I've failed to light the fire (wet wood) in my barn study which, not being insulated to house standards, is freezing. I'll see how long my fingers last before heading back to the house with minimal internet (which is why I'm out here).
I wanted to acknowledge the turning year: we're awaiting more snow this afternoon, but it will be as nothing compared with the snow some of you have had. Spare a thought for the new lambs – inhumane practice, lambing at this time of year – who will be getting sodden and then be frozen too. And of course, the increasingly-numerous homeless humans: so many more than any so-called 'civilized' society can justify on any grounds at all. It doesn't have to be like this, but it will take a major change of our values and our economic systems before we start to really address such inequality in any meaningful way.
It may not feel like it outside, but the earth is truly coming back to the light in the northern hemisphere, towards one of the fire festivals of the ancient year: a midway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Imbolc is a time for candles, for inwardness, for reflection; for remembering that, despite all, the earth will still crack open and offer new life. Here, the snowdrops have been out for a little while, catkins of course, and the first wild garlic shoots are showing, as are new cleaver plants. I shall collect the latter two soon to make a cider vinegar cleansing brew: nutritious and good for both blood and lymph. Then we'll soon have enough garlic and early nettles to make a rich soup with the last of our (pathetic) leeks, and potatoes.
Last year I turned my 20-years'+ Thresholds Imbolc retreat into a solo day retreat. For any of you who can find a day for a depth practice of reflection, writing and ritual, it is available as a download, to put into practice between now and the spring equinox (northern hemisphere only). You can read more about it here, and if you fancy making a Bride/Brighid cross – traditional at this time of year, Bride being one incarnation of the Great Mother Goddess – there are videos of Youtube. Here's mine from last year.
In my Tongues in Trees course, this lunar month is Rowan month in the old Ogham calendar/alphabet supposedly used by the Druids. I found this beauty with her three intertwined trunks up at Blackdown Rings in the South Hams, a particularly special Iron Age camp.
Mythologically, cranes were associated with arcane shamanic knowledge, and it is said that the Ogham alphabet, designed by the sun-god Ogma, was inspired by the ways the cranes' legs bent in their archetypal dance. Cranes are messengers from the gods: psychopomps, we'd call them in archetypal psychology. Hermes/Mercury was associated with them: it is said that he, too, was inspired to create the Roman alphabet from their legs.
There is a fabulous project on the Somerset Levels to reintroduce cranes to England. They currently have a 'sedge' (the collective noun for cranes) of 40 or 50 birds there, with a few other overwintering birds.