generosity held me together. And alongside that he’s taken his own intense journey from being a hermit and a bit of a lost soul, towards social confidence and a Penguin contract. It’s been quite something to see.

I am immensely proud of him, and profoundly grateful that he has chosen to share his life with me. Here’s to many more years.

Greens and Blues for Beltain

All over facebook, people are posting bits of folk songs and generally hailing the first of May. Beltain is here! Summer is a coming in. And here’s me, feeling awkward. Again. Part of it is not having a group at the moment. These festivals in the calendar are all about group coming togethers, and without the focus of a circle, the first of May is not so very different from the 30th of April, or the second of May. Just another part of the slow transition through the seasons. I can’t find it in me to celebrate any of these days on my own. I bow to my ancestors, to the ones who celebrated, and the ones who protested, because this is also Labour Day. (we’ll have a May Day my oh my…). I bow to the Queens of the May, and the morris dancers who danced up the sun. Memories of previous Beltains, good and less so, also come to mind.

It’s not just the issue of not having a celebration lined up. It’s also about what’s happening around me. The willow trees on the canal are just coming into leaf. Not all of the hedges have greened yet, and hawthorn normally gets going in March. The big beech tree on the school run hasn’t even started to open its buds, most of the visible woodland is still in the twiggy stage, and brown, not green. How can it be Beltain when the trees are not yet fully in leaf?

I’ve seen one clutch of ducklings, and plenty of evidence of nests, some of the usual spring activity is well under way. I’ve heard a cuckoo a few times, that folk icon of May, calling out the coming summer. There are swallows hunting over the canal and along the lanes, bugs now abound and the fish have started jumping in the evenings. It’s coming. But it isn’t here yet. Not all of the cows are back in their fields. There’s a big change in the character of a landscape when the animals go back out. We’ve had lambs, and the sheep are always out earlier than the cows. My nearest neighbours were let out a few days ago, but some of their cousins up the road are still in their sheds. The boggy ground won’t have helped, although we’re drying out finally. Traditionally Beltain is the time of taking the livestock off the low pasture and up into the hills, and the fires purify and protect them. It’s not the time for getting the cows out of the barn. That should have happened already.

I can remember one bad winter in my early twenties where we didn’t have trees in leaf until Beltain. Even that year wasn’t as late as this. I have missed the leaves. There’s no sign of the new reeds coming up yet either. No reed smells and rustlings. I miss the dappling of light through leaves and the greening of the landscape, I miss the way the air is different under a leafy canopy. It’s been a long winter.

If you are celebrating today, or over the weekend, I wish you much joy. May the sun smile down upon you, and the leaves unfurl around you. May there be life and all the delights of summer’s promises. I hope we get a proper summer this year, a good balance of sun and rain so that crops ripen rather than rotting in the fields, unharvestable. Again.

Once upon a time, apparently people related the health of the land to the virtue of their ruler. If we did that now, the UK government would be in a lot of trouble, and we’d have had a very big wicker man last Samhain. There are things a modern person cannot blame the government for, but at the same time, we are seeing climate change, and those in power do not care that Beltain has come without the greening.