It’s not all about the snow (but I’d like some)

Spring is whispering its song from underneath the bare earth.The stage is very much still Winter’s: many days of glistening frost, nippy air that bites your bones, fragile sunshine and naked trees. But Spring is twisting and stretching gently like a napping cat about to wake. This unborn season dances invisible in Mother Winter’s belly.

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Image pinned on my Imbolc Pinterest board from nordicwiccan.blogspot.co.uk

Almost invisible. For green fingers push up through and into the air – in spite of the hard ground. In a few weeks they will be boldly nodding daffodils. This weekend, many will be celebrating lunar Imbolc,*  with more celebrating the festival in the middle of this coming week. King Sun is ever so slightly stronger, I tell my son. We are seeing him go to bed a little later and rise a little earlier. I’ve still not seen any snowdrops! They seemed scarce last year, even around Bristol’s wilder edges and crannies.

I’ve enjoyed this winter – am enjoying. (I want to hear the rest of her song before turning my attention to Spring!) It feels like a “real” winter: proper frosts on several hand-rubbingly crisp days. Only one tiniest smattering of snow – enough to delight my son, although how he wishes to wake to see the land tucked up in a proper blanket of soft white like in our winter books full of snowball fights and deep footprints. Such things are quite rare in our part of Britain but I itch to share such magic with him and his little brother. Just thinking (and wishing!) about it, I smile at how their rosy faces will grin and giggle in a state of simple bliss if our wish comes true.

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Mind you, sometimes I think that we perhaps over-depict snow as a symbol of winter, Granted, many of the Waldorf-y books in our home are weavings of writers from more northern parts of the world than mine. Yet at times I feel that Winter’s other players – Jack Frost, the Queen of the NIght / Dark Goddess, the bare trees and earth – that they might deserve a little more attention in the art we make about this season. For me, it’s these symbols of  the outer world’s emptiness and cold that invites us to focus on our inner beauty and riches through learning, soul-work, self-development and stoking our inner fire. When we go outside in winter, maybe we enjoy a view of beautiful buildings (or  have our children enjoy seeing a train going along the tracks!) that is hidden from view by summertime’s clutter of leaves; I feel winter likewise invites us to find that clarity when we look inside ourselves.

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All that barrenness around holds the hope and potential of what can sprout and grow. ♥

 

*the dark/new moon of late January – or early February,

First photo: Ice pictures – on a night when frost is forecast, lay out leaves and others interesting things in a bucket of water outside. Position a string so that the ends will also be frozed into the water to hang your “picture” up in the morning! You can also do this all year round in a plastic tub in your freezer.

Second photo: “Snow garden” that we made a couple of years ago to slightly compensate for our disappointment at a snow-less winter! Use soap powder on a cardboard base, add crystals, mirrors (for frozen ponds), twigs etc. From Earthwise, by Carol Petrash.

Third photo: Our Solstice branches – winter 2016.

Fourth photo: Forest of Dean, January 2015

 

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Emerging

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Over winter, I kind of retreated.

Darkness, stillness, inwardness, rest, quiet and alone-ness: I welcomed and sought out these wintry things, mentally creating a sort of birthing cave that I could nest down in. As January trod its way into February I craved those things more, my husband supporting me – with a generous heart – to make time for them.  I rarely looked at the ‘net or the news. I did a fair bit of sewing and knitting.

As Imbolc reminded me of the season subtly starting its shift from winter into spring, I focussed a lot on that imminent shift from being pregnant to having another child, our family life shifting from being three to being four. I feel that taking the time out – at that very unique time – to connect with my body and my baby, was an important part of the journey towards birth, and helped protect my strength and focus for that rite.

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Around Imbolc, we had some wild storms here in Bristol, UK. Below, you can see that my son put on our nature table one of his Paddington Bear’s welly boots to remind us of all the rain and how we were often wearing our wellies!

