Mud and Blood: The Ancestors

I spent this long weekend live role-playing in a new game system called Empire run by Profound Decisions (www.profounddecisions.co.uk).  It was a very good event, in very challenging conditions, and unexpectedly for a fantasy-based game, brought me more in touch with my Druidry and the ancestors than I would have expected.

The weekend was cold. Not just an uncomfortable cold, but a bone-chilling cold especially when temperatures dipped below freezing.  This was the coldest event that I had ever been to in my 15 years of LRPing.  I knew it was going to be cold beforehand and so, like I usually do for the first event of the year, booked a B&B so that I could get some rest at night, and not drive home exhausted from the event once I was sat in a nice, warm car.  Others toughed it out, sleeping for three to four nights in below freezing temperatures.

There were no buildings to warm up in.  The first few days had no hot water in the shower and loo blocks, due to pipes being frozen and generators malfunctioning.  It was achingly cold to be out in the elements for four long days without our modern conventions of central heating, hot water on demand and above all, a cup of tea only minutes away.  I was thankful for the battles that came that weekend, for moving around was the only way to keep warm, and kept you warm for at least a half hour afterwards.

I was camped in the woods with a large nation that can loosely be described as a cross between the ancient Celts and the Rangers from Lord of the Rings.  We had no buildings, and no big tents in which large numbers of people could gather (and share body heat) – we were outside the entire time, with only fires to keep us warm.  The fires were hard to keep lit – the cold and damp just seemed to seep into the firewood no matter how dry it was, and required constant attention.  Take a step away from the fire, and the cold hit you once again.

I was hugely thankful for returning to the warmth after midnight in the hotel room, and even more so upon arriving at home.  I felt that the experience of being out in that drew me closer to the ancestors, giving me a real sense of what they had to go through every winter and every spring.  The constant work of keeping warm, and of keeping fed, was challenging to say the least.  The mud – oh THE MUD was everywhere, well above the ankles and sucking you into its cold embrace wherever you went on the field or on the roads through the wood.

Sitting beneath the trees after the first battle in an almost empty camp, with some bread and very cold water, the snow falling softly around me, I felt a connection with the ancestors – this is what it could have been like for them.  A muddy rath in the winter and springtime, food especially scarce in the spring, and the longing for the warm days of summer flowed through my mind as I listened the blackbird singing above me.  Hearing the cold wind pass over the little hollow with the last rallying cry of winter.  Praying for warmth.  Honouring the cold and the dark. Honouring the mud.

I was blessed with a brief glimpse of what the ancestors had to put up with – never being clean, never being warm, the ease of summer living months away – it was a real eye-opener, to say the least.  I usually go on holiday for a couple of weeks in the year to get away from it all, to reconnect with nature – but as a Canadian, I’ve always done it in the summer. We know better.

With the cold and the mud and the wind came an acceptance of life as it is – complaining about the cold did absolutely no good.  I noticed the first couple of days people’s conversations were rife with comments about the weather, and then as the weekend wore on, less and less comments were made as people either tired of the topic, or came to accept it, as I did – it was as it was, and there was nothing that could be done about it.  We were all in the same boat, so to speak. We were all cold, and tired, and hungry.  It brought us together – I have never been to an event where people were so open and so kind.  I do think the weather had a lot to do with that – when the stakes are high, people pull together to ensure that the community survives.  This community did just that, with my eternal gratitude for being able to be a part of it.

Spring was the hardest season for our ancestors. The cold, the wet, the lack of food and waiting for the crops to be planted and harvested was always on their minds, death always at their door.  I was honoured to really experience that, and will remember this event always for that reason.

The White Serpent Rising and the Goddess of Spring

The earth is stirring, can you feel it? Walking out in the sunshine today, I felt that same feeling that I had when I was a child back in Canada, that first day when the roads are clear, though still thick with sand, and you can take your bicycle out after the long winter months.  That smell of warming ground, of sunlight and fresh breezes, that scent of spring lingering, filtering through every fibre of your soul.  The scent of life.

Today has been warm, the sun’s strength heating the shoulders and exposed skin, pale after a long winter.  The birds are singing with renewed vigour – the great tits and blue tits, the pigeons and blackbirds, jackdaws and crows.  The trees, still snoozing lightly, have the first buds appearing, and the daffodils are mingling with the snowdrops and the hellebore that the deer have decided to stop eating.

There is anticipation all around.  What will this year bring? What new growth will there be, both in the physical and in the spiritual realms?  It’s almost like a humming, deep within the earth, that is slowly rising to the surface. Indeed, the white serpent is rising.

