Tag Archives: seasonal celebration

Walking with intent

One of the things I love about labyrinths is that you can do whatever you want with them. If I lay one out in the grass at my local park, anyone who wants to come and walk it can. They can do so in whatever way they like and for whatever reasons, with no reference to what anyone else is doing. It’s a nice way to hold magical space for people. At the moment it’s also really good as as an answer to socially distanced celebration and ritual.

Labyrinths transcend any specific tradition. They are a form that allows us to bring our bodies into the same space without having to agree about meaning or approach. They’re also a very peaceful, powerful thing to do and require no previous experience.

Usually I walk the labyrinth as a meditative process. I like to be the first one in – to test that I’ve put it together properly, clear twigs from the path and make sure the space works. My process with the space begins far earlier, when I ask permission, talk to the land and put down the first curve of fabric to mark the centre. I will later do a second walk in and will be the last person to walk the labyrinth before we take it down.

For my midsummer labyrinth this week I did some things I have never done before. I walked with intent. I walked to make deliberate magical transformation and I walked in no small part to do that for someone else.  In doing so I learned that walking a labyrinth is a good focus for prayers and incantations. If your intention is clear, you can use the slow rhythm of the walking to set the pace for your words. The labyrinth I use takes a person into the middle and then you have to wind your way back out again. It makes sense to work your way into the heart of the issue on the way in, and use the return journey to work out how you want to emerge from the situation.

My first walk into the labyrinth was about things I wanted to change for the next day. It worked, simply. Or things came out right anyway – who can say? But I was pushing for a transformation and a radical change of energy, and that came, one way or another.

For my second journey, I was more focused on the slightly longer term, and I set intentions about the next labyrinth I will make. If that comes to pass I will probably write about it.

An unexpected third intention arose from this process. I want the space to make a permanent labyrinth. This goes with a number of other thoughts I’ve been having and is a good additional focus for the future I am trying to imagine and make real.

Druidry and not so much ritual

For some time now, I’ve not being doing ritual. I had a few years when, living on a narrowboat I was so very close to the natural world, and so very far from other Druids that seasonal ritual made little sense. In recent years living in Stroud, there have been various forays into the possibility of seasonal ritual, but nothing has formalised. I find that I enjoy having the eight rounds of community gathering in a year.

There are things I definitely like about ritual – community, sharing bard stuff, getting outside together, and any gestures towards making beauty in some way. I hate scripts, and I’m not very easy with standard ritual language any more. It’s too formal, it feels weird. I’m wary of any kind of ritual structure that puts some people in charge in priestly roles and has others cast as onlookers. I want proper anarchy in my circles – no titles.

Once again I find myself asking how to make ritual work for me. Last year we tried holding bardic sessions at the full moon, but by October it was far too cold to be standing around at night. Given the people I hang out with, food and bardic contributions are a certainty. I’m intending to experiment a bit with talking sticks (well, a talking spoon is more likely…)

The very word ‘ritual’ suggests repetition, but repetition is problematic. It can create a firm underpinning, but it can equally dull people into careless lethargic states. It can help people connect, but you can end up connecting with the abstract ideas of the ritual and not with the experience of being alive and in a place on a day. High ritual language can empower, but it can also exclude. It can inspire, but it can oppress. There are no neat answers to this.

I’ve yet to find what I want from rituals. Even so, I can’t quite let go of the idea of them, I keep coming back to seasonal celebration and trying to figure out how I want it to be.

A barefoot labyrinth

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will have noticed that labyrinths have become a key part of my seasonal celebrations. Each one, so far, has brought significant new experiences.

My spring equinox labyrinth was the first one I’ve shared with a sizeable group – and perhaps most significantly, a group where the majority had not been involved in making the labyrinth. I found that quite affecting. There is a big difference for me in making something that is shared.

We used a different location – in the past I’ve built them all at the same spot in a public park – which has felt a bit exposed. This time we were in a very different public space. We were in a graveyard, with the ruins of a mediaeval church, an array of massive Victorian tombs, and the clearly marked square under which lies an Orphic mosaic. The labyrinth went over the mosaic, and coming from a mediaeval church design, seems quite at home there.

I had two striking experiences while walking the labyrinth. The first, on my way into it for the first time of the day, was a visceral sense of how that bit of the labyrinth sat on the ground in the park where we’ve previously done it, and a feeling of sympathy between the two locations.