 

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I felt a little stormy as well sometimes; a bit swept and batted between trusting and doubting my ability to birth my child safely and naturally this time. I tried to connect with the beautiful energies of new life emerging – the crocuses and daffodils opening, the leaves unfolding, the light returning. I witnessed this annual miracle in the woods that we frequently visit, and in the gardens and parks my day-to-day life takes me past. I reminded myself that, as part of nature, my body likewise had the power to open and unfold to bring forth the gorgeous new life waiting in there.

But I also know that nature isn’t always perfect. I had quite a traumatic birth with my first child and part of my healing from that came in that realisation. I can sow a dozen pumpkin seeds from the same packet or plant, grow them and plant them out under the same conditions, and a few of them may not germinate – or the young plants may die or the pumpkins not thrive. Things are sometimes beyond our control (which I sometimes find very difficult). But I offered up my sense of unity and my trust… even if some days it was a little hard to feel it.

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A gift from my metaphorical birthing cave was the discovery that chanting and singing often quiets my mental chatter and worrying. I wonder if my family got a little bored of hearing some of those chants A LOT! If they did, they’ve been too sweet to say. This one was my favourite, introduced to me by my lovely yoga teacher. We sung it as a class and that joining of hearts and voices was incredibly special.

More gifts were in store: a long but rewarding labour with gentle, respectful midwives; a safe and natural birth not very far off our plan…

…and the beautiful, magical, awesome prize of our second little boy, Ethan. Here he is! I’m over the moon! And feeling so very, very blessed.

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I’ve not actually got round to planting any seeds in our garden yet, having been a little busy with the precious tasks of feeds, nappies, cuddles and doing much gazing in awe. But there are many “seeds” that I’ve brought from my “cave” in the form of discoveries, lessons, memories and things that have been healed and renewed. I hope to carefully nurture these “seeds” with what they need as they grow, to enjoy and benefit from what they become and to always hold gratitude in my heart for them.

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The beautiful book is Luna Moon Hare by Wendy Andrew: paintingdreams.co.uk

 

As, of course, I look forward to doing with my sons. ♥ ♥ ♥

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Vanishing

I was blessed with a beautiful glimpse of the vanishing moon – the waning crescent – this morning. The last, or maybe penultimate, sliver before she enters her dark phase. Sadly I have no photo due to our brilliant little camera being away at the camera hospital, having accidentally met with my arm and then the kitchen floor. Can I blame pregnancy for such clumsiness? Let’s go with yes.

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A Great-Grandmother Moon from a less clumsy time in my life. This morning’s moon was leaning back a little more, and the sky a little darker with Venus shining brightly quite nearby.

I correlate the dark phase of the lunar cycle with the Winter Solstice in the solar cycle, so today we’re around similar times in both. I hold the word vanishing in my mind and think about its correlation to my own life right now: the vanishing days before the Solstice and Christmas is upon us (why am I not more organised for these events by this point in December?! And why do I leave it so late every year?!), the vanishing weeks before my baby is due to be born, my seemingly vanishing energy in the evenings. The vanishing sense of anxiety about it all as I realise that, really, almost everything that’s truly important has been done; by the time baby comes, we’ll be ready to welcome them.

Back outside, the colour is fast vanishing from our garden as the last of the nasturtiums have died and the green leaves are pretty few. The piles of crisp, vibrant leaves on the ground are vanishing into brown soggy mud and mush. The light starts vanishing not long after 3pm. “Come inside,” it all whispers sleepily, “find a blanket. Rest and dream”.

November nature table

Our November nature table / family altar is less colourful than earlier in Autumn (see also this and this post). The oranges, bronzes, and rich reds mostly give way to plainer, darker, more sombre hues, although I find that a little sparkle somewhere (like in the spider-webs on this cloth) doesn’t go amiss. I usually prefer altar cloths of natural fabrics, but at Samhain I make an exception and dig this one out to remind me of the association of spiders with Autumn, with weaving magic, and with the idea of interconnectedness: the webs in our lives of community, of the various aspects of our inner and outer selves, of collective consciousness. Sparkle reminds me of frost, and November is usually the month in which it arrives to where I live. I’m also feeling drawn to bowls, particularly empty ones: symbols for winter where the womb of the crone goddess is empty and barren.IMG_3404

