Tag Archives: cycle of the seasons

The sun returns

In my memory at least, aside from one week in February and another in April, last year was grey. It rained a shocking amount, and there was nothing even slightly resembling a summer. Well, we have a bit of sun now, and I can only hope that’s not last year’s pattern playing out again.

I didn’t used to be much of a sun worshipper, but have come to appreciate it, in its absence. The good weather for drying washing, the option of having a window open, the not wading through mud or flood on a regular basis. Rural life is not easy in bad weather, especially if you don’t have a car, but in the sun, it’s pure joy. We did quite a long cycle ride today, needing to sort things further afield, and the pleasure of pedalling along (on the downhill bits) was considerable. Being outside on a day like today is a delight, and I feel much more cheerful and alive for the experience.

Come rain, hail or snow I go out most days – unless I’m really ill. There are things to do that cannot be done on the boat – the school run in particular. I can’t claim I always like encountering nature in the raw. Nature can be cold and wet, and not especially forgiving. But when there’s a beautiful sunrise over the misty canal (today) or I’m greeted by a succession of wildlife – yesterday we had a buzzard, heron and kingfisher – that’s inspiring and cheering.

There’s something about colour. I may wear a lot of dark and subtle hues, but I love having colour in my environment. I struggle in the winter with the lack of colour at least as much as with the shortage of light. Today the sky is the most vivid shade of blue, and this makes me happy. The sunsets have been rich and brilliant this week, also wonderful. Soon there will be leaves on the trees again and even in the rain, the world will not be quite so grey. If there’s enough light to show up the fabulous blue iridescence of the kingfisher, so much the better.

I’m hoping for a good sort of year. One with plenty of blue skies in it. One full of opportunity and reasons to smile. We’ve got some fairly epic challenges ahead, as a family, some major upheavals in the offing. The small one changes school and we’ll be moving, and who knows what else? Hopefully these things will be more like adventures and less like stress-fests. But today the sky is blue, and I feel optimistic.

A personal wheel of the year

I spent a number of years celebrating the 8 standard wiccan/druid festivals. It gives the cycle of seasons a shape, and for people new to the idea of engaging with the wheel of the year, this is important. The ‘Fire’ festivals have all kinds of history and folklore so are also a way into a lot of traditional material, stories and ideas, making them a great teaching tool. They’re also rather a blunt instrument. The precise date of the equinoxes and solstices vary, and in practice most groups don’t celebrate the event. They celebrate the weekend most convenient to the event, and the idea of the event. As for the other four, they may be tied to natural events, but in any given year those events don’t all correspond to the dates. Arguably they are festivals of ancestral connection more than fertility festivals or part of the cycle of the seasons.

Whatever we do in terms of public and collective ritual, there’s also scope for creating a personal calendar. Our own responses to the seasons can create personal cycles. It’s autumn, and I can see the winter people getting all excited and gearing up joyfully for the dark while the summer people face SAD and feel out of sorts. People whose season is autumn are of course in their element just now. We’re all different. For some, autumn means returning to school or the education cycles. This time of year is very different for a student, teacher or parent, than it is for someone not connected to the education process. For many, this is a time of new beginnings. For others, the tax year commencing in April will be more significant. Many forms of work will have their own seasons too, and we’re all affected by those. Times of quiet, times of industry, not all of them connected at all to the solar year.

Historical events can be a big part of the personal calendar, too. Birthdays, deathdays, anniversaries of rites of passage. Over time, some fade away and don’t need re-celebrating, while others acquire greater significance.  Today is the third anniversary of my landing in America for the first time, and along with the date of Tom’s coming to the UK, and our wedding day, has become part of the calendar. Those kinds of dates can be powerful in affirming relationship, and also give an opportunity to reflect. Where are we now? Where have we been? Where do we want to be, three years hence? Where personal dates are forgotten or ignored, it can be a symptom of an ailing relationship. Where too much money is spent on anniversaries, too much attention paid at the few key points it can flag up how threadbare things are the rest of the time. I’m glad to say this is nothing like that!