At Imbolc, during ritual I had a vision.  Sitting on my picnic blanket in the rural idyll of my backyard, feeling the ground beneath my feet responding to the first warm sunny day; I had a flash of vision tear through my soul – the white serpent.  Deep within the ground of these isles, there lies a white serpent of the land.  The white serpent IS the land.  It connects all of this land, and it is the heart and soul personified.  I was connected to everything and everyone, and it was inspiring.

This land, England, and indeed the whole of the UK and Ireland, has been inhabited by humans for an indeterminably long time.  I can feel it when I place my hands on the soil here – it is different to Canada, where although humans have lived there for just as long, there are vast expanses of land where no human foot has ever trod.  With space limited in these emerald isles, the songs of humanity run deep through it, alongside that of everything else that makes these little islands so wonderful.

With the deeds to my house, I have old, handwritten ones that go back hundreds and hundreds of years, to when the land was first purchased, and became an orchard, and then “hovels” existed upon it in the Victorian era, growing into cottages and finally the houses that are seen today.  There is a lot of human history here, alongside the natural history that is incredibly fascinating.  Sitting outside today, I could feel the old apple trees, long since cut down, stirring in the first soft light of spring.  Voices of those who lived here, mingling on the breeze with the birdsong and the sound of airplanes, high overhead, bound for the west.

And through it all the white serpent was stirring, awakening from the slumber and rising to the surface. Incredibly beautiful, this white dragon-like being enveloped it all, and still does, closer to the surface now – I’m quite certain that at either Beltane or Midsummer it will be revealed in all its glory.

I have done some research on this white serpent – it is not the white wyrm of the Saxon heritage. It is entirely British, entirely native to these isles.  I have come across a few references of a white serpent and the goddess Brigit, whom I’ve always been intrigued by but never had a “calling” to explore.  I’m thinking that is all going to change in the very near future.

Riding the excitement of the rising tides, like riding down the street that first time on my bicycle in the Spring – that is what life is all about.  New discoveries, and every spring we are reminded to look for these things in our lives, and to take inspiration from it all.

Blessed spring, everyone! May the Goddess of Spring bring you joy.

 

Imbolc

snowdropslambs Imbolc – when the first signs of Spring begin to appear after a dark winter on these British Isles.  I have always found this seasonal celebration to be one of the “softer” celebrations – the quieter, more solitary of the rites from the pagan Wheel of the Year.  Usually, any snow that we receive in January is long gone, those one or two brief weeks of the year when a beautiful mantle of white covers the ground, allowing a period of rest and quiet.  In Suffolk, the snows melted over the weekend with the sun and the rain, and the birds, especially the great and blue tits have come out in full force, their songs echoing through the little streambed valley behind my house.  The blackbird cocks are fighting over the food supply, expending far too much energy when they could simply share and all eat a fine meal – instincts are hard to overcome.  The little muntjac deer are often in the garden, day and night, eating birdseed and the first green shoots from various places in my garden, leaving their fertilising little pellets everywhere – a fair exchange, in my opinion. The air is warmer now, the sun holds some strength when it is out in full glory, the pond is thawing and the first signs of new growth are slowly appearing.

Many Druids celebrate Imbolc as the festival of snowdrops, when these seemingly fragile little flowers first appear.  Others celebrate when the ewes begin the lambing season, and the lactation cycle begins.  It was an important time for our ancestors, as this time of year was the hungry time – the winter food stores were running low, and the flow of new milk a welcome and necessary part of survival.  Cheese could once more be made, to accompany the last of the supplies until the first wild food and crops came into season.

I normally celebrate Imbolc when the first snowdrops appear, but I fear my little deer friends may have eaten the first shoots, and perhaps my daffodil bulbs as well.  This year, it is the softness in the air that alerts me to the coming of Spring, to Imbolc.  The birdsong has changed, the snows have melted and everything is slowly awakening from a long slumber. Imbolc comes in the warm southerly breezes, a festival of the element of Air.

With gifts of bread, milk, cheese and song, I give back to the earth, nourishing the little creatures that share the place where I live.  It is a time of reflection – a time to recall the dreams that we dreamt over the long winter, the ones that appeared to us at the winter solstice in the darkest time of the year.  These dreams, like everything, require nourishment, especially at this time of year, or they will fail to come into reality.  And so, at this time of year, we focus, we concentrate our energies into making these dreams come true – we plan, we figure out the logistics, and we celebrate.

