It is that time of year when it becomes really apparent that the days are getting longer, light is returning. Groundhog’s day may be a big deal in some places, but here we are pretty well guaranteed another 6 weeks of winter. Usually we see a “midwinter thaw” around this time of year. With climate change it seems that thaw is coming earlier. Much of our snow cover melted a few weeks ago with temps in the 40’s. Now it’s cold again.
I’ve written blogs in previous years about the light and about seasonal celebrations. I’ve written about our long winters and how easy it is to get cabin fever. What I haven’t written much about, at least not here, is hope.
This is a time of year when hope is in short supply. Historically, stores are starting to deplete and some household rationing sets in. In the natural world food is scarce. It is not uncommon to see herd die off in this late winter season, before the new shoots sprout. Likewise, in a harsh year predators will struggle to find enough calories to continue to hunt.
In the British Isles and in the Southern and Eastern United States this marks the time of year when there are signs that spring will come again. Siberian squill, crocus, magnolia – the early bloomers are sprouting. None of these first blossoms are food plants. They are precursors. Signs of hope.
In an interfaith analogy I liken our northern climate Imbolc to the story of the rainbow after the flood. There was no land in sight, but there is a promise of hope in the light. It is a time to prepare, a time to invite hope in. The cleaning that goes along with this time of year is a little like Field of Dreams. “If you clean it, spring will come.”
There is a metaphor that circulates in the Sufi and the Buddhist communities about hearts breaking open. The notion is that it takes experiencing true heartbreak to be open to compassion, to shared human experience. If you’ve never felt it, you are not fully human. Those breaks, those scars, become the windows in your heart and soul that allow the light of the sacred to shine through you. By allowing the pain, and not resisting, you also allow the opening.
The midwinter thaw is like that for me. The days are so dark and so cold and everything is frozen into ice. And then the ice breaks, and the light seeps in and the warmth can begin to reach the waters. It is a moment. The ice will come again, just like heartbreak will come again. But it is also an opening to hope, that after the ice there will also be spring.
It’s a good time to have that reminder of hope in the world.
This is the time of year when cabin fever really starts to set in. Imbolc, Groundhogs day, Candlemas the mid-marker festivals of the season. For much of the country 6 more weeks of winter sounds like a lot, but it’s countable. For us it’s 6 more weeks before we can even start counting! Mid-March is a great time to start seedlings indoors where I live. There is no hope of planting even peas and kale until May. (Well, sometimes we get lucky and risk takers will put a little something in at the end of April, but it’s rare.)
These winter holidays are very important for us. They provide a break in the routine, a chance to get out of the house and socialize. Another Monday when schools and roads are closed because it’s too cold and too windy. Blizzard conditions make getting out of the house seem a little like a pipe-dream. But we do it. It is -20F this morning (with a windchill below -40. Do you know that -40 is the temperature when Celsius and Fahrenheit meet? When you live someplace where that temperature is a reality you learn that kind of trivia.)
They’re talking highs at 20F on Wednesday. We’ve been up and down that 40-50 degrees a lot this year. It’s hard on a body. To us that 20F will feel like a heat wave. Minnesotans will go out to the mailbox without their coats. They’ll leave hats and gloves in the car. A friend on Facebook said “you know it’s been cold when you’re out shoveling at 15F and need to take your coat off because it’s too warm!” We’re a little crazy that way – stir crazy.
Another really perverse factoid about the winter weather here is that when it’s cold it’s usually really sunny. The snow reflects that sunlight and so it’s bright enough to need sunglasses. Those festivals all celebrate the return of longer days, the return of the light. The sun rises noticeably earlier and sets noticeably later. The further north you go the more dramatic those differences are. Minneapolis is on the 45th parallel. That’s half way between the equator and the top of the world (or the bottom if you’re not Northern Hemisphere biased). About this time of year a typical office worker begins to notice that they are driving to and from work in daylight rather than darkness. A nice change of pace. But being able to see the light sometimes makes you want it even more.
Wikapedia says: When experiencing cabin fever, a person may tend to sleep, have distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, dark or hail. Maybe that’s why we have a winter carnival with ice castles, kite flying on frozen lakes, winter witch camp (which is actually in Wisconsin, but if you fly in Minneapolis is the closer airport), and parks that rent cross-country skis and snowshoes.
Today the University is closed because the weather is so bad, but the Metro Mobility buses are running. Orion got bundled up and sent of to his day program and we’ll make it to adaptive Yoga tonight. We’re getting ready to celebrate Imbolc this coming weekend and in the meantime working on staying warm and not getting too stir crazy.
Since I missed last week I thought I’d reprint an editorial I wrote. It’s currently published at The Pagan Newswire Collective
Most Pagans are aware that the eight sabbats of Wicca are an artificial construction. They combine festivals of hunter/gatherer peoples with festivals of agriculture and animal husbandry. When you add to that an international following and crazy modern scheduling you have a practice of worship that is truly Neo-Pagan.
Our quarter celebrations, the solstices and equinoxes, come to us from people’s who understood astronomy. These are real and measurable events in time and space. The tools and precision of measuring when these sabbats occur have changed over time. The events that they celebrate are fixed.
The cross quarters, however, are seasonal celebrations. They mark events of weather and harvest that happen when they happen in the local area. We know from the names we call them by: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasad, and Samhein that these are sabbats from more northern climates. These are celebrations of a people who were dependent on an unpredictable weather.
They may have marked migration cycles. They may have marked the end of a harvest season. They may have marked blooming plants. They may have marked fertility of farm animals. But these kind of events occur at different times in different places in different years.
Our calendars come to us from the Romans and the Roman Catholic Church. When these local festivals were assigned patron saints and attributed to saints days on the calendar they became more fixed in time. Of course the church calendar has changed once or twice over the last several thousand years and saints come and go.
