This is probably the least known or least celebrated of the traditional Celtic cross quarter festivals, yet I think in the past it would have had great import for rural communities. The reaping of rewards for the hard work on the land, the vagaries of the weather and the dispensation of the ancient Goddesses and Gods. One of those is Lug, (or Lugh- Irish, or Llew – Welsh) a powerful character in early pagan mythology. Lugnasadh means festival of Lug and it is a fire and air festival, Lug is associated with light, also with death through the reaping of the golden corn with the sickle. It is the first day of Autumn (sorry!) and the start of the last quarter of the year. It is a time for festivals of song and poetry. Lug is associated with Odin and has the ability to see into the Underworld. He also has many associations with trees, particularly our currently withering Ash tree, and spears. In many Celtic myths Lug receives a wound from a spear, (initiation) he dies but in that process he gains in-sight and wisdom and is then brought back to life, much like the Fisher King of Arthurian legends.
Lammas is the Christian festival that celebrates the loaf-mass or in some places the lamb-mass. The first grains were made into a loaf that was brought into church to celebrate the harvest and abundance.
In many places Lugh-mass was a day of mourning, not just for the death of the corn and barley kings, but also for loved ones now passed away, and these rituals remained until relatively recent times as wake weeks.
Ian Seddons reminds us that the early fruits may taste bitter or sharp to the taste, but that we should practice gratitude for all that we have received. I have been gorging myself on so many wild foods this summer from Wild Radish to Bilberries, seaweed and Garlic, and I have been watching the hazelnuts and crab apples beginning to fill and ripen. Soon they will be joined by the Blackberries, rosehips and sloes. So let’s celebrate Lugh and give thanks for Mother Earth’s abundance, of how she provides for us all, and of how sometimes we may have a bitter pill to swallow, but let’s show gratitude for all that brings us learning and wisdom and growth, even if it means being cut down and harvested.
“John Barleycorn must Die”
There were three men came out of the West,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn must die.
They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead.
They’ve let him lie for a very long time,
Till the rains from heaven did fall,
And little Sir John sprung up his head,
And so amazed them all.
They’ve let him stand till midsummer’s day,
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard,
And so become a man.
They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
They’ve rolled him and tied him by the way,
Serving him most barbarously.
They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks,
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he has served him worse than that,
For he’s bound him to the cart
They’ve wheeled him around and around the field,
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn oath,
On poor John Barleycorn.
They’ve hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he has served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.
And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
And he’s brandy in the glass;
And little Sir John and the nut-brown bowl,
Proved the strongest man at last.
The huntsman, he can’t hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly to blow his horn,
And the tinker he can’t mend kettle nor pot,
Without a little Barleycorn
Ahh – Beltane
That wondrous time of the year when everything in Nature is fresh and new, when we enter the garden of earthly delights, and light fires honouring life, fertility and love. Traditionally 2 fires were lit on a hill, and the cattle were driven between them, to cleanse them and ensure fertility. This ancient agricultural practice goes all the way back to early neolithic practices and the worship of Bel, Belin or Belenus. Bel-tane means the fire of Bel. A way to honour or appease the old forest God, when trees had been cleared was to erect and decorate a special tree – hence the May pole. Belenus is the shining solar hero and was also associated with the old thunder gods; a lightning struck Oak was considered a sacred tree by the Druids.
The forest is teeming with life right now, the translucent new leaves opening out from tight concertina cases and fanning out wide to meet the sun. Many early leaves are edible (and I encourage a little gentle browsing) like the Beech, Oak, Birch and Hawthorn or May Blossom, which is prominent at this time – the Maythorn associated with the May Queen. The flowers have the glorious scent of the May Queen’s vagina, and she too is the keeper of the sacred groves. This day is the dance between the masculine and feminine celebrating the sexual energy of all life.
With an increase in Re-wilding and regenerative farming, it is vital that we invite these ancient pastoral deities to come back and sit around our fires, share our songs and feasts, and dance with us to bless the land and the harvest. We are not as sophisticated as we like to believe, and to ignore the spirits of the land is to dishonour the gifts we receive, and maintain that misperception of separation, and ignore our dependence on the soil, plants, insects and animals that share this Earth with us.
