Tag Archives: seasons

Uneconomic Growth

We seem to have collectively bought into the idea that growth is inherently good. In nature, growth is finite and exists as part of cycles that also include dying back, and predation. In summer, bird numbers grow radically, but they don’t keep growing – the approach of winter and the activities of hunters rebalance that each year. Trees do not grow forever, they reach a natural limit, and they die. Things that grow unchecked tend to be plagues, or cancers.

There are costs we do not measure. We do not look at the cost to the environment and to our own health that human activity causes. We don’t look at extinction. We don’t look at exploitation and the destruction of human lives and minds in pursuit of profit. We don’t factor in what we might later need to pay to offset the hidden costs of what we’re doing now. Rising air pollution costs us in terms of health, life expectancy, and demands on our health service.

Of course if we did measure the cost of these things, they’d go into our GDP and we would see that we are making even more profit! It’s not much of a measure of anything.

If we are to survive as a species, and not kill off most of life on this planet, we need to tackle the issue of growth. We have to stop believing the ludicrous idea that we can have infinite ‘growth’ based on finite resources. We have to challenge the idea that constant growth is good.

As Pagans, we’re well placed to take this on. We’ve already embraced the cycle of the seasons, the tidal and changing nature of existence. The Holly King cannot keep ruling all year, building himself ever bigger forces. John Barleycorn dies each summer. In winter, the Cailleach rules and nothing grows. Persephone returns to the underworld. Demeter mourns. We watch the moon wax to absolute fullness and then shrink away again every month. A moon that never stopped growing would basically be moving towards the Earth on an impact trajectory. We have a lot of stories to work with.

If we are to survive, we need to embrace the idea of sufficiency. We need to live within our means and not compromise the future for the sake of present greed. We need to tell stories about the finite nature of healthy growth, and the needfulness of dying back and reducing. We have grown too far, and we need the winter cutback that naturally follows the excess of summer.

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First frost

Over the weekend, some places in the UK had snow – including places near me. The tops of the Cotswolds often get rougher weather than the valleys. Much depends on the shape of your location in relation to the direction of the wind. Being tucked away in a sheltered spot, I didn’t get snow.

The wind was like a knife yesterday, and although it had dropped by the evening, I had a suspicion the night would be a cold one. I don’t always get this right. Sometimes we wake to the first frost shivering and surprised. I’ve tried to cultivate a ‘Druid weather sense’ but I’m still nothing like as accurate as I want to be.

Aside from signifying a drop in overnight temperature, the first frost has implications for walking. As I walk for transport, this is something to take seriously.  From here on, the surfaces outside will be unpredictable – especially first thing in the morning and at night. A heavy frost makes the paths slippery, especially if there were a lot of wet leaves to start with.

I have mixed feelings about frost – it is pretty. However, I don’t enjoy the cold, or the slippery conditions.

What I’ve described here is a good illustration, I think, of why we have to focus on our own experiences of the seasons. Whether you had a dash of snow at the weekend or not is very area specific. When your first frost was/is/will be is also very specific to the conditions where you live. How you respond to these things may depend a lot on how nature manifests in your body. If you are a warm, hardy and well resourced creature, winter can be fun. If you feel the cold, fall easily, hurt more in winter, then these conditions are hard. We can honour nature as it expresses itself across these relationships between place, time and self. There is no reason to assume anyone else will have the same experience.


Exposed to Autumn

As I usually point out when writing about the seasons, the journey through any given season is a process, not an event. Some things of course are events – the first frost is a good example. There is a process of the nights getting colder until heavy dews are replaced by frost, but there’s a definite difference between frost, and not-frost and you can mark it.

Changes in temperature aren’t a smooth process. We may have a few unusually cold or balmy days and then the season gets back to something more expected.

This week, I passed a significant marker for the season – the nights are now cold, and walking home after dark now requires more layers, hats, and so forth.

Walking for transport gives me an immediate relationship with what’s going on outside. I walk at different times in the day depending on what I’m doing, so there are some morning forays out, some daytime excursions and at least once a week I’ll come home after dark. For most of the year, I have to pay close attention to weather and temperature so as to be dressed for it – and not only dressed for when I leave, but for when I come back. A few hours can make a surprising difference.