We come around again to Candlemas, or Brigid’s Mass. This festival on our calendar at the beginning of February was not always marked by a specific date. Even in our modern age there are those who count the days between each of the quarter events and would mark the cross quarters at exactly the halfway point. They argue that this celebration should occur on February 1, or 2 or 3 or even January 31 depending on when the Solstice fell.
In our modern world we think of the coldest days as having been the hardest for our fore bearers. The return of the light and the warming of the climate is celebrated for a reprieve from hardship. The reality is that in colder climates this can be the hardest season. Nothing is growing yet and won’t be for at least a month. The animals are all thin from their own winter struggles and those that aren’t are pregnant. The stores are limited with no hope of renewal for the rest of the winter and there is no telling how long that will be.
Back in the days before electric lighting cows and chickens did not produce year round. In those earlier times there has been no milk or eggs since before the solstice. It turns out that egg and milk production is primarily based on how much light is available. Modern farming uses electricity to keep cows and hens producing year round. In those earlier times it was the lengthening of daylight that made all the difference.
So this cross-quarter may have originated as a simple family feast. The holiday fare of a cake, or a quiche when finally there is a cup of milk and an egg to be had. This is a sabbat of promise. Times may be lean. The weather may be cold. Food may be inconsistent and hard to come by. But there is a beginning of hope that as the days continue to lengthen there will be more.
As we celebrate our sabbat, as we honor Brigid or make up our new candles let’s consider our bounty. Let’s take a moment to think about those who struggle to find enough to get them through. Surely we can find a way to share with those who’s hens have yet to lay an egg and who’s cows are too old to produce another year of milk.
I skipped posting last week. I didn’t have a particularly good reason. I just didn’t feel like it. Oh, there was a topic I considered, took some notes down. I just didn’t want to do it. Didn’t want to take pictures or dig out old photos. Didn’t want to be esoteric or write another woe is me post. Just didn’t want to.
Some of my blogger friends take sabbaticals from their blogs. They may be gone for a few days or a few weeks depending on how the mood strikes them. I’d like to think it was a sabbatical, but I’m not sure that’s true.
I think it was a temper tantrum. That doesn’t sound very “spiritually evolved” does it? I guess we all have our moments.
I felt like a pouty kid most of last week. I made chocolate chip cookies. (Well, they didn’t exactly turn out like cookies but the chocolate chip cookie roll-ups I ended up with were tasty all the same.) I may have eaten the entire batch over the course of the last week all by myself.
I didn’t take a total break from writing. I posted a review or two on LisaSpiralReads. I commented on a few blogs. I wrote feedback on a ritual. I did my morning pages. I just didn’t write my blog. My pouting can’t be considered a bid for attention since there is no one here but me and Orion and I didn’t expect him to notice. And with blogging it’s writing that gets comments, not not writing!
I didn’t exactly do nothing. Over the course of the week I’ve seen 3 doctors (two of mine one of Orion’s), managed to get the laundry through the wash, dealt with Orion getting his antibiotics back at his day program, talked through an Imbolc ritual, held a class, done some meditation work, played cards with friends and gotten dinner on the table every night. I also spent a lot of the time being a zombie in front of the tv or playing video games.
Like most temper tantrums by the time I got to the end of it I began to think this was harder on me than writing the blog would have been. Maybe it was. Still, sometimes I just need a good pout. At least I don’t feel like I need a vacation from my vacation.
I can’t say I’m rested and rejuvenated, but I am ready to face the world again. So today a blog about Nothing.
Do you ever find yourself taking an unscheduled time out? Have a temper tantrum? Pout just for the sake of pouting?
Imbolc, Bridget’s Day, Candlemas, or even Groundhog’s Day, whatever we may call it we are approaching the point in the year where the light shifts. Days have been getting increasingly longer since the Winter Solstice. By this point in the turning of the year it is noticeable that the sky is still light when we get home from the office. We appreciate that the sun is up before the bus arrives in the morning.
February is a difficult month for a lot of people. Eating locally becomes difficult especially in Northern climates. The stores do not seem as abundant and we know winter has a long way to go. Here in Minnesota we often experience the “winter thaw” at this time of year, making ice fishing a little treacherous. This year the weather has been so very wrong. It has been extremely pleasant, but entirely out of the ordinary. Our “thaw” may look a lot like the rest of the winter has been.
The seed catalogues start coming in the mail in droves. It’s helpful to be able to plan for spring while sitting through the doldrums of the cold season. Valentine’s Day is coming soon. That’s a little pick me up, or a little pity party depending on the circumstances. At any rate it’s likely to involve a renewal of bounteous chocolates. Since most of us don’t spend our days outdoors, and since most of us are dependent upon electric lighting, the shifting of the light doesn’t have the impact it would have in a hunter/gatherer culture. Our candle supply is sure to hold out, even if we don’t spend the month rendering fat to make new ones.
Spring cleaning happens in much of the world at this time of year. Even up here where it’s too cold to throw open the windows there is a sense of cabin fever. Something needs to freshen up the internal atmosphere. It is the time to clean the tools (remember that garden planning) and that goes for magical tools as well. Perhaps this shift in light is part of my motivation to deal with some “stuff”.
This shift also is a cue to start looking for signs of spring. A little south of us the end of the month will bring the first bulbs peaking out from under the snow. Up here that won’t happen for another 2 months, at least in a typical year. My daughter swears she saw a robin in the yard this last weekend. Ordinarily it’s not robins, but cardinals and chickadees that brighten our February days. Red and Black and White, the colors of the Goddess and the sign of her promise to return from the underworld and bring spring back from the land.
Light is returning