Midwintering   Leave a comment

A recent post in a Druid forum asked about connecting with the natural world in winter, especially in regions where cold and snow make the outdoors less inviting unless you plan to stay active and warm hiking or skiing and so on.

Especially in cooler climates, winter draws us inward. That nudge to hibernate, to drowse and sleep and inhabit an in-between is a valid one, one we can honor and welcome, rather than resist, or apologize for, or feel somehow shamed by.

That inward focus can lead to celebrations and insights into nature through drawing, writing, music, crafting, etc. — arts that spring from our own inwardness, a whole world we often step past in the more outward-facing months of summer.

Even water drowses, moves slower, curves back on itself, dreaming of a thaw …

Planning a garden, celebrating each midday point in these short winter days, watching the dawns or sunsets, etc. can all be conscious acts of dedication and participation during winter. And incubating dreams, keeping a dream journal, working on projects or issues or questions through dreaming, including daydreaming and drowsing, can all be richly productive. Objects I’ve collected in better weather now matter more. They’re important to touch and handle frequently: stones, feathers, shells, bones, pieces of wood, etc. Contours and textures of our worlds.

And this physical touch and connection, especially now when we hunger for it during covid, can include pets, who mediate wonderfully for us with the natural world. So we talk with them, cuddle them, spend even a little time outdoors with them and watch them play in the snow, and perhaps rekindle the wonder of winter, even if we don’t choose to ski or snowshoe or hike or sled, toboggan or romp.

The natural turn towards inwardness accords with the dark and bright halves of the year. The “yang-ness” of much of Western culture prods us to give some account for ourselves, to justify our hours and days with productivity, with gains and forward movement and progress. If we’re to e-volve, we have to “turn outward”, the word itself tells us. But that’s just half of it.

Part of the natural rhythm that Druidry can help us re-establish is a more sane balance between outer and inner activity. Anyone who thinks trees and animals aren’t “active differently” in winter can apprentice themselves to the natural world to find out just what’s going on. This can be another winter activity — reading, study, inquiry, research, pondering, finding out for ourselves, as well as walking outside to smell the chill air, marvel at winter sunlight, catch all the hues of gray and white, light and dark, shade and sun.

These queries and thoughts are fitting for the new moon that’s upon us. We’re just emerging from the Dark of the Moon after all, into a New Moon. Lunar questions, lunar contemplations. The tree for the month, following the 2021 Lunar Calendar (www.thelunapress.com) is Luis, the Rowan or Mountain Ash. As I look on the Rowan in our front yard, I try to honor its lesson, follow its lead.

Rowan, as an image of winter’s inwardness, you do well. Hard even to make out completely, set as you are against a background of other trees. Barren, and with the camera’s foreshortening, looking like you sit directly under electrical lines.

Often it seems trees wait because they “can’t do anything else”. So it can be revealing to do a tree meditation, to listen to what is going on with a particular tree. Rowan isn’t worrying about winter, or considering the starkness of its branches against other trees, or the sky. Its sugars and life-sap have retreated from where its leaves were, but it’s no less alive for all that. I hold the Rowan twig I picked up a few years ago from a dead branch on the ground. I’ve used a woodburner to mark the Rowan ogham ᚂ on the stave, another step. On such seemingly small actions we can build steps and paths to further insight and connection.

Whether or not I “finish” a set of ogham staves, I have these gifts from several neighboring trees to hold and connect with and listen through. Rowan’s magic, magic of hemlock, oak magic …

One great gift of the Others like trees and animals (as well as people) who share our worlds is that they help draw us out of ourselves, when necessary. Caitlin Matthews’ wise book, Celtic Devotional, offers this short meditation for the Thursdays of winter: “I give thanks for the wise qualities of the evergreen trees that have stood by me this day: may you show me how my own heart can be evergreen and growing through winter’s doubt and darkness”.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Fair Winds Press, 2004.

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