It is not yet time to plant these dream seeds, however – February and March can be difficult months, both in the natural world and in the human environment.  Outside, the weather can change in an instant, and we may get more snow, or thick frosts – our seeds would quickly sprout and then die.  In the human environment, February and March are, for many, a financially difficult time of the year. Bills from the holiday season come in, fuel bills and other heating sources must be paid for, and work shifts can decrease due to the slow months after the January sales for those not on a permanent salary. We must carefully look at our resources, and our dreams, to ensure that they don’t fail in these hungry months ahead.

So we plan, and we patiently await the time until the tide turns, at the Spring Equinox, where the days finally become longer than the nights, and our dreams finally emerge from hibernation into the light of reality.  So too do our bodies respond, like the snowdrops and daffodils, to this increase of light from the winter solstice – if we can just make it through to Imbolc, we find that the darkness is in fact receding, that our moods, our bodies, our finances are recovering, and we wait in anticipation for Spring. We need to focus, to concentrate, on making them a reality.  The intention is everything.

May you hold your dreams with nurturing love, and may they be blessed by the coming of Spring.

Spring cleaning for the soul

With the flowers all coming out at the same time, the birdsong increasing in quantity and volume, the warmer air and longer days settling in, it really does seem that spring is on the way.  It feels like it has been a long winter this year, even though we’ve had, overall, quite mild temperatures!  A brief week of snow was very welcome, if only to brighten the dullness of British winter days.  Though the long dark hours of night are quite nice to have, time to regroup, rethink and dream it all up again for the coming year, the return of the light is always welcome, even though that change may mean we have to rouse ourselves from our cozy winter’s slumber and face the world once again.

And what better way to shake off the winter’s drowsiness than a good dose of spring cleaning?  It’s good for your body, mind, soul and your house.  Every autumn and spring I give the whole house a good scrub down from top to bottom – preparing it for the season ahead.  This weekend I really went for it – clearing all clutter from workspaces and tables, removing all unnecessary decorations – items that weren’t loved – even the closets!  It’s quite difficult, especially when an item is a gift from someone – you don’t feel as though you can give it away as someone went to all the effort and expense to get it for you. But if you don’t need it, and don’t use it, it is clutter.

So, living with a husband who hoards, I was quite surprised when each item I presented to him was met with very little resistance – do you use this? Do you love this? If the answer was no, then away it went, with very little hassle.  One wrench was a set of glass candles (the kind where you pour oil into them and place the wick inside) – these had lost the wicks.  They were, essentially, useless. Yes, we could go out and buy wicks for them, but we knew we never would – we have plenty of other candles that we use.  It was the fact that he had had them for so long that made it difficult to let go, and yet, in the end, he decided that yes, they should be recycled. It just makes sense.

How much do we do this in our own lives? How much do we hang onto things simply because they’ve been a part of our lives for so long? If, as Druids and pagans, we try to live with honourable relationship to the world around us, then we know that life works in cycles – we see it in nature around us.  Things begin, and things end, and things begin again.  The trick is in the letting go when things have come to their natural ending.  We’re taught to hold on as long as we can, and sometimes that can be a good thing, or even an instinctual thing – survival.  But in other areas, it can cause quite a lot of pain – the euthanasia debate still rages on.  We are allowed to put our pets “to sleep” because they are in extreme pain and their quality of life is so diminished, but we are not allowed that same grace for our relatives.  However, that is an entirely other discussion!

It isn’t only material things we hang on to – emotions, memories, feelings are quite often riding our shoulders, weighing us down, not allowing us the freedom to move ahead.  We have to learn to not attach to these feelings – they have come and gone, the initial reaction realised.  We feel our sadness, our rage, our joy, our pride – we shouldn’t suppress our feelings. However, we should not cling to them – we find a space to express them honourably, to feel them – whether it’s creating sacred space and time to allow the feelings to be felt, through ritual, or art, poetry, storytelling, dance, etc.  Then we let them go.

Like painting, or sculpting, or playing music – the trick is to know when to stop.

This letting go isn’t a one-time deal, sadly.  We must learn to let go, again and again in our lives, for our human need and craving for safety and security challenges the idea of letting go.  But, like the candlesticks, if it no longer provides us with any nourishment, or happiness, then it is time to let it go. Space is made, either to remain as free and empty space where energy can roam, or space is made for something we really do care about and that we can nurture and sustain as it does for us.

So go on, give your house a good spring cleaning. Reflect that in your body, mind and soul as well.  You’ll feel so much better.