This really is such a magical time of year, – the time of the snake, the cuckoo, the wryneck, the summer visitors and the creatures emerging from hibernation or metamorphosis. What energy lies dormant within you that is ready to burst through and join the labyrinth dance, the weaving of the colours and the light. Now is a time to be creative and rejoice, and let our buds open to the sun.
Forest Bathing and Sensitivity Research
by Daniella Coronelli
This essay is about a research project to find out the possible effects Forest Bathing may have on sensitive people, as there is very limited research on this topic. Before entering into the project details, as a way of introduction, I would like to give a brief description of both forest bathing and sensitivity.
Forest bathing, or “Shinrin-Yoku” in Japanese, is the art of intentionally connecting with nature as a way to enhance health and well-being. It involves taking short, slow-paced, walks to mindfully tune our senses and our being into the forest habitat and atmosphere. It is an evidence-based intervention that began in Japan in the 1980’s to counteract the effects of psycho-physical and spiritual conditions emerging from modern living, such as feeling disconnected to self and others, self-centredness, addictions, over consumerism, digital overwhelm, chronic stress and anxiety, to mention just a few.
After nearly two decades of academic research, sensitivity is now recognised as a human trait, rather than a mental health condition to be treated. It is a trait that describes the ability sensitive people have to perceive and feel emotions intensely and process stimulation from the environment more deeply. According to early findings (1) 20 percent of the population in the UK is highly sensitive while more recent studies suggest that there may be three groups of sensitive people; (2) Here 40 percent of people are considered moderately sensitive, while low-and high-sensitive individuals each comprise about 30 percent of individuals and the world statistics reflect closely the UK figures. While we all have sensitive traits some people are more sensitive than others and they are strongly affected by both adverse and positive experiences in their lives. Their nervous systems are designed to observe subtleties of life while living in a blunt, over-stimulating and often insensitive world. This can translate into high levels of stress and anxiety for many sensitives, who often have to withdraw from the world into a safe, quiet space.
According to ‘Highly Sensitive Refuge’, Forest Bathing offers an optimal soothing and grounding form of self-care for sensitive people. Moreover, it has been shown that sensitive people, because of the way their brain processes information, find it considerably easy and restorative to connect with nature and appreciate its patterns, cycles and rhythms. (3) As a Shiatsu therapist, I have been working for several years with people who identify as sensitives and have developed an understanding on how to support them through the medium of touch-communication. Here in this context, I was curious to find out how sensitive people would be affected by forest bathing and what activities they may prefer during the walks. Given the lack of existing data, I was advised by the founder of ‘Nature and Therapy UK’, Stefan Batorijs, to carry out primary research to assess how a group of people who identify themselves as sensitives, would be affected by a series of 4 weekly forest bathing walks. The walks were offered free of charge to the participants. Thanks to a local company, the ‘Woodland Presents’, who promote ecological events in the forest, I was given a grant to use ‘The Glade’, an eco-building that includes an indoor and other outdoor space for people gatherings, as well as toilet and refreshment facilities.
The 4 participants (3 females and 1 male) who voluntarily committed to the 4 weeks study, were recruited via advertising in the local community, after enquiries had been received from 22 people who found it difficult to attend all of the walks.
The group were invited to participate in the walks in a local woodland, at a slow pace, while mindfully tuning their senses into the forest atmosphere. During the two & half hour walks the participants were offered a variety of invitations to help them to forge an embodied connection with themselves and with various elements they encountered in the forest, from trees, to the ground, plants, stones, river, wind and sky. In addition to exploring connection with the 5 senses, they were invited to explore grounding and alignment of their posture, breathing practices, mindful reflection and playful expression through voice and sound. We encouraged the use of imagination with visualizations as well as making collective installations through gathering and offering natural objects they had gathered in the forest and which had meaning for them. We explored poetry, group sharing as well as having space on their own to find their way to connect with the forest.
