Tuesday, January 31, 2012

But Still Within...

One thing can be known by many different names ~  it’s true! If the Sami peoples have three-hundred words for snow (claims about Inuit words having been convincingly proved wrong) why doesn't the Welsh language have three-hundred words for rain? When darkness falls on your part of the world each February, the first is is a cross-quarter day, being exactly half way between midwinter’s-day and the spring equinox. In many parts of North America this is ‘Groundhog Day’ whilst in Ireland it's known as ‘Lá Fhéile Bríde’, in much of the Christian world as ‘Candlemas’ and for the ancient Celts and many modern Pagans, ‘Imbolc’. You may have many questions about what these days all mean and why they are so named and why are they, in fact, the same day?  If so, may I suggest you book some time with Wikipedia, for I intend to use them only to start at this point and then (as is my custom), move off on tangents of fancy.

Starting at the begining seems a good idea, so why not think about what happens outside at this time of year ~ if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it may look like the world is clinically dead! Trees have lost any remaining leaves and fruit and the ground may well be hard and lifeless ~ but this is not so.  Life is dormant but some things are happening. The Ancient Celts always liked to be in at the beginning of things; they started each new year in November, each day at dusk and each season before the signs of that season were obvious. The trees look dead but they contain the first precious drops of rising sap within them, deep within them; seeds buried in the ground are beginning to change and absorb water ready for sprouting, and the uterus of many a mammal is preparing itself to bear young ~ and so it is with all living things. This is it ~ the deep and buried, long-awaited secret start of spring! Not a performance for the rest of the world to gaze at in wonder ~ we have to wait for that a bit longer ~ but the 'inside spring' that stirs in every living organism! All things start in the dark; years, days and life, just as your life and the lives of your children started in the dark months before birth.

This is a time of hope for what lies ahead and a time of waiting for all of us ~ the idea that things start long before you notice them is one that may seem out of place in a modern world where hope and waiting are both becoming rare things. Think of this ~ if you have been unwell, perhaps your health is starting to return from deep within you, so small that you can’t yet detect it, but perhaps it’s there, buried deep inside of you!  If you have been depressed and all the joy of your life seems to have gone forever, then perhaps the tiniest germ of joy is starting to develop, not outside, not within someone else, but within you. It could be that one day, that joy may make itself so obvious to you that you will no longer doubt it. The cycles of nature are not to be hurried; the growth of trees and the growth of a person are slow processes with many setbacks, but if we could watch a tree grow or a human develop on some kind of time-lapse photography, then we would see that nature never rests.  We, and trees, are always growing and changing. Some things are worth waiting for!

Another belief common in Europe and North America is that if Candlemas morning is a sunny day when shadows are cast, then winter is still with us for another forty days, whereas if the day is overcast, then not forty days will pass before the arrival of spring. An animal would be released from a box to test whether the day was ‘shadow casting’; in Germany a badger, and in Philadelphia a groundhog! (In my garden, a small black and white cat is usually the only convenient animal to hand ~ it works just fine!). The spread of this custom in modern times is mainly a result of the excellent 1993 film ‘Groundhog Day’.

When Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin wrote the script for ‘Groundhog Day’, I am unaware that they had any inkling of the Celtic festival of that day, but they managed to hit the nail on the head. What we do know is that both men used their Jewish roots to explore the idea of redemption from the continuous ‘mitzvahs’ or good deeds. Eventually the main character (played wonderfully by Bill Murray) manages to turn his life around and regain his humanity ~ the seeds of his own redemption were locked deep inside him all along! I’m sure that you have seen the movie more than once, but just in case there is even one person reading this who has not seen the movie then what are you waiting for! (If you have seen the movie before, why not treat yourself to a timely repeat!) To all of us, Jewish or not, the message is simple, pure and so beautiful ~ in answer to the question ‘what can I do today’ the answer will always be ‘what you did yesterday, but try and do it better’. The rest of your life may develop from a tiny seed today that starts to grow, as all things start to grow, in the darkness.

At Candlemas ~ Charles Causley

'If Candlemas be bright and clear
There'll be two winters in that year';
But all the day the drumming sun
Brazened it out that spring had come,
And the tall elder on the scene
Unfolded the first leaves of green.

But when another morning came
With frost, as Candlemas with flame,
The sky was steel, there was no sun,
The elder leaves were dead and gone.
Out of a cold and crusted eye
The stiff pond stared up at the sky,
And on the scarcely breathing earth
A killing wind came from the north;

But still within the elder tree

The strong sap rose, though none could see.

(C) Poem ~ the estate of Charles Causley
(C) Article ~ Ray Lovegrove 2012


  1. Lovely.
    One year I want to go to the well dressing at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury for Imbloc.
    I have a post lined up for tomorrow.
    new beginnings, yes sirree!

  2. Thing about the Celts - they have faith - no matter where you are on the circle, you are on the circle. Everything in good time. Blessed be

  3. So beautifully written. I am coming alive. I am having CBTherapy and there has been a shift. I still have a lot of pain at the moment but seem to be able to walk more. Other things in my life have made a shift in the last week - quite dramatic really. someone said to me this morning "tread carefully in the light", I do need to be mindful.

  4. Yes!
    The weeks between mid-January and early March (when, coincidentally, I celebrate my birthday each year on 4 March) are always deeply challenging for me; it has taken me many years to live patiently with dormancy, with sitting in the dark, with waiting. Every year, I do indeed feel the roots of interior healing and growth quivering with nascent life but I struggle to trust my intuition that "all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well" alongside sister Julian of Norwich; I want to believe her, but in the dark, grey mucky season of late winter/early spring, hope wanes and I forget, too easily, sometimes for many days on end, that the garden is beckoning, growth is happening and all is as it should be.
    I deeply appreciate your confidence in the life force as it reinforces and encourages my own trust that the "light within" is indeed shining steadily, if a bit obscured by the clouds and tempests of the season of cold and dark.

  5. Thank you all for comments. It is wonderful to see that many of us feel, and respond, to the changing year and, go with it ~ let it carry us at a pace that we can not force. For all of us, throughout the late winter, may we carry that of spring within us ~ may it heal us and make us loving and strong. xx