Tag Archives: seasons

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.

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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.


Signs of spring

Where I live, there have been many signs of spring during the last week. It would be normal to see celandines, catkins and snowdrops by this time in any year. Some of the fruit trees blossoming don’t seem too early either, but I’m seeing other signs of spring that I wouldn’t normally expect before March, and sometimes later.

There are leaves unfurling. I found a hawthorn tree with quite a lot of leaves on it. Willows are starting to come out and other plants as well. These are early.

The cleavers are up – again, late February doesn’t seem like quite the right time for this, but here they are. The garlic is also starting to show leaf tips emerging. That’s very early.

Yesterday I went walking and at several points was down to bare arms because I was too hot. On this occasion, my bare skin cannot be ascribed to a hot flush. It was warm enough that Tom took off his jumper. Tom is the sort of person to wear three layers of jumpers in the winter. He definitely isn’t having hot flushes.

This, I suppose, is one of the kinder faces climate change can wear. Being warm and enjoying the sunlight is so nice, that it is easy to overlook what’s causing it. A bit warmer in February is pleasant. A bit warmer in July – as with last July, can be overwhelming and lethal.

We had a frost overnight. That’s considerably more normal than warm sun and bare arms.

We all know there’s a climate crisis. And yet, all around me I see people carrying on absolutely as normal. The roads are chocked with cars at busy times. Perhaps everyone is waiting for someone else to sort it out.


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.


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.