Tag Archives: winter

Osiers in winter

I love willows, with their incredible resilience and capacity to keep going. Willow will grow, and regrow from almost nothing, they’re remarkable survivors.

There are many different kinds of willow, all with their own distinctive qualities. The one in the photo is an osier willow, and these are particular favourites of mine. In the leafy part of the year they aren’t very self announcing, but in winter, the narrower stems show up dramatically with their red and orange hues. In untouched trees, this is mostly to be found in the twigs, but pollarded trees are more dramatic, as the photo shows. The lighting for this doesn’t really convey the colour intensity.

One of the things I tend to find hard about winter, is the greyness. I find the lack of colour impacts on me emotionally. Seeing the osiers always gives me something of a boost,

The Wheel Turns

The turning of the year is especially self announcing around the solstices as the shape of the day changes. The passing of a calendar year also makes us more alert to the progress of time, and the existence of so many winter festivals adds to all of that.

Festivals are often the focus for awareness of the wheel of the year. It’s often when we pause to celebrate a key point that the journey through the year becomes most apparent to us. I’ve seen this a lot in ritual spaces, where checking in with community and spiritual practice for festivals also brings people into relationship with the seasons. Back when I was regularly leading rituals, it was evident that for a lot of people, these key check in points formed the majority of their relationship with the seasons.

The wheel turns every day. We’re in a constant state of movement and as we pass through any season, the next one is also being made. A lamb born at Imbolc will be growing in the womb at this time of year.

Taken as a day by day process, the changes are hard to see – it’s the moments of drama that make it most apparent where we are in a season. First frosts. First flowers. And while the solar process of the year is entirely predictable, how any given season plays out is far less so. I’ve seen heavy snow in April when it should have been spring and I’ve been outside in just a t-shirt some years in December. Sometimes our festivals align well with what’s happening in the natural world, but not always.

When I started out on this path I spent quite a few years celebrating the seasons through the eight festivals. That was in no small part because at that time I had a community to celebrate with. I spent some years exploring alternatives to the regular wheel of the year story. There are many things in nature that do not fit neatly into the kinds of stories Pagans like to tell about the wheel of the year. I found spending time on that helped me deal with the ways in which I’m not reliably able to fit myself into those regular wheel of the year stories either.

In recent years I’ve become more interested in approaching the seasons on a more day to day basis, focused on what’s going on around my home. This is in part because I’ve not been able to walk so far, which has focused my attention on what’s closest to me. Exploring the day to day changes makes more sense when you’re looking at the same area of land most days.

Our relationships with the wheel of the year are, to a significant degree, shaped by our relationships with the landscape. How often we go out, where we go, how far we go and how often we go to any specific place will shape how we experience the year.

Leaves on snow

In a normal winter in the UK, the leaves come down before any significant snow falls – assuming any snow falls at all. This year there were still green leaves when the snow came in December. I’ve not seen snow sitting on autumnal leaves before, and I’ve not seen leaves coming down on snow like this, but there’s been a lot of it. The effect is pretty, the reasons less so.

This of course is climate chaos in action. It looks charming enough, but it represents problematic changes. 

In theory, deciduous trees shed their leaves to be more efficient in the dark part of the year and to avoid the stressors of having snow fall on large leaves. I don’t know what happens to trees when they have to deal with this – I see a lot of leaves falling now, but even after the snow has melted in the last day or so, there are still plenty of trees outside my window who still have leaves.

I don’t really know what any of this means, for the seasons or for the trees, but it seemed worth remarking on.

Winter poetry

Pagan thinking around winter tends to focus on sleeping so as to rebirth in the the spring. However, not all seeds that lie in the earth will live to germinate. For many people, seasonal affective disorder makes the winter a hard time. The rising cost of living will make this winter cold and brutal for many. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge and honour the darker side of the year with all that it can bring.


Frost fingers needle skin

Ice forming in weary bones

Let me lie down now.

Bury me under snow and let us

See if truly I am a seed

To wake in the spring

With the promise of new life.

March, perhaps, or April.

A bulb, fat with potential,

Resilient against the cold,

Firm holding, thaw me

And I will blossom.


If only I could slumber

As bears do, waiting out

The dark days.

Enclose me snug

In some snow cave

Forgetful months.

Perhaps it is only winter

And not an Ice Age

The chill in my heart

Temporary, soon eased

Not the slow cracking advance

Of another glacier reaching

To engulf me, not the silence

Not the life that is death.

Only winter in these bones

Surely, only winter coming.

Numbing at the edges.

Fingers and feet

Cold beyond reckoning.

