– while humans, as usual, grapple with the Big Qs, like how we might live, what our life-story tells us, and what's for supper (an abundance of delicious dishes, brought by participants, it turns out).
'Those who walked the Old Ways knew that our lives and our wellbeing are intimately tied up with that of the land. Everything is relationship, and our life is dependent on our connectedness with the land and the harmony and creativity of that relationship,' I'd written.
Participants on my retreats know that a shared silent walk, bringing one's whole attention to the senses, our feet on the land, the meeting points between inner and outer worlds, to how we feel about this silence when walking with others, is an integral and surprisingly important and significant part of the experience.
So on Sunday we walk, paying full attention, noticing the small signs of new growth, sniffing the wind, tasting the tang of young sorrel leaves, finding new ways to describe sheep's wool caught on wire, or the texture of silvergreen lichen, feeling how the mud gave to our boots, enjoying being out after such intense indoor work.
Then we get on with the inward stuff again.
Imbolc sits exactly midway between the midwinter solstice and the spring equinox. A fire festival, it is also a cross-quarter date in the Celtic year. As it's associated with Brighid (who later becomes the Virgin Mary in Christian iconography), it's also very much associated, traditionally, with the land, with creativity and poetry, with healing, candles and new light, the turning back towards the sun of the year's cycle, with fire and smithcraft, with lambs and new milk coming into the cows.
I speak a little of the Celtic Wheel of the Year: the quarter dates of winter solstice in the north*, where the fire of spirit and intuition glimmers like a distant belt of stars, not yet brought into being; with the spring equinox, dawn, and its element of air, new ideas, the thinking faculty, and birth, in the east; the summer solstice with its earthy warmth and sunniness, the waystation in the south for the physical body, things coming to full ripening; and mysterious west, the twilight station of water, the autumn equinox, the feeling nature and the harvesting and dissolution of what we know and are, before the move back to north for the cycle to begin again. (*There's not consistent agreement with the directions and human characteristics in their placing on the Wheel of the Year. Some Medicine Wheels, especially the First Nation ones in America, place earth and body in the north. This doesn't feel right to me, but it might to you.)
I describe how Imbolc, between solstice and equinox, is the beginning of all the new awakenings, ready for the sowing at the spring equinox. This is preparing-the-ground time: ploughing, fertilising.
Brighid, as guardian of the wells, is also guardian of springs and all water sources. Caitlin Matthews tells us (or is it Julian Cope?) that another name for Brighid (besides Bride, Breed, Brede, Bridget etc) is Bring; to 'make as Bring' is also to 'make spring', in both senses of the word.
So it's also a cleaning-out-the-wells times; metaphorically, but also, for many years, it was part of my practice to clear out the rubbish from the old and forgotten actual holy wells – something I still do, at times.
We could also see this as throwing out the old rubbish that's accumulated in the forms of emotional residues or negative thoughts in our psyches; a cleanse.
In the deepest reaches flames flicker into life
The earth is turning sunward and day displaces night
Because people asked, here are the other cross-quarter fire-festival dates: Beltane, or May Day, between the spring equinox and the summer solstice: full fertility, fecundity, mating, jumping through the flames with your beloved; Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas), named after the Fire God Lugh, is August 1st, the early harvest and market time between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox; and then Samhain, All-souls/Allhallows, midway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice: a mysterious going-into-the-dark time where the ancestors are honoured and the veils between worlds are thin. This is the Celtic New Year.
At home, our great hellebore is hanging out delicate bells in shades of creamy green and dusky pink. In the lanes, the wild hellebore is back in unworldly green flower.
Here, in the house, with rain storming the windows, we can hear the conifers across the lane sighing like the sea, and the wild wind is clacking the bare ash, chestnut, hazel branches together. Rooks and daws jack-knife and swither away in the gusts, cawing. Over that are the tickings of the fire, the nibble of pens on paper, the small shifts and stirrings of a group working together in quiet, the occasional canine grunt or sigh.
These shared journeys never fail to move me: not least because it's cost everyone something of fear to be here, to undergo the investigation of their inner life, and to share it with strangers.
'Everything you want is on the other side of fear,' I read out.
People smile knowingly at this quote of Jack Canfield's. We've been through quite a process by now: late Saturday afternoon, and the Thresholds day-component of the weekend is coming to a close with our small fire ceremony, marking endings and beginnings.
The five who have joined us for this day will soon be making their way out into the wet and windy dusk, while the eight of us staying on will prepare a meal together in good heart, and then share another session.
C says to me: 'You're like spiritual Alka Seltzer. Alka Seltzer for the soul. Drop a pinch in and we all fizz.' I guess that's a compliment. We laugh.
Over supper, five or six people say 'Will you do this again next year? I'll come.' So – yes, I guess, is the answer. Provisional dates: Friday January 30th – Sunday February 1st, same place. http://thewildways.co.uk/weekend-residentials/
And meantime, I'm posting details of new courses bit by bit over on my two websites.
10% discount for the August Writing the Bright Moment retreat in France between now and the end of March, remember; there are a few places left: http://abricreativewriting.com/events2014/Writing%20the%20Bright%20Moment%20with%20Roselle%20Angwin.html