Tag Archives: seasons

Sliding into winter

Over the last few days, there have been heavy frosts, and ice on the ground at night where I live. For me, this means winter is definitely here. It’s a localised definition. There are parts of the UK that have already had some snow – but, down in the balmy south west of the country, it’s possible to go a whole winter and not see any. What winter means varies a lot depending on where you are.

I become very aware of my body in these conditions. My balance – or lack of it. How readily my hands and feet go numb in the cold. I also note that I’m doing a bit better this year on both of these – I’m less panicked by slippery ground, and I’m not having quite the same degree of circulation problems. There’s only been one significant change in my life since last winter and that’s the Tai Chi, so it could be that both shifts relate to that. I think it has improved my balance. It’s given me body knowledge about ways of walking carefully so I can do that without having to over-think it. I was told it might improve my circulation, and this is the first evidence this could be happening.

How we experience the seasons combines body and location, health, affluence, resources – it can be incredibly revealing. What’s easy often goes unnoticed, so if winter is easy for you it may be worth spending some time with that and asking why.


Shades of Winter

I’ve never really paid attention to the shift from autumn to winter before. I don’t like the winter, so usually I’m trying not to engage with it. This year, being better resourced I’m more able to cope, and trying to change my relationship with this time of year.

I’m not sure what marks the edge between these seasons. The first frosts were some time ago. The leaves are still on the trees. The nights are long, and it is cold. I need my winter coat most of the time when I go outside now. I need thick socks in my boots and heavy gloves and still I struggle to stop my hands and feet going numb. This is more about my body than the temperature.

Today there is sun, and the colours on the trees are pronounced so it feels like autumn. Yesterday was cold and grey, and I was more conscious of where the trees are bare, and it felt like winter.

We’re not into frosty or frozen ground yet. I haven’t had to break out my microspikes. As someone with poor balance and a lot of anxiety, slippery surfaces are a seasonal nightmare. I put fell-runners crampons on my boots, and those keep me safe and radically reduce the fear. The point at which those come out is definitely winter. Which is a useless measure for those wet and grey winters where frost and ice are never really a thing.

I’ve spent most of my life measuring winter in terms of discomfort. I know this is the reality for many other people. As I work on changing my relationship, I’m conscious of the shift from insufficiency towards privilege.


Signs of autumn

Back when I used to teach Druidry to people, I spent a lot of time thinking about the wheel of the year, and what seasonal events it connected with. I came to the conclusion that the trees being bare of leaves might be an important one for Samhain.

We’re a few days from Samhain now, and many of the trees around me are still green. Some have started to turn yellow and some leaves have started to fall. This could be one of those years where leaves are still present into Yule. It has happened before.

I spent some of last week further north (I live in the south west of the UK). There, autumn was further ahead, but in the place I was staying, there leaves had, I was told, just gone brown and started falling.

This morning, I woke to my first proper frost of the season. Normally this is a sad moment in the wheel of the year for me. I do not enjoy the cold, I am not good on slippery surfaces. But today, I am glad to see the first frost because it’s so late. It’s a relief to have it there.

In the last year or so, the number of rough sleepers around the town has increased considerably. First frosts are very bad news for them. Any scope for enjoying these conditions is rooted in privilege and it is so very important to keep sight of that. Don’t tell people off for being killjoys if they aren’t keen on autumn and winter. Poverty makes being cold a much bigger problem. Yes, autumn is lovely if you can put on your fluffiest socks and read a book by your log fire, looking up to enjoy the scenery outside the window. If you can’t afford the heat to keep the damp at bay, it is a miserable time of year.

For anyone who suffers SAD, this is a tough time of year. It can add to other forms of depression too – you can be practically affected by the cold and dark in ways that increase depression and anxiety. Having to travel to and from work in the dark is an obvious example. The cold can exacerbate pain. For older women with more fragile bones, a broken hip is a life limiting disaster, and the frost and ice pose a real threat. There are many other such examples. No one should add to the misery for people who cannot enjoy what autumn brings.