Each of the four walks followed a different trail through the forest, so that a variety of ambiences could be sensed throughout the study. The walks included a few pauses along the way, chosen as the ideal playground for the particular activities explored. In all of the walks we paused at the ‘The Glade’, either at the start or at the end of the walk. Gathering there made a difference to the study as it offered a safe and sheltered space, particularly at the start of the project, where the initial group bonding took place and the ground rules for working together were offered. Attitudes of respect and fostering a reciprocal relationship with the forest habitat, with the other than human world, as well as with each other in the group, underpinned the whole study.
Two different scales were used to assess the changes before and after each walk. A 27-item self-report HSP (Highly Sensitive Scale) measure (1997 E. Aron) and a 12-item self-report HSP measure (2020 Pluess, M.,Lionetti, F., et al) both measuring environmental sensitivity in adults, after obtaining permission from both of the scales’ creators to use in the study. The changes on both scales are measured through a 7-point Likert scale where 1 represents no difference at all and 7 measures extreme difference. Each participant was asked to fill the questionnaires online before and after the walks, anonymously – using number & letter codes. I also collected data for myself and my partner who assisted me during the 4 walks, in the same way I did for all participants. I did this as we also both identify ourselves as sensitive people, in different ways, and also because it would be helpful for the project to collect more data.
On walks 1 & 4 I used the 27-item questionnaire and on walks 2 & 3 I used the 12-item one. As well as the data from the questionnaires, the participants’ anecdotal feedback was gathered during and after the 4 walks via email. On the second walk one of the group participants had Covid, so she could not attend that walk. Originally, I was going to use only the 27-item questionnaire prior to the first and after the last walk, but after seeking advice from a researcher connected to the ‘Nature and Therapy School’, I decided to use both scales on different walks, to be able to gather more data and to see if there were differences in sensitivity after each individual walk, as well as before and after the 4 walks.
After going through the summary of the results for all the participants I made note only of those questions where there was a difference before and after the walk of 2 or more on the Likert scale. I then created a chart for each participant, showing all the question numbers as columns (1-27), and all the “before and after” data in weekly rows (1-4) – first “before”, then “after”, then the numerical difference between them. A reduced number generally indicated an increased tolerance, or reduced reaction, towards the situation the question related to. I then highlighted all the cells where there was a more substantial difference (of more than one).
Next, I totalled all the reductions that there were for each of the questions – totalling the 27-Questionnaire and 12-Questionnaire questions separately. I then created a chart in which I summarised the results for each of the questions, for all of the participants. In the 27-Question version, the following question showed the greatest numerical reduction: “Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things?”. Other questions with a significant reduction included: “Do you become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around you?”, “Are you bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes?”, and so on. In the 12-Question version, the following two questions showed the greatest numerical reduction: “Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?” and “Do changes in your life shake you up?”
The conclusions drawn by observing the data collected, were that the forest bathing walks had most impact in reducing the sense of pressure and anxiety that sensitive people in the study experienced when they have to do too many things in a short period of time as well as when they hear sudden loud noises, face change or chaos in their lives. It emerged that the participants were able, after the walks, to enter a space within themselves where they didn’t feel so pressured by the same questions they answered earlier, before the walk. It also highlighted that the more intellectual questions, that didn’t place them in a situation of high pressure and anxiety, showed very little change between “before and after” the walks. Questions like:
“Are you conscientious?”, or “Do you seem to be more sensitive to pain?”, or “Do you seem to be aware of subtleties in your environment?”
Being w Water x
The participants’ anecdotal feedback collected during each walk revealed how they appreciated tuning their senses with the forest, the sense of being one with the forest, as well as finding their grounding there. During the invitation of lying on the forest ground one person reported how amazing it was for her to hear the crunchiness of the forest floor as well as the sound of the birds and the wind, as she had previously suffered perforation in both of her ear drums. Another person at the offering to the forest invitation, presented a small tree branch and commented how he felt the branch was alive and that he could feel and hear the story of how the tree branch originated. One person reported how she felt aroused by the buzzing sound of a bumble bee caught in her hair. And another reported how she appreciated the simple yet powerful act of walking with awareness of her feet and legs. She found it very grounding and supporting staying with her interoceptively while including other senses and the landscape in her awareness.
