Pagan Hygge

Hygge is a wonderful word. But it’s more than a word; it’s a feeling.

candle 2Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah) was originally a Norwegian word, meaning “wellbeing” that was adopted by the Danes in the early 1800’s. Nowadays, it’s a very important word to describe a feeling of comfort, security, warmth, friendship, cosiness and more. In today’s world, we need that more than ever.

The Danes are experts at creating hygge. Much like the Druid searches for inspiration, the Danes quest for hygge. I too work to create feelings of hygge, to nourish the hygge in my home and with my friends and family, even as I quest for the awen, for inspiration from the natural world as to how to live my life with honour and integrity, as a fully functioning part of an ecosystem. For me, the two can work hand in hand.

Hygge is the simple things in life. Things that make you have that warm, fuzzy hyggelig feeling. Things that bring you joy. Small things. “Unimportant” things. It’s paying attention to the moment, right now, and appreciating it for all its worth. So, what things am I talking about here?

knitted socksFireplaces. Candles. A cup of tea. Warm knitted socks. Petting a cat. Sitting outdoors watching the sunset. Walking quietly in a woodland. Picnics on the beach. Barbeques in the garden. Gathering with friends in a cosy pub. A family birthday party with lots of cake and laughter.

Hygge is nourishing the soul. We very much need this nourishment, for in our Western lives we run ourselves ragged. It’s not hard to see why the Danes are the happiest  people in the world. They cultivate hygge regularly. They know the importance of being with family, of leaving work at 5pm to cook dinner and eat together at the dining table. Of working 40 hours a week or less. Of a welfare system that makes everyone feel secure, paid for with higher taxes. A free university education that benefits from these higher taxes as well. A sense of security, of well-being. Given that they live in a very challenging place, where the winter months have precious few hours of sunlight, they have strived to create that sense of security and safety in their homes, in bars, even at work. They’re doing it right.

I practice hygge. I sit in my conservatory after work, or outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea, smelling the air with a cat by my side. My morning cup of coffee is a silent ritual, sitting at the dining table with incense and candles lit in the autumn and winter months. I cook as often as I can, with local produce that nourishes not only the body but P1070068 (1024x768)the soul. I welcome my friends over, have a spare pair of warm socks should they need them, cookies and teas or coffees at the ready. I light a candle and say prayers to my lady Brighid every morning at her shrine next to my fireplace, and give thanks for my many blessings. In my home, I want people to feel welcome, to feel safe in my little sanctuary. My work with the goddess Nemetona greatly helped me to appreciate all that sanctuary includes, and the importance it plays in all our lives. Gratitude and sanctuary are what we so desperately need.

With the threat of nuclear war, with the instability of Brexit, with floods and landslides and earthquakes and other natural disasters around the world, with capitalistic consumption and greed running rampant, it’s not hard to see why we are so unhappy. But we can change our own little space, creating space as well for others to appreciate the little things, in the spirit of hygge.

These little things become the most important things, and hopefully our actions will ripple out across the web of existence, with more and more people coming to understand the joys and wonders of hygge.

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Make Tea

She lit the candles and incense, and sat down upon the cushions. Breathing deeply, she inhaled the fragrant scent, and allowed her gaze to wander over the items on the altar. She tried to focus, her gaze finally resting upon the image of Brighid, and the flame that the goddess held in her hands. As the darkness fell, both within and without, both figuratively and literally, she focused on the flame being offered. She took it within her heart, and for a brief moment it flickered, then died out as the darkness consumed it in a deep blanket of despair.

Breathe.

She focused once again on the image, this time on the watery vesica pisces symbol. Yet her mind would not focus, her thoughts filled with grief and anger, darkness and despair. She breathed through them, trying to remain in the present moment. But the darkness was overwhelming, and as she floundered, she cried out: “Help!”

The voice of the goddess spoke softly in her mind. “Make tea.”

She sat for a moment longer, determined to spend at least ten minutes at her altar. At last, she gave up and blew out the candles, allowing the incense to burn itself out. Make tea, the goddess had said. Alright. Let’s make some tea.

She went downstairs and put the kettle on. Let’s make tea, she said to herself. Mindfully. She prepared the small teapot with herbs known to lift the darkness and soothe the nerves: St John’s wort and skullcap. She also added some lemon balm, to ease tension and also for flavour. She inhaled the scent of the dried herbs, and mixed them together before placing them in the teapot. She looked out the window in the light of the setting sun, a small muntjac deer feeding alongside a magpie underneath the bird feeder.