Approaching the equinox

I’ve never been very good at equinoxes in terms of celebrating the wheel of the year. Even when I was doing ritual regularly, they were the ones I found hardest to honour. It’s curious, because these are distinct events marking key shifts between the light and dark halves of the year.

There’s a disconnection for me in the way we talk about equinoxes  as times of balance, and the way I experience them. At the equinoxes, we have the fastest day by day change in the balance between light and dark. At this time of year, heading towards the equinox it becomes most obvious that the nights are drawing in and the dawn is later. I feel the shift, not the balance.

This may be one of those cases where modern Paganism has come at something intellectually not experientially. Somewhere in the midst of all this change there is indeed a balance point, but in terms of how we live through these days, that moment is almost invisible. It’s only really there to experience because we’ve agreed that it is, and that agreement may be taking us away from the experience of equinox.

I’m feeling the change and the shift into autumn. I’m feeling the changing length of days, and how different from summer the light is now when I get up in the morning. I’m feeling sleepy earlier in the evening. The smell of the air has changed, the nights and early mornings are colder. It’s a period of intense change, soon to be amplified as the leaves start changing colour and the woods around me shift dramatically from green to golden and brown.

I don’t feel balanced in myself, either, I feel the rush of change, the scope for everything to be different. If I am still now, it is because I’m being tugged in a number of directions and am waiting to see which pulls are the strongest.


The final flowers

There are flowers on the brambles still, and I’ve seen ragged robin and campion in the last few days. At some point, I will have seen the last of these. There are already summer flowers I won’t see again until next year.

First appearances are easier to spot than final showings. When will I see my last bat before they go into hibernation? When will I see my last swift or swallow for this year? It’s not usually until some time after the event that having seen the last one – or the last one for this year – becomes obvious. Spring announces its new arrivals, but as the autumn moves in, those key points of final sightings just aren’t so clear. It means the letting go process is much less defined than the welcoming in.

Of course there are things to welcome in autumn – I’ve seen my first conkers. Leaves changing colour, fruits and nuts ripening, and later in the year, the arrival of winter migrants – these will all be easier to spot. But, the end of summer feels like a falling away without quite knowing what you’ve lost.

It’s useful to reflect on this and spend some time with it. In so many aspects of life, we don’t know when we’ve had the last, or the best of something. People we don’t get to say goodbye to. Things that will never come again. It means that you don’t know how important a meeting is, or a parting, because we never really know who, or what we will see again.

It’s so important not to be complacent about things – you never know when something important may leave forever. Hopefully, the swallows will be back next year, along with the wildflowers and the new leaves. Even that doesn’t feel so certain anymore.


Apple harvest

At the weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to be involved with harvesting and processing apples. It was a small, non-commercial thing, helping out friends whose garden has a lot of fruit trees. I picked apples, cut apples, spent quite a lot of time extracting juice from apples. I drank freshly squeezed apple juice – which is wonderful. Someone else made apple crumble, and we ate it together. There were some spontaneous bursts of collective singing, and an improvised apple shanty.

This kind of seasonal working and feasting creates not only a sense of community, but also a rich relationship with the time of year. For me, it also creates a sense of connection with ancestors. I’ve found that around jam making, preserving, making Christmas puddings and other seasonally specific domestic activities. I feel it at the first point in the year when I can hang washing outside. These are the things people have been doing for a very long time. The technology changes, a bit, the recipes evolve, the songs get new words, or new songs are added, but the essence remains the same.

Ever since the industrial revolution, working people have been sold an idea of convenience. That it is better for us to work just the one job, and buy most of what we need from other people who are doing just that as their job. Before then, most of us would have been much more involved with the practical realities of daily life. We get told all the time how much we want and need convenience – usually this information comes in the form of adverts for products.

We get told that doing a job the slow way and by hand is drudgery, old fashioned, and undesirable. My experience has always been that going the slow way gives me more. I can’t do it for everything all the time, in no small part because I don’t live in a space that would allow that. I need a bigger kitchen, some workshop room and a bit of garden. Maybe, one day this will be possible.

