Tag Archives: seasons

Body, Seasons, Druidry

When we talk about the wheel of the year and the seasons in Druidry, most often what we’re talking about is external to us. Things in nature that we might observe, or contemplate from a safe distance.

In practice our primary way of experiencing the seasons is through our own bodies. It occurs to me that I’ve not seen anyone explore it on these terms (if you know otherwise, please do leave a comment).

Often a body experience of a season is about having to mitigate the effects of it. How does that work in terms of communing with nature? If we’re doing seasonal stuff for spiritual reasons, should we not embrace the season? Is our adapting natural, and therefore something to work with, or is it a denial of what’s going on? I could make a case either way, but I think the main consideration has to be… what works for you?

It is summer. We’ve had some really hot days. I adapt by wearing less, staying indoors in the middle of the day, and not moving too much if I can help it. Getting out there for some sun worship would likely make me ill. In winter I have to do other things to mitigate against the cold and to deal with the risks of falling. My response to the seasons is always to try and keep my body in a state where it’s not being overloaded.

The seasons should impact on our bodies in terms of what is available to eat. Whether we favour raw or cooked food can be a seasonal consideration. Our work may be seasonal, and what we do to take care of our homes may well also have a strong seasonal angle. How we travel, how we feel about going out, even who we spend time with can be informed by the season. These are all things we will experience primarily inside ourselves as part of a personal relationship with the time of year.

Summer means bare feet. But it also means grumpy lymph glands, sore skin and the scope for puffy ankles. It means hayfever – as the plants try to have sex with my face. Heat will make me ill if there’s a lot of it. Summer means watching my blood pressure and electrolytes and making sure I stay hydrated without washing too much useful stuff out of my body. Sometimes it means the comfort of warm sun on my skin and the pleasure of sitting on the grass.

These are all everyday, fairly mundane things, easily overlooked. But at the same time, this day to day stuff is how I live the season and how I feel it in my body. It is my most immediate experience. It lacks for drama most of the time, it doesn’t have the big narrative energy of the things we like to say about the wheel of the year. It’s not especially mystical. But, as a process of rooting my Druidry in my lived experience it strikes me as an important one and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to see it on these terms.


Temperature and Season

I think of May as a warm month, and my experience of it in previous years has certainly been that way. This year going outside for me means hats, scarves, gloves, jumpers and/or jackets. It is my relationship with the season that has changed, not the season itself.

In previous years my experience of May has predominantly involved being outside during the day. I assume it is warm out there in the sunny hours. My flat is a bit like a cave and tends to remain cool in warm weather, so if I stay in, I do not experience much of the heat of the day. I am of course mostly staying in, so the warmth of May isn’t an experience for me.

I’m walking at night and in the early morning, for the greater part. Even once the sun is up, it is really cold out there. Some places the old can be deep and piercing in the early morning. Gloves are essential.

What struck me, coming home today is that of course the coldness of May has always been there, I just don’t usually partake of it. I’ve done my share of midsummer and summer solstice vigils, I know how cold the summer nights can be. I just don’t usually have that be my dominant experience. Of course most UK mammals are active at night. This is how bats and owls experience this time of year – as cold.

It’s so easy to fall into a simple, single narrative about what something is, or means. But there are always other experiences, other meanings and other possibilities. This year, May is cold for me and I need to wrap up warm to go out. My understanding of what May is, has expanded accordingly.

 


Spring and courting birds

I expect there are a great many birds out there right now establishing territories and seeking mates. I don’t know all of my feathered neighbours well enough to spot the changes in what they do. However, the blackbirds and woodpeckers have been really noticeable over the weekend.

The blackbirds seem – in so far as I can tell – to be squabbling. It doesn’t look much like courtship at this stage, more like figuring out who gets which spot. I’ve stepped outside repeatedly only to find them making a great deal of noise and chasing each other off. It’s not always easy with birds to work out whether chasing is about the desire to catch or the intention to move the other bird on. However, the tone seems irate to me.

The woodpeckers are simply making a lot of noise – often I don’t see the birds themselves. I hear their loud calls even through closed windows, and they’ve been doing this for some days. It’s rare to hear them normally, the intensity of calling has definitely gone up. I am inferring courtship, but this could be about territory. Most of my reason for inferring courtship is that I know they’ve bred round here in previous years. You don’t tend to get as high a population density in woodpeckers as you do in blackbirds so boundaries may be less of an issue. Yesterday I saw a pair of woodpeckers in flight – some distance from home, but possibly the same ones.

What I notice and what I infer may tell me things about what’s on my mind. I do not assume messages from any other source when I notice things in this way. The blackbirds and woodpeckers are busy with their own lives. Any meaning I take from them pertains to me, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. Nature does not exist simply to send us messages and guide us.


Imbolc in nature

Round here, the snowdrops and catkins come out typically a week or two before the calendar date for Imbolc. So, if you go with the date, these seasonal markers aren’t the ones to focus on. If there are pregnant or lactating sheep in area, I don’t get to see them.

What does appear reliably at this time of year, are elf caps. These are a small, red fungi (see the video below for examples!). They have a much longer season over all, but where I live, they are absolutely something that shows up for the start of February.

The relationship between what the rest of nature is doing, and the calendar date varies according to where you live. Druidry can be a bit generic about seasonal celebration, which I think is a real weakness. We need to dig in with whatever we’ve got where we live, and make that the focus, or shift our dates so they match what the season means to us.

 


Time outside time

This is the time of year when I tend not to notice any seasonal shifts. Nothing much is growing. The catkins on the trees were there a month and more ago, and aren’t open yet. The first flowers should be a few weeks away. We may have moved past the solstice, but in practice I’m not feeling much return of the light – the overcast skies often negate any feeling of longer days.

Where I live, there hasn’t been much weather drama. It’s cold, but not freezing. There are no predictable patterns – the whole winter could go like this or we could get a sudden dip in temperature, frost, ice, winter storms and so forth.

It’s a time of waiting, for me. Waiting for the light to return. Waiting to see what challenges I might have to contend with. Waiting for spring. I think many wild things are waiting at this point – be that seeds in the ground, seasonal migrants, or anything else that will crack on with life changes when spring comes. Of course some creatures are already underway – deer mate in the autumn. Mammals giving birth in the spring may well be pregnant already, or pairing up. The hibernating female bats are pregnant, although those pregnancies won’t really get going until spring wakes them.

Mostly I want to hibernate too. Thankful not to be pregnant ready for the spring. I find the longer hours of darkness gives me the urge to sleep more. I’m at the same time affected by personal-seasonal changes in my own body and not sleeping well. I am out of kilter with some things, and perfectly aligned with others, and I think that’s often the way of it.

Modern Paganism tends to foreground the sun cycle as something to be in tune with. However, when you look at any season, what creates its distinct flavour and energy isn’t just the sun, but the way other living beings respond to it, and to each other. There’s always diversity. Hungry migrant birds are not in the deep sleep of winter. The owls outside my flat are active for much longer each night because the darkness is for them. There’s always something to empathise with, even when the sun cycles don’t resonate with your experiences.


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.