Category Archives: Celebration

Lighting the dark

Imagine you are living many, many hundreds of years ago, relying on the land around to sustain you, not buying out of season food air-freighted in from far countries. Winter’s grip still holds you firmly, you and your tribal family worry there will not be enough to eat to see you through the season, that the new crops will not come in time.

But today in the North is Imbolc, a Celtic celebration of the growing light, one of the great cross-quarter days of the year. Both Pagans and Christians celebrate the Goddess Brigid/Saint Bridget, bringer of poetry, healing and the fire of smithcraft. Perhaps, all those hundreds of years ago, you would be gathered close around a fire at the centre of your roundhouse with other elders, swapping stories of the past and the future, or walking out to observe the subtle quickening of the land, its expectant energy.

In these times today, a friend of mine said “it’s our art that will get us through”. And I think that’s true. Our arts, and our crafts and our storytelling will be the light.

Imbolc blessings to you all.

Women’s histories

Journal-cover

I went to a local Vintage and HandMade goods fair at the weekend. If I’m going to buy something I want it to be a little unusual, so I now have a beautiful lino-cut print of a running hare for a particular spot on my wall that’s been waiting for something. And an unusual ceramic vase in sea and sky blues inspired by an Icelandic harbour. And this hand-made journal, in all its tatterdemalion glory.Journal

Here’s part of the inside as well. A leather cover enclosing pages and pages of different types of paper, ribbon, scraps and whatnots. The wonderful woman who makes these journals calls them Knicker Drawer Notebooks:

What’s a Knicker Drawer Note Book?

Memory book? Pillow book? Keepsake book? Journey book? Quiet Thoughts Notebook? Story prompt book?

Creative space? Costume support? Commonplace hoard? Sensory texture book for physical therapy?

Perhaps a unique and personal book, made to hold an item that matters, the item that expresses you, and you alone?

Or just about the most fun and whimsical personal book you’ll ever own?

A Knicker Drawer book is all of these: it’s a beautiful place to keep the precious things of your everyday experience, whether they are daily jottings, fragile letters, your youthful billet doux, an old journey ticket, memories of good and bad times, a card from a time you want to remember, your poetry, or the heirloom recipe in grandma’s handwriting. (Or even, ahem, the receipt for the hotel room you’d rather keep quiet about.)

You can see more examples of her work here, and oh how she’s rekindled my interest in journalling and journal-making.

The reason I’m writing about it today is because of one particular use for these journals which she showed me: a repository for old letters, a written history of a long-dead woman’s life, not forgotten if preserved between the pages of one of the notebooks.

On International Women’s Day, let’s remember those generations and generations of women and their hidden histories, preserved in memory and sometimes between the pages of a special book.

Light and darkness

Lofoten, Norway

‘What does he sing of?’ Arren asked the mage… ‘Of the grey whales, and the albatross, and the storm…’ (from The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin)

Beyond my window as I write this, a dramatic fire-streaked sunset is submitting slowly to the darkness of the longest night: Winter Solstice.

In Ursula Le Guin’s book The Farthest Shore, the prince Arren and the mage Sparrowhawk witness the Long Dance, performed on the longest night each year by the Children of the Open Sea. Far out beyond any land, they live on rafts, swimming like dolphins, joyful and alive. All of the longest night, they dance by torchlight, and the chanter sings, tirelessly, until dawn.

But the story tells of magic being sucked from the world by one man’s fear of mortality, leading to madness, namelessness, and to the death of dragons. And so the chanter falters in his song, for he can no longer remember the words.

Every year has its share of horror and harrowing events, but 2014 seems to have taken a sharp twisting turn towards inhumanity. I feel that hardness and lack of compassion in myself, often, sitting like a stone in my heart. Not to the extent that I could conceive of, for example, killing children in their classrooms, but I sometimes wonder how many steps away that might be for each of us. What events and convictions might make us feel that torture is acceptable, that mass kidnaps and rape are legitimate political weapons, that it’s somehow alright for carers to abuse people who are elderly or have disabilities, that buying ivory when elephants are being hunted to bloody extinction for profit is just a trinket.

I wonder if, at this sacred time, we can look openly into the darkness and find some answers there.

And I also wonder if we can find the joy in our lives. Sometimes we feel guilty about our experiences of joy, about our laughter, when so much is going on that is terrible. But that’s when we need to own our joy the most. It keeps us truly human and holy – in its original sense of being whole.

At the darkest time, try closing your eyes, and look within. In the distance is a tiny pearl of flame. This is the sun within you. As you breathe, the solstice sun grows in power; reaching out its rays, it touches your heart, bringing life, and renewal. May its blessings fill you with light. (from The Winter King by Danu Forest)

 

Knowing the landbase

English autumn

Tomorrow the wheel of the year takes another turn, marking the beginning of the Celtic festival of Samhain, mid-way between the Autumn equinox and the Winter solstice (here in the Northern hemisphere). The veil between the worlds seems to become thinner as we take this time especially to remember our beloved dead. These days are marked in many faith and cultural traditions and it seems to me that the veil between traditions thins a little also.

So I wanted to think about how I might mark this time.

There are a couple of practices I really like. The first is to place a candle in your window to welcome home beloved spirits if they should come, and keep away unwelcome ones. I’ve heard it said that this is one origin of the Halloween pumpkins so many people are busy carving as we speak. The second is to set a spare place at table, in memory of those no longer with us, to remember them with love.

And one wonderful practice is to find out out about our local landbase, to begin to know it. With thanks to the writer of hecatedemeter for introducing me to the term landbase, we can become aware of the natural world even in the most crowded concrete cities, the most manicured suburban spaces. We can find clues to our natural landbase, the life native to where we live.

Since I moved to my new apartment nearly three months ago, I’ve been watching the trees slowly change colour, walking through the area, watching the birds, looking at the wild plants poking up in neglected corners (oh how different from the glossy evergreen “ornamental” plants which guard the perimeter of my building – if a plant can be living and yet dead, these are). I’ve been reading about the history of my place and visiting areas where you can see the past more clearly, such as the nearby ruins of a medieval abbey, the river which winds through and feeds the earth around us.

It seems to me that to look for clues about the past of our local landbase, its flora and fauna, is another way to honour our ancestors, at this time of year and always. To work backwards through lives and centuries, to understand what the land was like, right back to the time of the great forests, and doing now what we can to preserve and enrich what’s left. Perhaps to grow in our windowsills, gardens and allotments the varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables nearest to those which would have been native to the area.  Now that would be a way to celebrate our love for our dead as well as keep a future for our grandchildren.

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