The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

A Guide to Winter Hiking: Walking in the Winter Wonderland February 5, 2017

Recently, I went on a winter hike with some friends.  It was below freezing, with ice-covered trails and the sun shining low in the sky. We came to a crossroads and all felt led to go to the left; eventually, we left the trail and worked our way down a steepish hill and to a beautiful cascading river. The river was incredible–the water had a greenish cast to it and it had so many layers of ice built up. We observed it a while, and then, I felt led deeper and closer, and following some mushrooms, went down very close. The closer I got, the more magical the river was–with ice castles, ice cascades, and a depth of color and energy not experienced in the summer months. A return visit in the winter would reveal a completely different river due to the ever-changing ice and snow conditions.  Each winter visit, the, allows for a brand new experience as the winter snows come and go. This, dear readers, is the hidden beauty of winter, the dynamic quality and ever-changing nature of this dark time of year. It offers a beauty well worth seeking out.

Cucumber falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Cucumber falls, Ohiopyle State Park

I think that most people’s reasonable reaction to the cold and snow is to hole up for wintertime, waiting till the sun and warmth returns before going outside for hiking and such. However, winter has always been my favorite of the seasons for its dynamic and magical nature, and with careful preparation, can be enjoyed like any other season. Taking a hike in the woods during the winter months, especially visiting local waterfalls and streams, offers an array of beauty, stillness, and intensity simply not often found during the summer months. Winter offers us plenty to see, plenty to do, and certainly, plenty to learn–and here, on Imbolc in early February, we are in deepest part of the winter months.  In fact, I can’t enough of winter hiking and find myself out as often as possible!

An incredible cascade of ice at Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

An incredible cascade of ice at Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

This post explores some simple ideas for taking a walk during the winter months and getting the most out of the experience; I’ll explore clothing, footwear, and gear; timing and safety; winter botany and foraging; tracking; fun things to do; and more. So join me on a walk into the winter wonderland!

 

Preparing for Winter Hiking

One of the things that people don’t always understand today is how to properly outfit themselves for a winter hike. Proper clothing and footwear ensure that you have a great time rather than a cold or dangerous one. You can do this with minimal special equipment and investment.

 

Clothing: Clothing is important–you will be out for an hour or more, and it is not the same as a quick walk from the house to the mailbox or out to shovel snow. I advocate for natural fibers (particularly wool) and layers of clothing on the body. Two pairs of thick wool socks, good boots (hiking or snow boots, depending on the depth of the snow), gloves (for extreme cold, I will put a thin pair of gloves inside my warm woolen mittens), a wool hat, wool scarf, and good outer jacket are necessary. For pants, insulated pants, snowpants, or several layers, including preferably a wool layer, are good. The idea is that you can strip off layers of clothing as you heat up–and walking helps keep you warm.

 

Footwear. Footwear is critically important, even for short hikes. You can go far with a  good insulated boot with good traction or a hiking boot with gaters (gaters are a kind of leg warmer that insulates the lower leg and keeps snow out of the boot).  I actually hike most often in the same boots I do in the summer, just with an extra pair of socks.

 

Winter Traction.  Winter conditions, especially in this time of warming winter weather, often create ice. I used to have to wait till there was good snow or things had melted, which really limited my ability to get out and about, even with good hiking boots. Then, I recently discovered the incredible world of winter traction devices, and it has really opened up my access to the hilly and more icy trails in Pennsylvania! The right treads make even the more treacherous of trails really passable and enjoyable, and open up a lot of opportunities for winter hiking, so I’d strongly suggest investing in some or making some if you can. With the treads, I can walk (or run) on even the most extremely icy of conditions with stability. A lot of folks add some ski poles or a walking stick for added stability.

Winter traction - Yes!

Winter traction – Yes!

Snowshoes. I haven’t had the opportunity to snowshoe (due, primarily, due to decreasing snowfalls and very small amounts of snow in the winter months), but this is certainly another possibility for you. Since I don’t have a lot of direct experience, I’ll direct you to sources who do.

 

Water and snacks. Winter hiking still can work up a good sweat and appetite; just as in the summer months, it is a good idea to bring a water bottle and snacks if you’ll be out for a bit.