There were gusts of wind, and at some point after I’d walked my way to the centre, the wind moved something. It’s likely that the other people with me fettled this, but fettled it the wrong way. This being a bigger labyrinth design, it’s not unusual to feel you must have gone wrong somewhere, and that you’ve walked this bit before as the paths fold back on themselves. As a consequence I was there for quite some time before I realised that the labyrinth had changed, creating a closed loop I could not leave. I returned to the centre, and pondered it out, and corrected things. It’s interesting to have the elements redesign the path in this way.

This is the first time I’ve been able to walk one of my labyrinths barefoot. This really adds to the experience, creating a much deeper feeling of rootedness and engagement. It becomes a much bigger sensory experience for having bare feet. It’s also easier to handle tighter turns – some uncertainty about space meant this was the smallest I’ve made the design, resulting in tight turns at the centre where attentive footwork was required – a smaller labyrinth encourages me to go slower, because of the tight turns. A bigger labyrinth creates the room and the incentive to pick up speed.

I don’t know where or when the next one will happen, but I’ve made a proper bag to hold the parts of the labyrinth, and that’s certainly a commitment to doing more of them.

Voices of spring

The change of seasons is a subtle thing, one day to the next, Buds fatten until the first hints of green peek out. Shoots emerge one by one, and the grass begins to grow, turning the faded tones of winter into fresh and vibrant shades. Birds pair off, their nest building apparent, and the days lengthen, getting warmer.

I don’t know why I wake before the dawn, but I do, lying in the darkness I hear when the dawn chorus begins. They are singing for longer now than they did in winter – the warmth and growing days giving them more energy to spare. Somehow they know the dawn is coming, and sing to greet it. Although my body seems to know too, based on when I wake, I don’t feel the coming of the light, but the song of birds is a comfort, and helps me wait out the darkness. It’s the loneliest time of the day for me, not wanting to disturb others who are sleeping, seldom feeling energetic enough to move. The darkness lies heavy and it’s a time when I’m most exposed to my own fear. But the bird song always eases that, and the return of light means a return of hope.

Where I’ve studied Druidry over the years, I’ve heard plenty of advice about how we should attune our own life cycles and moods to the seasons. Spring is the time for waking up, for new projects, fresh energy. As I spend significant time outside every day and don’t have much insulation from nature, I feel the cycle of the seasons keenly – the shifts in day length and temperature impact on me. I’m alert to the changes in plants and birds, and this year bats as well. But I’m not bounding with spring energy. I’m not feeling the thrill of a new season or the energy of new creativity. Emotionally, I’m still in the cold, hard depths of winter and there is a lot of ice on the inside.

This is not a new problem. I don’t lull into the gentle sleep of winter like a good little Druid – I can’t – winters for me are hard work, because I have little insulation from the harsh realities of them. Often the long days around midsummer give me a strange rush and a kind of hyper-energised insanity, but that’s the only time I ‘feel the season’ at all. Early on as a student I was actually told off for this and encouraged to perceive it as ‘Druid fail’. Which it isn’t.

The tides and seasons of our lives are unique to each of us. Trying to reduce them down and make them fit a perceived narrative of the year is unhelpful. I am not a flower to experience the year as plants do, entirely solar led. Nor am I a hibernating mammal or a migrating bird. Listening to the voices of nature and learning from them should not be a process of trying to entirely become what we are not. However we attune to sun and season, we are still human, and it is important to recognise and honour our own tides, which will not necessarily connect with any other natural cycle out there.

For creative folk, the seasons of our working and being fallow are not about crops or harvest. It takes precisely as long to incubate and birth a project as it takes. That can be minutes, months or anywhere in between. We might be caught in industrious energy through the autumn and winter only to find ourselves dying back in the spring and needing to retreat and rest a while. I lived for a while with a predictable six to eight week pattern of work and burn out, which didn’t relate to anything but me.

The tides of life do not respect our inner seasons. We might want to be resting in darkness, but other calls may be made on our energy. Reality won’t wait until a springtime of the soul to make demands on our selves and invention. We could be trying to die back quietly, only to find some other current has grabbed us and requires us to evolve into swimmers.

Celebrating what we have and honouring the sacred time that is now, is not just about recognising where the solar seasons are and trying to attune to them. It is good to be aware of what’s going on out there, but it’s also important to recognise that what goes on within us might not neatly correspond. It’s even possible to find that your thoughts pull one way and your emotions another, that there is no coherent narrative about where you are in your life and what any of it means. And that’s ok too. Sometimes it’s enough to draw breath, write ‘I am here’ as spirit graffiti in the air, and let it go.