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.
Stefan and Team x