So here we are in the shortest of days and the longest nights, deep in the dark heart of winter. Nature, being no respecter of Pagans, has opted to make this one of the warmest, driest, sunniest day in weeks. Hence the laundry.
Laundry is one of those jobs that doesn’t sit well with the idea of winding down into the peaceful sleepy darkness of midwinter. Clothes persist in getting dirty, in fact the available mud and rain of the reason aid the process. Last year I was hanging it out to dry in very cold conditions, and frequently getting comedy frozen-rigid garments as a consequence. A sunny day in the winter is an absolute blessing. It’s a chance to open windows, air out, freshen up and get ready for the next deluge and I’ve no doubt my ancestors did just the same things when they could. Spring cleaning is fine, but we’ve a few months to go and it’s nice not to be damp and reeking, and I’m sure that’s not a new impulse at all.
In ritual, as in laundry, the weather doesn’t always do what you expect. In the UK weather can be relied on to be changeable. I’ve done midwinter ritual with fog freezing onto the trees, in the rain, and in gentle and warm conditions like today. Any script written in advance is likely to make no sense in the actual conditions. That’s why I like to improvise.
Druidry, laundry…. Both call for glancing out of the window to see not only what the sky is doing, but what it might do in the next few hours. Of course, if you do it all indoors – the drying and the rituals, then it’s not an issue. A little insulation means you can ignore all that pesky, unco-operative nature has to offer. You can talk about the darkness of winter on the sunniest day if you like – draw the curtains and imagine it. That’s not my path, and frankly it irritates the hell out of me. Why bother to honour nature at all if you can’t get out there and honour what it’s really doing, not what you imagine it should be doing?
The laundry-outside angle is all part of being green. Wind and sun are free, there is no carbon cost to drying my clothes this way. It takes a bit more effort and a lot more paying attention to conditions outdoors, and requires having some space to hang things, so I recognise that not everyone can. But it’s such a simple, real and meaningful way of engaging with nature. Hanging out washing makes you learn to read the sky, to sense the rain minutes before it comes. What druid weather sense I have is owed almost entirely to twenty years or so of hanging laundry out to dry, and trying to make sure that doesn’t result in it getting wetter.
Connecting with nature, honouring the spirits of the season and being pagan doesn’t have to be some abstract process, separate from real life. In fact, I would argue, it shouldn’t be. The more intrinsic our spirituality is to daily life, the more real and significant it becomes. Paganism isn’t window dressing for the soul, it’s a whole way of being, and can be brought to bear with anything.
Hail spirits of water, you who purify and renew. I thank you for your blessings of cleanliness. Hail spirits of ancestors, you who invented soap, and buckets, you who taught me the mysteries of soaking and scrubbing. Hail spirits of winter sun, your brightness a joy after the grey days of rain. Hail wind spirits, blowing softly from the west today, bringing gentle air and the powers of drying.
Anything can be ritual, if you’ve a mind to look at it that way. Anything can become a sacred act of connection. Through this short day, the laundry dries, real life goes on, and spirit lives in all of it.
Hail spirits of dancing clothes, windswept and sun blessed. I give thanks to the nameless workers who fashioned you, to the wonders of modern technology that brought you to me, and to the ancient, ancestral techniques that enable me to keep you clean and sweet smelling.