In this way, I have a day to day body experience of the season. Our Pagan ancestors would have had this as well. You don’t have to go back very far for most people to be on foot or on horseback, or in a cart if they were going anywhere. Insulation from the elements was for the leisured few. Dealing with weather and temperature day to day was part of the normal life of most people in a way it isn’t now. If you can set the thermometer in your home to a fixed temperature, and if outside is only a few moments between temperature-regulated home, and temperature-regulated car, then your body isn’t involved with the seasons. I’ve never done it, so I have no idea what that experience does to a person.

 


Autumnal shifts

It’s been later getting cold this year than is usually the case. I still haven’t got any heating on at home, I sit here typing wearing a long sleeved shirt, and no jumper. No doubt this is climate change at work, but I admit to feeling gratitude alongside my unease. I struggle with being cold; my body hurts more and flexes less in cold weather.

I have poor circulation and can get chilblains, so autumn always means shifting away from being barefoot, and needing to wear gloves while outside. I have lightweight gloves for this time of year, and much heavier ones for if it gets really cold. My body informs my experience of the seasons in very direct ways. In the cold half of the year I have to resist what the season does to me.  Nature as manifest in my body and nature as manifest in the season are never going to be in harmony.

Of course this isn’t just an issue for me. Some birds migrate to deal with shifting seasons. Hedgehogs and bears hibernate rather than deal with the winter. Trees drop their leaves in self defence. Some parts of nature are falling into sleepy time, other parts are gearing up for a long fight to survive. There’s no one right way to experience this, and no single narrative about how it all works.

In this as in all things, I think you have to start with nature as it manifests in your own body. If you try to work with a wheel of the year narrative that doesn’t reflect how you feel and experience things, you’re always going to feel out of kilter with the seasons. You also run the risk of turning ‘nature’ into some abstract story, something to think about in rituals rather than something to live. How we live day to day defines how we experience everything. It is your body, in your landscape, at the moment you find yourself in that underpins everything else.


Seasonal walking

One of the reasons I’ve done very little seasonally-orientated walking this year is that the summer itself thwarted me. I don’t do well with high temperatures and this year, the British summer was unusually hot.  I need to work out more routes I can walk in the darkness so as to have options in future years, but even so, I don’t think night walking will make sense or be safe enough for longer routes.

I missed out on spring walking because I was ill for much of it.

As a consequence, here we are in the autumn, and I have missed a lot of what, for me, is my primary means of communication with the land and its wilder inhabitants.  I’ve been walking for transport all year, and that brings me into contact with all kinds of beings, but it’s not the same as a long day moving through the countryside.

However, being out all day in the hills can be physically demanding. One of the things I’ve found is that I need to stay really hydrated to avoid getting locked down by lactic acid in my muscles. I get very sore, really fast if there’s any anaerobic work to be done. Staying really hydrated translates into needing to pee a lot. During the summer this is less of a problem, but when there’s less undergrowth, there aren’t many options. I’m putting public toilets, pubs and cafes into walking routes. Yes, it would be nice to be away from human concerns all day, but it’s not feasible. I’m fortunate that I can now afford to put a pub stop into a walk.

Walking is an act of creating relationship between my body and the land. For that to work, I have to be realistic about what my body can take. If I try and walk too fast, or too far, or over too many hills it won’t go well. A walk dominated towards the end by pain and fatigue can be memorable, but it doesn’t create meaningful relationship, I’ve found. If I hurt too much, I’ll be too aware of my body to pay attention to anything much else.

Despite this year’s various health setbacks, I’m hoping to be well enough to take on my favourite autumn walk – which goes along the hill edge and through the Woodchester valley. I will however, be going on a day when the cafe and loos are open, because it greatly improves my chances of getting around.


Autumn leaves

The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.

Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.

I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.

It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.


Early signs of autumn

By nine am yesterday, it felt like summer, and anyone not outside much before then will have emerged into another lovely, late summer day. Warm, but not too warm, with a beautiful sky.