Waiting for the chill

To extend along limbs

Stealing breath

Tiny snowflakes

In my eyelashes

Layering up softly

Inside my lungs.

Winter always kills

Lie me down gently

On the iron hard ground

Let the ice take me

I am too tired to fight.

Perhaps in spring

With tears or meltwater

It will matter

Whether I was a seed

To grow fresh shoots

Germinating in the cold

Or whether I could not

Find the means to thrive.

It is only winter.

Surly not an ice age

Surely not forever.

Let the freeze take me

And try to believe

Spring will offer

A beginning.

Meditations, light and dark

In the darkness, you accept the not knowing, not being able to see. Nothing can be predicted, and that’s ok, that’s the nature of the dark. 

Light makes you feel as if you should know and be able to make sense of things. Light offers meaning, and sense and coherence, and when there is none… that’s harder.

To be in darkness is to be hidden, protected from scrutiny. I fall softly. I fall a long way, I think, and after a while direction makes no sense because falling and floating and flying might be the same things anyway.

Everything matters, in the light. Everything is seen and significant. There is a relief in not mattering, letting go of significance. There is peace in it. 

In the darkness, whether or not you are trying very hard is of no consequence. No one can tell. No one is looking. What grows here is different from what manifests in the light. Seeds and roots begin in darkness, in often irrational hope of warmth, light, sun and rain. From the dead places new life emerges. There must be soil and death and falling apart for there to be life. 

Some of us are meant to be earthworms, deep in the process of breaking down so that new things can come into being. To be dirt is to enable flourishing.

I wrap the darkness around me, comforted by it. Perhaps this year, winter offers the luxury of hibernation. Let me crawl into some secret cave and forget, and be called to do nothing. Let me be held, and lost. There is bounty in not mattering, there is freedom in slipping away. To be the cub held by the body of the mother bear, not yet needing to know or think. To be warm, to be only a breath and a heartbeat.

Let me lie in the soil with the webs of fungi. Let me lie down with the bones of distant ancestors. Fold me into the history of soil and land.

Closing the windows

This is always a key point in the wheel of the year for me – the closing of the windows. It’s now cold enough that the windows have to be shut at night. There will no doubt be days when I can have them open for a while – or choose to put up with the cold in order to freshen up the air in the flat a bit.

With the windows closed, I can’t hear the nearby stream while I’m lying in bed. Every year I feel this loss keenly. I won’t pick up the subtle sounds of leaves and birds or of fish jumping, as they tend to at night. I might not hear the foxes and badgers who sometimes pass under my window at night. I will still hear the owls because they come in close, and are loud, and we often don’t have any significant background noise that would drown them out.

Many people this year will be facing the implications of a cold house for the first time. Closed windows can mean waking up to condensation. If you can’t keep your home warm, it will get damp. Having damp beds is horrible, and will make you even more cold. If you’re new to all of this I cannot emphasise enough the value of staying dry even if you can’t stay warm. Being dry means not having mould, and is less cold than being damp at the same temperature. 

If you have no money to throw at this problem, the only option is to throw time and effort at it. Of course not everyone can do that, and this situation is cruellest for people who are ill, disabled or so overworked that they do not have the resources to handle even more work. 

You might be able to cut down the amount of moisture in the air by reducing the amount of boiling you do, and cutting the length of showers. Drying laundry is a nightmare if your home is cold and you also can’t afford to run clothes-drying technology. And when it works you just add more problem-moisture to your home.

Physically drying all the windows every morning helps get water out. Opening windows when you can helps with the damp if it isn’t also damp outside. It doesn’t help at all with the cold. 

If you can afford to invest in anything, or run anything then I recommend going for a dehumidifier rather than a heater. They aren’t that expensive to run, and they do add warmth. They speed up the drying of laundry and they are good against dampness and mould. Not everyone is going to be able to afford to do that, either.

Whatever you are up against this winter, I hope you’re able to find ways of coping and managing. I’m afraid that for a lot of people in the UK, things will be grim.

Winter Druidry

While I try to get outside when I can, winter isn’t a good time for me. I don’t handle slippery surfaces well – mud or ice – and the cold makes me hurt more. It’s not a good time of year for doing outdoors rituals, I can’t sit out. This can make me feel distanced from my path, so it’s useful to review the things I can do in winter.

It’s a good time to read, study, explore ideas and develop skills. I’ve done a lot to develop my writing craft this winter, and I’m learning about different cultures and the different ways in which people use language.

Online activism is always an option. I’ve not been doing so well with that lately.

Thanks to the internet, the winter can be spent plotting and planning. I am doing less in-person community, but I’m making plans for future activities. I’m developing some online ideas that I hope will cheer people. I’ve been talking to my local wassail folk with a view to getting more involved. I’m also exploring some creative collaboration.