 

Miscellaneous supplies. A small first-aid kit, a compass and map, fire-starting equipment, a foraging knife–these are things that are good ideas for any hike, and winter hikes are no exception. I often also bring a backpack for gear as well as to shed any layers I might want to be rid of if I get overheated.

 

A Friend. Winter hiking can offer challenges that summer hiking does not–even with the best traction shoes, falling into a river, for example, can mean serious harm to your person. It is for this reason that I strongly advocate always having a hiking buddy with you.

One of my dearest friends with me out on a winter hike!

One of my dearest friends with me out on a winter hike!

Timing and Weather

The timing in winter matters. Each moment of winter, each day you go out, offers a different experience. I would suggest getting out as often as you can. If you are driving somewhere to do a hike, you want to make sure you are able to make it there and back safely.

 

Staying Close or Going Far: It is for this reason that I like to plan hikes in state forests and the like on sunny days or days it won’t be precipitating and plan hikes completely on foot on snowy days or days with winter storms. Interestingly, with the right gear, I have found it much easier and safer to walk on the snow than to drive on it!

An incredible winter river near Schenectady, NY

An incredible winter river near Schenectady, NY

Snowstorms: As the snows begin to fall and lay on the landscape, you enter a different land. The quiet dropping of the snow, and the stillness of it all, bring a quiet to the landscape rarely present any other time of the year. I love taking it in while it is happening and enjoying walking out in the storm.

 

End of the Storm: Go out as soon as the storm is over–the dynamics of winter mean that nothing will stay the same for long. I remember one day in Michigan when everything was just covered with a powdery snow–every branch of the tree was accentuated and it was magical. About an hour later, the winds picked up and everything changed–I was so glad I took my camera out that day!

Amazing after the storm forest

Amazing powdery snow on the forest in Clarkston, MI

Icestorms: If you have the really good treads, the ice storms too can be really delightful to go out in. The treads make it so you are stable even on inches of ice, and for that reason, you can go out and observe what is going on! Because nobody else goes out in an ice storm, and even walking around your yard or neighborhood, again, offers tremendous experiences.

 

Winter Botany, Ecology, and Tracking

Winter offers a range of opportunities to deepen nature awareness and spend time getting to know the living earth in all of her seasons.

 

Tracking: Animal movements, tracks and trails are really easy to observe in the winter months. I remember the first winter I had spent at my homestead. I had been trying to figure out the path the deer were taking, and then when our first snow hit, I clearly saw their trail in ways it was difficult to see before hand. I discovered the raccoons who had been visiting my compost pile, and some critter living in my barn (who I later discovered was a possum). While I had glimpses of these animals in the summer, the winter offered much more opportunity to see all of their movements. I followed the deer trail deep into the woods and came to a natural sacred grove there, which was an amazing experience. This is all to say that you can track animals extremely easy and build your tracking knowledge over time. A good book to learn tracking is Paul Rezendes Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Signs.

Finding tracks in the frozen mud...

Finding tracks in the frozen mud…

Seeking Waterfalls, Creeks, and Rivers: One of my very favorite things to look for and to hike to in the winter months are moving sources of water. These are incredible–each day, the river changes with the temperature, sometimes being very clear and deep, other times (when it gets bitterly cold) freezing up. They are always well worth your time to travel to (by foot or by vehicle). I like to meditate there, and if possible, explore them from multiple angles. You can learn a lot about the sacred lessons of water from the flows and movements of the interplay of snow, ice, and water.

Incredible Winter Waterfall

Incredible Winter Waterfall near Schenectady, NY

Winter Tree and Plant Identification. Winter offers us an amazing opportunity to learn how to  identify trees by their bark and the shape of their buds and branches (or studying trees that you already know and observing their bark and branches). Another useful thing to do is to look at the dead or dormant plants growing–what do you recognize in a different form? Whose dried seed pod is that? For this, some good references for my bioregion include Winter Botany: An Identification Guide to Native Trees and Shrubs by William Trelease and Bark: A Field Guide to the Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech and Tom Wessels.

Wild Cherry Bark

Wild Cherry Bark in Winter, Gallitzin State Forest, PA

 

Mosses and Lichens. Moss and lichens are really interesting to observe in the winter months–in a forest, the moss and lichens take advantage of the openings and light to do a lot of growing. I have been on hikes that have abundant, bright green moss in late December when the moss is just bursting with color and life.