At first light, it’s cold now. Walking in the morning I was glad of my gloves. The morning shifted from autumn back to summer, and I peeled off layers. Although I work from home much of the time, being a parent had me up and out for many years and I got to experience this change more directly. I realised yesterday that because I’ve been tending to walk later in the day, I’ve been missing this seasonal shift for some years.

One of my problems with focusing on eight rituals as the wheel of the year is that it encourages us to think about the seasons as events. What happens is a process, one day to the next. Within that process there are key moments – when the leaves start to turn, and when they fall. The first frosts. The cold mornings, seeing your breath, needing a coat to go outside. And of course these, and many other markers vary from place to place and year to year. There is no one generic model for the coming of autumn, each one is unique and each one of us will experience it individually.

A life lived mostly indoors, in cars, and with little attention can miss the small day to day shifts of one season into another, and may only notice seasons when they hit their peaks. I know this because there was a time in my teens when I wasn’t connected to the seasons and was largely oblivious to the natural world. I had to learn how to show up and notice things. What I notice varies from year to year depending on what I’m doing and when I go out. I have no doubt that it is better to notice, and to feel engaged in the day to day shifts.


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.


Bard Skills – seasonal material

There’s much to be said for having material that covers the seasons and the festivals, allowing you to express where you are in the year. The folk tradition has a lot to offer – but not, it should be noted, much specifically for the equinoxes.

There are however a number of issues with learning seasonal material, so it’s worth being aware of those before you embark on your journey.

  1. In any given year you may only get a couple of opportunities to perform a piece. Learning something, and keeping it in your head for the long term with so few performance opportunities is a lot of work for a modest result.
  2. People may well remember what you did at the midwinter gathering last year, one song for each festival might not be enough.
  3. Everyone, absolutely everyone does or knows John Barleycorn. Find something else for Lammas if you want to stand out.
  4. If you want to impress, you have to practice ahead of performance so you need to be rehearsing for material ahead of where you are in the year.
  5. The vast majority of Paganised Christmas carols sound naff.
  6. Have fun with it! If you aren’t enjoying it, no one else is likely to either.

Seasonal rituals and connecting with nature

Having written recently about being a fair weather Pagan, it struck me that this is a perfectly reasonable way to do things, if the wider context supports it. Doing winter ritual indoors, or quickly, or not at all, causes no issues if rituals are not how you connect with the seasons.

Over the years when I was running ritual, there were some people for whom the eightfold wheel provided the time when they really got out into the trees. People who are overworked, people in very urban environments, people with no confidence about getting into the woods, may find it harder to do so without the support of a ritual group. It’s worth noting that all my ritual locations in that time were green spaces in urban settings, not anything remote.

Sometimes the issue is learning to see nature where you are – in sky and season, urban trees and the many wild things that make their homes around our homes. Nature is in us and with us, for many it’s just a case of learning to recognise it.

I’ve talked recently about having a shifting daily practice. For me that has a seasonal aspect, of necessity, but whatever form it takes, it’s about an ongoing process of engagement. So if you’re doing something every day to tune in to the seasons and the living world around you, this impacts on ritual. It gives you a firmer basis to work from for seasonal ritual and it also means that if you need to do your ritual work indoors, it’s not costing you a sense of connection.

With the right kit (decent shoes and coat for a start) walking in winter is often a good way of connecting, where standing about outside would leave a person far too cold. For people who cannot walk, being immobile outside likely won’t work either. If you can’t get out much, sitting at windows can be very productive. Use the senses that are easiest for you as a basis for making your connections. If you’ve got the resources to challenge yourself – all well and good, but if you haven’t, then take it as a creative challenge instead.

When ritual is something we do to connect with the seasons, we’re more likely to go in with a script based on what we think the season is supposed to be. When ritual is a celebration that comes from knowing how this season is unfolding, we’re in a stronger place to do something meaningful. An indoor ritual based on a body of outdoor experience is thus likely to be deeper than a cold, short outdoor ritual based on what we thought was going on.