While I’ve not written much blog content explicitly about Druidry in the last few months, I could do more of that and I might feel better for it. I have been working on a book for the Earth Spirit line at Moon Books which is about authenticity and sustainability, so that’s been where a lot of my more Druidic work has been happening.

I’m doing a lot of work on my own head. This is about knowing myself, and also about healing. I think I can count this as Druidic work. At the same time I’m learning a lot about how other people interact with the world, which hopefully will help me to be a more understanding and compassionate sort of person.

One of the things meeting up with other Druids always gave me was a chance to affirm my own Druid-ness. So, if you want to jump into the comments and talk about what you’re doing, as a Druid, or in any other way that is important to you, I’m delighted to offer that space. Being off on your own too much can make it harder to see what’s going on in your life. Check ins can be really good for thinking about how things are for you.

Winter birds

One of the true joys of winter for me, is looking out for birds who are winter migrants. Who is where at this time of year depends a lot on where you live. Helpfully, there’s lots of information online, and a mixture of looking up information and wandering round peering at feathery visitors can be highly productive.

The most dramatic visitors round here are the swans who have come down from the arctic circle. We also get a lot of migrating ducks, who are charming if less dramatic. My other seasonal favourite is the fieldfare, and I always keep an eye out for them. I have some good memories of large fieldfare flocks feeding on fallen, ice softened apples one winter. They’re a subtle bird, not unlike a thrush to look at, and easily missed if you aren’t paying attention. I spotted a flock outside my local co-op recently.

Winter brings its own conditions for birdwatching. In the bare branches of deciduous trees, birds can be a lot more visible at this time of year. However, winter light can really leech the colour out of everything, which can mean relying on silhouettes and bird calls to establish who you’re seeing. I’m a mediocre sort of birdwatcher, so sometimes all I can do is guess a family – a flock of probably finches or possibly tits… could be sparrows… There’s always more to learn, and time spent trying to figure out who I’m seeing slowly builds my knowledge base.

Winter Light

The place I live is made up of hills and valleys. The town of Stroud nestles (mostly) between the hills, with villages occupying other valleys. This place was carved out of the limestone by water working its way down to meet the Severn.

In winter, the sun doesn’t clear the hills much in some places. I have a friend whose home gets no direct sunlight at this time of year. For those on the hilltops there is still plenty of light, but also a lot of wind. Down in the valleys, where I live, it is a lot more sheltered, but also gloomier. 

I don’t experience the solstice as having any great impact. For me, the dark part of the year starts in early December and continues well into January. My sense of the light and the season has everything to do with how I experience light – and the absence of it – in my own home and that in turn has everything to do with where I live in relation to the hills.

I think it’s important to be specific and personal in our relationships with the natural world. Thinking about ‘nature’ as some sort of vague abstract won’t give you much. It’s easy to pay lip service to a vague idea, but a real relationship calls for specifics. 

How does the wheel of the year turn for you? What are your personal experiences of the seasons? What happens where you live?

First Frosts

While the first frosts can come a lot earlier in the autumn than they have this year, they are always a sign of the winter to come. For me, they never feel like a good sign. Granted, there is a kind of sharp beauty and clarity that also tends to come with the frosts. Frosty mornings tend to be bright and crisp, and can feature some intensely blue skies. However, cold weather tends to hurt.

My body doesn’t handle the cold well. I get stiff more readily, and I hurt more. I’m never going to appreciate the prettiness of frost with uncomplicated feelings of joy. At the moment I’m enjoying a life where I don’t have to head out on frosty mornings. It’s easier to enjoy the light and the sparkles while not being out there dealing with slippery surfaces. I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to afford to keep my home warm enough not to suffer at the arrival of frosts.

Being able to enjoy the winter tends to involve privilege. Enough money for heating and a body that isn’t threatened by the conditions are key. For some people, the reduced amount of sunlight causes depression. For many, winter is isolating. If you can enjoy the season, that’s lovely and you should do so. But please remember not to berate or shame people who express difficulty. And yes, while it’s true that there are no bad weather conditions, only unsuitable clothing, it is also true that you have to be able to afford that clothing, and not everyone can. A winter without a substantial coat is tough. I’ve been there. 

If it gets cold enough, you can’t wear enough jumpers to make up for not being able to afford to heat your home. If your home is a van, or a boat, if you sleep in your car, or are living in a tent or rough sleeping, winter is a very hard season. You can’t always tell by looking who is dealing with such issues. There are working people in the UK who live in cars and tents and hide it well. Please be gentle with the people who find winter difficult.