Self sufficiency is clearly hard work – but it also isn’t what most of our ancestors did. When you work together in a community, any given job doesn’t take so very long, and you can focus on what’s most urgent, and share the loads out and deploy people where they are more useful. As an ambidextrous person, I was able to work the apple juice machine faster than a single-handed person could, I enjoy the opportunities to use my hands that way. Other people are better suited to other things, and sharing the work out this way has its advantages.

Communal working for the good of your community has a very different feel from paid work. There’s more investment in doing the best possible job, there’s no incentive to rush, and there’s room to have fun while you’re doing it. ‘Convenience’ offers none of that.


At the end of summer

It has been an odd summer to say the least. Climate change is very much with us and climate chaos is clearly our new, abnormal norm. There have been days of intense, unbearable heat. There have been many days of torrential rain. High winds have brought down trees. Some days have been so cold and grey that it’s felt like late autumn.

For anyone whose spiritual life is connected to the wheel of the year, this is challenging stuff. Our stories about what the seasons mean aren’t going to hold up in face of climate chaos. The things we look for in the wild world won’t happen when we expect them to. It’s disorientating. To be a nature-worshipper with the natural world in a state of wounded disorder, is to also feel that woundedness.

The sun cycles are dependable – the nights are drawing in, and the dawns are a little later. The quality of light when I first wake has changed, feeling less like summer and more like autumn. But, what does autumn mean this year? We could have a late burst of summer weather – it’s happened before. We could be plunged further into cold, damp darkness under heavy cloud and relentless rain. Harvests are already suffering. It will not be a season of bounty.

I’ve taken a decision in recent weeks that is going to influence how I do my Druidry. I am alarmed and distressed by what’s happening, and the reasons for it, and the lack of political will to deal with the harm we do. But I also know I can’t live like that. Climate chaos is probably here to stay. I have to be able to make sense of my days, and I do not want to feel radically out of kilter with the wild world around me. So I have taken the decision to love the excess. I’m going to love the wild, lashing rain, the flash floods and the challenges they bring me. I’m going to love the high winds, no matter what damage they do. I am going to love the extremes of temperature even when I have to also hide from it. I am going to open my heart to all these things and make room for them and live with them.

Wounded beings lash out, even when you try to help them. This is no different. A being I love – this living planet – is wounded, and lashing out. I will undertake to love her anyway.


Druidry and the seasons

When I first came to Druidry I put in some years honouring the wheel of the year. During that process, I learned that what I was working with is a modern system, inspired by Celtic practice, but not an authentic historical model for nature worship. There’s lots of evidence from the alignments of stones and burial sites that our ancestors honoured the solstices back into pre-history. There’s far less for the equinoxes, and little folklore to go with them. As for the ‘fire festivals’ of Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain – these are not universal Celtic festivals. Those are Irish names, and my understanding is that there’s little evidence to suggest any group of people historically honoured all of them. (Ronald Hutton is my source here)

The wheel of the year is a useful system for organising people to meet up and share ritual in community. On those terms, it doesn’t really matter what its origins are. The reason it exists in both modern Druidry and Wicca has a great deal to do with the relationship between Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner. It can be useful, but if it isn’t, don’t feel restrained by it.

The trouble with the wheel of the year is that even within the British Isles, we don’t all get the same seasons at the same time. We may well also get local phenomena that are important to our landscape but that don’t fit into the wheel of the year. I live close to the River Severn, and the bores on the river are of great local significance. We get migratory swans coming in for the winter. We’re traditionally a sheep rearing area, but there are no lambs in the fields at Imbolc, they’re out now.

Over recent years, I’ve built up a seasonal calendar of things that are part of my landscape –much of it has to do with which flowers bloom when, and I make a point of going out to see them. It’s all very personal and immediate to where I live, and it shifts year to year depending on the exact weather conditions. It’s also a constantly expanding process as I learn more, or find new places to see particular things.