Sometimes personal events become meaningful to a whole community. An annually reaffirmed handfasting can become a regular party and get together. The date of an event can become a definitive moment that stays in the local calendar, or the national calendar. Armistice day. Columbus Day. Martin Luther King Day.  Or at a more local level, strange remnants like Hunting the Earl of Rhone or the one about finding a mediaeval lady’s hood – something lingers on even when the meaning gets a bit vague. These rituals and rememberances can become part of a communal identity.

The moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to add new things. The day of the founding of your grove might be an event to reflect on every year. The day of your becoming a fully fledged OBOD druid might be one you want to earmark for druidic reflection in years to come. There are no wrong answers here, it’s just a way of being alert to the resonant things in your life and making a space for them, honouring what they mean. It’s also important to let them go when they cease to have resonance, moving on to new ideas, new celebrations.

The problem with festivals

Having just taken on a new Druidry student who isn’t English, I’m thinking (and not for the first time) about Druid festivals. I previously had the joy of teaching someone in America, and although that culture is rooted in some of the same ancestry as the UK, there are a lot of differences. With Druids all over the world – North and South Americas, Middle East, Russia, Australasia, Europe… I’m not aware of druids in Africa, but maybe there are – seasonal festivals create some interesting issues.

The festivals we have, and share with the wiccans, are a 20th century innovation. There is evidence in the alignments of prehistoric sites for celebration of the solstices. The Celtic festivals – Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain no doubt existed historically and are very old, but as far as I can tell, not all were celebrated in all places. The addition of the equinoxes makes for a nice, balanced wheel of the year, but I’m not aware of historical celebrations of this before Stukely in the 1700s. So the idea that ancient druids celebrated these 8 festivals, seems a bit ropey.

Then there’s the issue of what happens on the ground. Druids in the southern hemisphere have a totally different relationship between calendar dates and seasons to their northern counterparts. The seasons themselves differ depending on how far from the equator you are, as do day lengths. A Druid in the Arctic Circle would surely want to honour the patters of light and darkness they experience, not seasonal celebrations pertaining to an entirely different relationship with the sun.

In my own part of the world, there are local events to celebrate – bores on the river (as mentioned in a recent blog) and the coming of migrant swans in the winter. Things that as little as twenty miles away, it would make no sense to be working with. Every place has its own events, history, landscape, and even climate. Different ways of working, different forms of farming or the realities of industry colour how we relate to the seasons. The further one is, physically or conceptually, from rural Britain, the less relevant the 8 festivals become.

Do we follow in the traditions of Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner and stick to the 8 festivals? Do we assume that these 8 are representative of what ancient British Druids did, and therefore give them priority, no matter how they fit with life as we experience it? How we answer that is going to inform a great deal about how any of us understand and live our own Druidry. Which is more important? The historical Druidry as best we understand it, or the land we are living in? Do we look to British ancestry, no matter where in the world we are, or do we look around us?

I’m in a position where I can very easily do either, and where there is not much direct conflict between seasons as experienced and how the 8 festivals fall. I have spent a lot of years celebrating the big 8, but this last year, I haven’t and I think it’s made me more conscious of what is around me. I am consequently less inclined to want to impose an arbitrary system onto my relationship with the changing energies of the year. I would rather react to what is, and how I feel, than focus on those fixed dates.

When I was looking after the Druid Network’s directory, I noticed that a lot of groups were starting to define their Druidry in terms of their geography. There are older groups, particularly in America, who define as being Welsh Druidry, or Irish Druidry as their tradition, but I was starting to see the emergence of Australian Druidry, and other lands where there is no history of this to draw on doing the same. I like this idea. I think a druidry that is a living, breathing response to where we are and what we experience is far preferable to being caught in the dogmatic structure of a ritual cycle that doesn’t fit. In choosing this, I am also choosing that the land and how I experience nature is the core of my Druidry, not what I know of the history. This is increasingly the case for me, and I realise it has considerable implications not only for how I want to progress in my own path, but also for how I will be supporting others when called to do so.