She placed on a tray the teapot, strainer and saucer, as well as a small handmade earthenware cup. She brought these to the table, and laid them down with her full attention. The kettle had boiled, and she carefully filled her small iron kettle with the water, feeling the steam against her skin. She brought the iron kettle to the table, and placed it on a heat-proof mat. She sat down, her mind still battling the darkness around the edges, her thoughts seemingly not her own. She knew her hormones were swirling in a dance similar to that which she had experienced at adolescence, though now she was at the other end of the brilliant spectrum. She had to take care of herself, of her body as well as her mind.

She opened up the teapot and breathed. Mindfully, she took the iron kettle and filled the teapot with water, replacing the kettle with equal attention. She inhaled the scent of the herbs, and replaced the teapot lid. No other thoughts entered her mind, just these simple, small actions. Working with mindfulness, working with full attention to her actions, there was only the present moment.

She sat back and waited for the tea to brew. Slowly, she felt the darkness returning, crowding at her mind. Despair at the state of the world, at the constant struggle she faced with work, with others who could not do the simplest of tasks, with expectations from both strangers and friends, knowing that if she didn’t do something, no one would – stop. Breathe. Focus. Three minutes stretched to an eternity as the brew steeped in the teapot.

She took a deep breath, and the darkness receded an inch. She picked up the teapot, and concentrated on pouring the tea through the strainer into the small bowl. She kept up her concentration on her breath and on the pouring, and it filled her entire being. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Just pouring tea.

She put down the teapot and picked up the cup. The scent of the herbs brought back memories of a wonderful little shop called StarChild in Glastonbury. She allowed the brief memory to flicker, and then she refocused her attention on the cup in her hands. The heat radiated through the bowl, and she had to pick it up carefully, her fingers near the cooler end of the rim. Quietly, she took the first slurp, allowing the air to cool the hot water before it reached her tongue. She concentrated on nothing but drinking the tea, sitting alone in the dining room, with night falling outside.

She drank the first cup, and then brewed another in the teapot. She kept her mind focused on the present, acknowledging past wounds but not allowing them to flavour the present moment. She had worked hard to name them and transform them, and was working on it still. Three minutes again slipped past, and outside her dining room window she saw the Christmas lights from the house across the street go on.

She poured herself another cup, and drank it mindfully. A third cup was brewed and drunk, and when she finished she sat back and bowed to her tea set. She felt a little better, the darkness within relenting, though not wholly gone. She acknowledged and allowed the herbs to do their work on her body and her mind. With equally careful attention, she rinsed the kettle and washed the teapot, bowl and strainer, and then went upstairs with a lighter heart, to Skype with her mother and find even more comfort and peace, there in the moment, utterly in the moment.

Slow Down…

teaSlow down.

This little phrase may not only save your life, but can continue to make your life a lot easier.  I’ve been slowing down a lot this year, saying “no” to many things, acknowledging that there is already enough on my plate.  I’m taking time to simply be, to be in the moment, to stop the running around and to well and truly live.

Slowing down, physically, (and mentally, as a result – thoughts eventually stop racing around in your mind when your body slows down) can bring new joys in an otherwise missed-out world.  Eat your breakfast mindfully, slowly. Drink your tea mindfully, slowly.  Drive your car mindfully, slowly.  Just try these three things for the first week and you will notice a distinct improvement in how you feel. It’s amazing how changing small habits can have such a grand effect.

Eating and drinking too quickly, unaware of your food, can lead to stomach upsets, food waste, and over-eating just to name a few things.  Driving too quickly can result in loss of control of your car, and ultimately your life or the life of another.  Taking the time to really be in the moment of these “little” things, these everyday things, can bring a new awareness and gratitude for the small pleasures in life.

Feel the consistency of your breakfast banana, really smell it, touch it, run your fingers over it before you even peel it and begin eating.  Be thankful that you have that banana to eat. Savour each mouthful, chewing slowly, swallowing purposefully – it may sound silly, but just try it.  Drink your tea in beautiful china cups, taking the time to brew it carefully in a teapot, aware of every movement of your body as you do so.  Pour the tea with full awareness.  Raise the cup, feel the smooth porcelain on your lips just before the warm liquid dances on your tongue.  Be thankful that you have tea.  Touch your car before getting into it.  Sit down gracefully, feeling your body in the seat.  Start the engine mindfully, and drive with total awareness of the steering wheel beneath your hands, the road beneath the tires.  Be thankful that you have a car.

By slowing down you will may find yourself less stressed when you get to work, or when you arrive back home from work.  We are not meant to live under the constant stress that our everyday lives present us when we live un-mindfully.  By taking a few moments to slow down, to become aware of where we are and what we are doing, we can help heal and restore the balance in our lives.