To represent air, I’ve offered a little bowl of black copal; it’s colour and scent seem to me appropriate to this time of the year and to the crone aspect of the goddess. Our offering for Earth here is a little piece of cinnamon bun from a batch made by my husband. He doesn’t bake a lot and this kind of recipe was quite a new thing for him to do. To me this was reminiscent of Samhain being the beginning of a new year, a new cycle and new aspirations. IMG_3410

My mother-in-law spontaneously made this pine-needle angel on a walk in the woods that our family recently enjoyed together. I love it, particularly how the inspiration just came to her to tie a couple of knots to form arms and….voila!IMG_3407

The sweet chestnuts are awaiting a roasting attempt… but I can be quite the champion procrastinator with attempting something new that has strong Fail Potential.IMG_3406

The spoon lives on our nature table. It’s the first of three spoons that my husband has carved, the second being a ladle and the third – carved this Samhain – being around dessert-spoon sized. This one, although so beautiful, wasn’t carved optimally so we only use it decoratively: it reminds me of the idea of process and improvement. The different stages of the cycle of the year (and of the moon) that we see in nature prompt us to consider these stages in the cycles of our inner worlds: our projects, our self-development and other inner journeys. This is particularly relevant at this point in the year where the sleeping Earth calls us to attend to those inner journeys and our psycho-spiritual selves.IMG_3415

The seed-heads below and nasturtium seeds (picture below this) remind me of the “seeds” (ie. things that we have learnt and gained) that we take forwards to replant and nourish us in the new year. The fairy toadstools, the owl and the witch are, to me, symbols of magic and wisdom pertinent to this time of the year.IMG_3420IMG_3418

On our picture wire still hangs a few Autumnal pictures: a couple of the apple and pumpkin harvest that we are still enjoying, a couple reminding us of the falling/fallen leaves that still surround us and our shoes. Another picture, if a lantern procession, reminds me of the light-related festivals of Diwali, Martinmas and Advent that fall in November. The central picture – in the misty greys of typical November weather – is of an old tin mine engine house in my native Cornwall; a reminder of the concept of ancestry honoured and celebrated at Samhain.IMG_3423

Bright blessings in these often-gloomy days!  )O(

A new season

One morning last week brought the first hint of frost to my part of Bristol. Just a teasingly light touch of it on some of the roofs of the streets that surround mine. Winter’s first little stroke, at the end of a grey and chillier week, where more leaves seem to be gracing the ground than the trees now. Autumn’s crispness is turning to a wintery sogginess – in those leaves and in the air. The soil is heavily soggy, clinging to our boots. Damp clings to my coat and condensation to my windows in the mornings. We adjust our routine to factor in putting on more clothes when leaving the house, to get laundry off the line earlier, to draw the curtains before dinner and to spending less time in the garden. We eat more soup. I write in my journal more.

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I also feel a shift in my own season, entering the third trimester of my pregnancy round about now. The changes to my body tell me that it’s time to sit a little differently, to sleep and eat a little differently, to adjust how I move and how I lift. To make time to be pregnant – for yoga, for breath work, for just sitting talking to the baby and gently poking my bump whilst it pokes me back. To slow my pace. It’s easy to try to fight this, expecting the same of ourselves whatever the “season” our lives our in (for example, when we’re ill, when we’re menstruating, when we’ve just had a baby, when we’re menopausal). Those around us – and wider society – may perpetuate this disconnection and the lack of opportunity to honour these fluctuations and these rhythms. There’s pressure to just put on a brave face, dose up with painkillers and carry on with all your normal jobs and tasks.

I’m trying to listen to what these new seasons are calling me to do.

Samhain soup

We set aside Sunday (1st November) as our family Samhain day. I’d baked a cake beforehand (discovering that carob and blackberries go really deliciously together!), and I’d made some soup. Samhain soup. The idea had come from The Radical Homemaker blog, where a recent post described how she makes an annual Samhain Stew. The broth is made from bones from the various animals they raise on their farm, plus some other ingredients that they grow, and the family remember with gratitude the animals that they’ve raised, as well as their broader harvest – and their ancestors.

