winter solstice: courting the dark

“death requires a kind of courting in much the same way you’d court a new love”
martin shaw

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we are in the journey into the great dark time. the shortest day is, this year, also the new moon. double blackness. what are we to make of this? i stand in the middle of the last frenzied shopping for xmas, bright lights and even brighter music glaring out at, as if to defy this time of the year. there is something about lights in the darkness that lifts the heart. i feel the relief and joy of it.

but i am forgetting one thing, in this wonderland of distraction and beautiful noise… this is also the time of short days closing in on us. of brief foray into dulled daylight between the long chilled night. the dark beckons us with a finger only of bone. she stands at the edge of the dancing, twinkling lights on your tree. she leans into the greyest of shadows. a shrouded, indistinct shape but very recognisable. we can ignore her and actively pull our focus round to the jolly sparkles of light and joyful noise. very easy to do in our culture of distraction and fear of her. in our learnt ignorance, we think we can continue to cheat her her due. but all of us have only finite time. all of us.

we can try to blank her out but we know her deep in our own bones, in the very marrow of them. she will always be with us and we cannot avoid her… not indefinitely. or we can nod our head towards her. a minute bow of acknowledgement. we can glance at her shape from the corner of our eyes – you don’t want to see her full on till you have to. we can woo her. make small offerings in an attempt to please her. small for we are as tiny as she is vast.

spring has a recklessness in her dance with death but winter shows the bare bones of her (and us), tree branches in the iced wind. deepest winter is for moments of quiet to punctuate the din of humanity. a candle in the darkness. a song sung to the sliver of a waning moon. five minutes in the pitch black. quiet contemplation. a splash of your drink of choice onto the frozen earth. a raise of you glass in her direction – a toast to the velveted one. a name for her you make up and whisper into the darkness when you wake up in the early hours, not knowing why.

it’s not about denying ourselves the festivities of the season, rather a small shuffle towards the remembrance of the dark. a minute a day if that’s all we have. we will all find our final night one day, all the offers in the world will not buy us out of that one. but if we’re not doing this to cheat death then why bother? what do we get from this? crazily, although we are in no position to demand anything from one so powerful, there are gifts…

the reward of glorious food after you’ve taken the time to prepare the tasty winter stew. food for your soul. sustenance your soul is silently crying out to you for. the space to initiate. to grow your being into something magnificent – don’t all seeds start their journey in the dark? creative ideas for you to cultivate and eventually bring into the light to grow. the reminder that your human life is so very short, so do as much of what matters as possible. the knowledge that it’s all borrowed till we go, so what are you going to do with that? the knowing of your own self, ah, yes, all of it. the darkness is generous with us indeed.

lastly, if you have nodded to the Great Grey Lady then you won’t live a life when, at that last moment, when she raps on your door with her staff, you hide under the bed because you realise that you are full of regret. and when she asks of you that final, very last time, to look her full in the face and leave with her, you go without resentfulness. you already know her.

belonging – view from the hill

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sitting here, i realise that my religion is like the view that stretches itself out over the undulating land around me. varicoloured fields stitched together by the fluffy, woollen treelines. wandering strips of silver and brown, wend their watery way in the valleys. brambles clamber over the scrub of land right in front of me. hawthorn stands in stoic compactness. hedgerows full of good medicine, if you know where and how to look.

my religion IS the land itself. nothing special. no temples. no sacred structures. but still, i am rooted. right here. where my ancestors lived. where we once worked with the land, not over it, bending it to our will (for a while). i see the beacon where my grannie took us to hunt for bilberries in late summer. she taught me how to transform them into pie, ever one for the practicalities of magic.

i watch the crows congregate to play in the wind that rushes over the lip of the hill and realise that i would always have made it up to suit me. i would always have let the air blow through my wings and tried to learn how to ride the currents of the deities and the spirits of this land. even though there are ready-made religions hanging on a peg that you can take away and wear straight away, i would’ve wanted to fashion my own personal version. i have taken older and newer ideas, beliefs and deity. i have stitched them into my own patchwork of land and home. my own lopsided quilt where some patches are the same as other people’s, some are hand-me-downs from a long line of ancestors, so worn with age that the threads show and some are almost neon in their new brightness. that’s how i like it, roughly sown in places, patches irregular in shape, but they fit together like dry stone walling. it suits me.