Rather than celebrate the wheel of the year, I’m in a week by week process of encountering the slow turn of the seasons. I don’t know how my Pagan ancestors celebrated in this landscape – there was a temple on the Cotswold plateau, but I do not know what they did there. Roman ancestors in the area likely honoured Orpheus, if the mosaic at Woodchester is indicative. Anyone living near the Severn will have honoured the river, and some of them called her the Goddess Sabrina, and I expect some of them honoured the elvers who used to be a seasonal feature and a significant part of the local diet.

There are many barrows in this landscape. They are in exposed, hilltop locations and if you want to spend time with them you really have to be there in the summer, because in the dark half of the year, the perpetual wind around them, and the cold makes them inaccessible. You can’t do ritual around a barrow when the wind takes your voices. Whatever was done here with the barrows, I feel confident that the end of October was not a focus.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone round here was, before the arrival of modern Paganism, celebrating Irish-named festivals. Aside from being confident about the river, I don’t know what people might have celebrated. Thus it makes more sense to me to develop my own relationship with this landscape, as I encounter it now and not how it may have been in the rather different climate of two thousand years ago and more.


Druidry, language, the good and the bad

How we label things has a great deal of power. What do we name as desirable, attractive, appealing? What do we tell ourselves is rubbish, useless, second rate? That winter holiday in the sun is generally framed as ‘good’ along with long dry spells in summer. What would happen if we stopped calling long sunny spells ‘beautiful’ and started calling them ‘droughts’?

In the context of climate change, how we talk about the weather is ever more important. Firstly because we are causing weather extremes, and secondly because how we respond to those, can add to the problem. Jetting off in search of winter sun is a case in point here. I grant you, it’s no fun being cold, but if you can afford to fly, you can probably afford fluffy socks and sufficient heating.

Air conditioning with its hydrofluorocarbons and electricity use is a response to hot weather that adds to the climate change fuelling the hot weather. No one enjoys being hot but the question of when to start using energy to cool down, and how much energy to use is an important one.

Extreme heat and cold both kill people, and other living beings too. If we’re increasing the problem when we try to improve our own comfort, we really aren’t winning here.

To be a Druid means, in part to be in service to the land and the wild world. How exactly you phrase that and express it will vary, but this is nature based religion and we have a duty of care to the natural world. It’s also at this point a matter of enlightened self interest – if it was your personal home that could easily end up either on fire, or frozen, you would act to avoid that.

One of the ways in which Druidry, and Paganism as a whole is well placed to help people rethink climate change responses, is through the language of cycles. Accepting the wheel of the year, the seasons and the natural changes in weather makes us better able to live with them. If you are honouring the seasons, it gives you a better basis for working with how things are. Rather than seeing good and bad weather, we can just see weather and look for appropriate responses. We can reframe good weather as weather we can live with, and bad weather as extreme weather that can kill us. If we talk about the dramatic weather climate change is causing, that alone helps. So many people are still in denial about both our role in this and our power to change it.

It’s worth exploring how you talk about climate, and where you describe things as good or bad, problematic or desirable. It’s well worth looking at how our feelings about the weather then translate into our choices about technology we use, and carbon we release into the atmosphere.


Spring in the microclimates

Stroud has a lot of microclimates. The folds of the land, and how they catch the sun at this time of year produces little spots that are not only a bit different in climate when you enter them, but can even have different relationships with the seasons.

Over the weekend I found a south facing bank, protected from the wind. On it there were violets and wood anemones, in bloom. It’ll be some weeks before those show up at some other spots around here. Wood anemones usually bloom with the garlic and bluebells, in early May.

The shape of the land in relation to the sun equally creates places that are darker for longer, where frost and snow linger after everything else has melted.

The process of winter turning into spring, from Imbolc to the spring equinox, is complex. It doesn’t all move at the same speed even over a small geographical area. The seasons are not events, but a day by day shifting of warmth, light, growth and life. If we focus too much on the seasons, or on specific Pagan festivals, we can easily miss the details. It is all about the details really – our arbitrary divisions of the year into four seasons and eight festivals is misleading and can take us away from the everyday nature of seasonal change.