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The idea wasn’t one that I would use directly: as a vegetarian, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a living creature having been killed for my consumption but respect that others – such as my husband – do feel comfortable with that idea and so make a different choice. Our garden isn’t large enough to produce much food from plants or animals, but we grow a little, so a home-grown pumpkin and some herbs picked and dried in the summer went into our soup (which you can see garnished with one of our rampant nasturtiums!). Joining them in the pot were a couple of tomatoes and a pepper from a close friend’s greenhouse’s harvest, plus a couple of things from our vegbox, a couple from other independent shops that we frequent and a couple of things bought in the supermarket. For me this symbolised celebration of the harvest from the land – be it land I tend, land I know or land I don’t but am very grateful for. It reminded is of the year’s story from planning (“I want to grow pumpkins, Mama!”), to planting, to watching them grow, to harvesting to consuming. It celebrated our family’s efforts, those of a friend who is a big and special part of my life, and the efforts of those who work for the companies that we buy food from. At this point in our life where it’s not possible for us to be as self-sufficient as we one day hope to be, we are blessed to have the convenience of those businesses.

The soup did us several meals, including one shared with another very treasured lovely friend, and the evening meal of our Samhain day. This one was eaten outdoors around a bonfire and with our Jack o’lantern, following a beautiful walk near the Mendips which began in golden sunshine lighting up all those glowing Autumn leaves, then later turned to quite Avalonian wintry mists: pretty symbolic of Samhain’s calling us towards winter. It looked as though there had been frost there the previous night: something I often take as a cue for when to celebrate Samhain, rather than adhering to a specific date. (Although frosts do tend to arrive a little later here in the city). We put a spare chair and bowl with ours by the fire for the souls of loved ones who have passed on, speaking a little about them, and about the tired Earth being almost ready to tuck herself in for her winter sleep. We took our corn dolls from the nature table, told them any regrets or disappointments that from the year that we wished them to take into the fire to be burned up, and then my son took delight in throwing them in.

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We’ll continue our goodbye to the year – our Samhain-tide – for another few days until just before the dark moon (the lunar phase that I correspond to this point in the solar cycle) and until it really feels like winter is arriving.

Tired King Sun and the Queen of the Night

My son has been asking why it’s dark earlier now. He’s just turned four and questions about how everything works spill out of him everyday. I love these conversations (except for when I’m trying to parallel park) and try to balance educating him with not overloading him with information beyond his grasp. I strive to honour his thirst for the scientific, as well as to feed his imaginative capabilities; small children seem part of another, more magical, world and I don’t want to yank him out of it too abruptly.

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To answer him, I talk about how King Sun gets tired earlier now after shining so brightly and hotly through the summer. So he’s going to bed earlier and earlier and enjoys a deeper sleep. In the morning, he lies in gradually later and later. This is how he rests and builds up his strength for the hard work of next year. Whilst King Sun sleeps, the Queen of the Night comes and spreads her dark cloak over the sky. She has stars sewn on the inside, and the edges are all different colours: those that we often see whilst she is arriving and King Sun is setting. This is her favourite part of the year, so she rocks up earlier each evening, and she stays longer. She quietly takes care of everything whilst the land – and most people – sleep, and she carries with her a basket of dreams that she gives out each night.

 

As my son grows older, such a story will undoubtedly become woven – and elements replaced – with more science and factual detail. Yet on those evenings when I step outside now, I feel the comfort of that dark cloak: even though it brings chilliness, I find a sense of comfort in feeling a mother or grandmother figure watching over the sleeping world I identify with that mother, that being the current phase of my life (one where I do quite a bit of taking care of others, comforting, being awake at night… and orchestrating bedtime). I feel too the excitement of anticipating the gifts of her dream basket. In these feelings, I am finding and knowing both the mother and child aspects of myself. To me, this Queen of the Night is the peer of part(s) of me and the parent/grandparent of others. As such she brings friendship, comfort, abundant love and wisdom. I hope that these lengthening nights will find me open to her.

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Maiden, Mother and Crone painting by Wendy Andrews: http://www.paintingdreams.co.uk/