After going through the participants’ feedback, after the project, I have noticed that all the participants highly valued having been a part of the study. They stated that the four walks made a great difference to their sensitivity as well as to their sense of well-being. They reported feeling calmer, more grounded, more resilient to spending time in nature and more sensitive to the “Unus Mundus” experience the forest shared with them. They also appreciated the sharing and the support that being part of a sensitive group offered them as there was a sense of closeness and intimacy that had developed during the four weeks. One participant mentioned she would like to make a priority to walk in the forests, while another said she would like to return to sleep overnight in a place she felt close to in the woods. The forest invitations they enjoyed most were: spending time alone lying down in the forest and exploring being with the river, as well as walking slowly while being aware of the ground, their breath and the changes in space around them. For two participants, being guided by a partner to explore the tree while having their eyes closed was challenging as it felt unsafe. Several participants commented that their enjoyment of being in the forest was enhanced because they felt safe and understood by a sensitive guide, which was quite touching for me.
Even though this project only attracted a small group of people and it was quite a big undertaking for me, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be of service to the participants who volunteered to take part. Over the four weeks it allowed me to get to know the participants better and how their sensitivity has been shaping their lives. I am also appreciative of having been able to explore how Forest Bathing can help reduce the pressure and the anxiety of having to live with certain limiting aspects of the sensitive trait and, at the same time, highlight the gift of the sensitive soul – that ability to be sensitive, compassionate and creative in the exchange with the forest. To put it in the words of Anthon St Marteen:
“…to feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness – it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate”.
There is a high need for further research about Forest Bathing and Sensitivity, on a wider scale and with different ethnic and age groups. While I intend to continue exploring the effects of forest bathing on sensitive people, I hope that this project may also inspire other interested people and researchers to continue this work of surveying the range of benefits Forest Bathing can offer to sensitive people, perhaps to discover how sensitive people may be the best people to take to heart issues of forest and nature conservation.
1. Acevedo, B. P., Aron, E. N., Aron, A., Sangster, M. D., Collins, N., & Brown, L. L. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain and behaviour, 4(4), 580–594. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.242
2. Lionetti, F., Aron, A., Aron, E.N. et al. Dandelions, tulips and orchids: evidence for the existence of low-sensitive, medium-sensitive and high-sensitive individuals. Transl Psychiatry 8, 24 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-017-0090-6
3. Riggs, G., Highly sensitive people and Forest Bathing (2019) https://highlysensitiverefuge.com/forest-bathing-highly-sensitive-people/
Imbolc is the first of the Celtic religious festivals after the Winter Solstice.
From the shortest day – the very depths of Winter we now emerge into the dawn of a new Spring, a new agricultural year gets under way and so it becomes important to do 2 things: shed any old accumulated impurities or toxins, and bless the provenance of new life emerging.
Imbolc is the day of the goddess Bride or Bridie, hence Bridie dolls are made, she is also known as Brigid, who later became known as St Bridget and is celebrated on the 1st of February, half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is also the Christian celebration of Candlemas, signifying the light and warmth returning, and purification.
Traditionally Imbolc is a day for blessing the Springs and Wells, flowing water, and praying for the flowing lactation of ewes, hence Imbolc translates from Middle English to mean ‘milking’. It has also been associated with the Roman ritual of Lustrations in which individuals and communities ceremonially rid themselves of impurities before they can handle sacred objects, or perform sacred rites. It would involve ritual washing or fumigation to drive out any impure thoughts or energies.
Imbolc then is a time for gestation, for getting ready by ritually shedding any detritus that may have gathered in our thoughts and our bodies, and purifying ourselves from anything which has accumulated in the darkness, as we move towards the light.
First signs of Spring
Snowdrops appearing through the frost/snow, vixens barking in the night for a mate, the appearance of buds on some trees like Willows – the Celtic sacred tree of this month.
We begin to notice the change in the light – we gain 2 minutes and 7 seconds more light each day from the Solstice, and that accelerates to 3 minutes by mid February, but the real way of knowing that change is happening is to listen to the birds. There is a very subtle change in the tone of their songs, and the individual notes around now, which grows towards a crescendo later in Spring, but if you listen in very carefully you can hear them proclaiming the return of the light and with that the joy of warmth and growth of life.
All through my twenties I always regarded Winter as a magical, nostalgic time of long psychedelic walks through silent forests, low orange sun across ploughed fields, afternoon stars, past the beautiful haunting characteristic silhouettes of Elm trees, like skeletal sailing ships looming out of the fog and snow. I was fairly undaunted by the weather, in spite of being a motorcyclist, and taking ages to warm up after a ride.
Later in my thirties and forties, I somehow gradually lost my kinship with Winter, it just seemed like some unbearable inconvenience that restricted my freedom, and involved the encumbrance of having to wear lots of clothes. Then in my fifties I realised that I had somehow disconnected from this part of the seasonal cycle, deemed it somehow less enchanting, less attractive than the other three seasons, and then of course I got it.
I had not been honouring my own internal winter, that part of my self, my own cycle of birth, growth, death, decay and rebirth. I had been isolating myself in a centrally heated house, not really maintaining my relationship with the wild woods, abandoning it in favour of a facsimile of life, waiting for it to go away. I was looking out the window at Nature, at weather, at the grey, at the hillside opposite with the hanging woods, the delicate powder coat of frost and then hibernating. Once I came to terms with my loss of connection, I could begin to see that naturally each winter I also suffered a death, a surrender enforced on me by the elements. This stripping back of the leaf cover to reveal the bare bones is an important part of the shedding and de-toxing of existence, in preparation for what must come anew – what must spring.
This process is described by TS Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’. When the 3 Magi finally encounter the birth of Jesus – (and remember Christmas-Christ’s Birth, was transplanted onto an earlier pagan Winter Solstice festival of Yule) they do not feel joy, but a sense that everything that they believed in, everything that they had known up until then was suddenly irrelevant and incompatible with what, in that deep darkness they had witnessed – …’were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly we had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their gods. I should be glad of another death.
In ‘The Journey of the Magi’ Eliot utilises a first person narrative of one of the Magi, partly to suggest the personal struggles and ambivalence he experiences in relation to his recent conversion to the Anglican/Catholic Church. The poem is more than this though, it also explores Universal themes of the inner and outer journeys, and of the dark and the light, that a human (and humanity) has to undertake in order to experience a spiritual rebirth. I am now usurping the poem back to represent this more basic, primal/native connection. Nature facilitates our transformation, both by example and by subtle influence: we are deprived of the light and warmth of the Sun.
We are confronted with our own mortality, the revolution of the seasons, cold and dark initiating a release of all that no longer serves. In this sense the religions of the last 2 thousand years need re-evaluating in the light of our current ecological crisis, The Old Gods are becoming the New Gods again, Gaia will prevail, we will be dust. And just as the Sun King is killed in the fields at the end of Summer and rises afresh each Winter Solstice, we too can re-align ourselves with the Natural Order, in harmony and reverence. It’s in our blood, our waters.
By consciously choosing to surrender and meet that death with complete equanimity and humility, Winter became my friend again. Instead of struggling through and usually getting ill along the way, praying for April to arrive, I just relaxed, acknowledged the deep wisdom of Nature, and saw how I was being stripped away of all my old dead leaves, even though the good old ego was clinging on and crying out – “but I need that”. For the first time, this winter I went swimming in the river on the Solstice, and swimming in the sea on New Year’s Day.
My attitude to winter has changed and sure winters ain’t what they used to be, but we can all go out into those cold woods with naked, glistening branches, sleeping giants with juices building up underground slowly watching the returning light, waiting for the signals.
If you go to the woods on the Solstice and put your ear to the ground, you can hear the very distant rumble of the hooves of the chariot carrying the Lord of the Summer Isles back to the dance. In Winter I die, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. Rebirth and rejoice.
Happy Solstice wishes to you all, and the may the return of the light bring warmth, joy, hope and strength into your lives and those of the ones who join you in the woods.