Incredible moss in late December

Incredible moss in late December, Gallitzin State Forest

Mushrooms. On the edges of winter or in particularly warm times, mushrooms (including oyster mushrooms, some of my favorite) are also good to look for. Oysters can grow when its quite cold and offer a tasty meal. Lots of other mushrooms will pop up as well–so be on the lookout in those warmer winter moments.

Awesome mushrooms in late December

Awesome mushrooms in late December, Gallitzin State Forest

Foraging. Some limited foraging and wildcrafting can be done in the winter months and in fact can be done better then than other times. Pine, spruce, and hemlock needles make a wonderful nourishing and vitamin C-filled tea. This is also a really good time to look for tree resins (see my post on tree incenses from last year). Nannyberry (Virburnum Lentago) can persist in the winter months, and you might find yourself a wonderful trailside snack! I gather certain materials for making handmade paper (like cattail heads) or other goodies during this time of year. (I’m working on some natural panflutes now and just harvested the materials two weeks ago). If you are doing any natural building using thatching, for example, phragmities (reeds) can be harvested in abundance easily this time of year. In other words, the forest still offers abundance to those who know how to look.

 

Things to Do

Beyond communing with nature and learning more about her, there are many fun winter activities to do in the woods.

 

Follow a Deer Trail. Trails made by humans offer pre-determined destinations. This is why it can sometimes be fun to get lost in the woods (but only if you can safely make your way back again–use trail markers, a compass, etc). One way of getting “lost” I rather like is following a deer trail and seeing where it leads. This is nature’s version of your hiking trail, leading you off in new directions.

 

Make some spirals in the snow. I wrote about this in a post on winter last year–you can create spirals in the snow and walk labyrinths for meditation and deep healing. This is a very relaxing activity, and one I like to do as part of my celebrations of Imbolc each year.

Amazing snowy sassafras

Amazing snowy sassafras, Clarkston, MI

Enjoy a meal or cup of tea. A simple thermos with a steaming cup of tea can make for a simple winter ceremony or quick way to warm up.  Recently, a friend and I were in search of waterfalls, and I had made a Chaga tea with maple, and brought it with us in a thermos.  There was nothing quite like sipping that chaga tea while sitting by the waterfall, observing it in all its amazing beauty!  Every once in a while, a rainbow would form of the frozen mist–and had we not been enjoying the tea, we may not have stayed in the same place long enough to see it!

Ice drips, Ohiopyle State Park

Ice drips, Ohiopyle State Park

A second really fun thing to do in the winter on longer hikes is bring a little camp stove (the backpacking kind) and/or forage for kindling and start yourself a small fire for a pine needle tea (see below) or heat up some grub; this is a great way to enjoy winter and warm up a bit. Of course, as part of this you might want to either bring something to sit on (a little foam mat works well, like a gardening mat) or you can use leaves and/or some boughs from a fallen pine to allow you to sit comfortably in the snow.

 

Winter Frolicking. Enough good can’t be said of winter frolicking in the snow. This takes on different forms: sliding down the hill in a sled, making snow angels, dancing around, throwing snowballs, and more.

 

Seed Scattering. Many seeds require a period of dormancy and freezing before they can germinate. I like to scatter seeds using a “frost seeding” technique in the winter months. This technique is based on when the ground has been very wet, and then freezes, and the frozen earth rises up with the water; when you step in it, you’ll get pockets and a lot of crunching. If you scatter seeds when the ground is like this, when it thaws out, the earth will return and the seeds will be buried.  So its a great time to do a little wildtending.

Leading deeper into the winter realms

Leading deeper into the winter realms

Winter Wonderlands

I hope that this post has inspired you to go out, get on some trails, and enjoy winter in all of her splendor.  Imbolc is a wonderful time to do this and learn about the depths of winter and her many mysteries–and I’d be delighted to hear any stories you have about winter hikes!

Save

Save

 

An Imbolc Blessing: Energizing Snowy Spaces using Sacred Geometry and Symbolism January 29, 2016

Walking the Imbolc Spiral on the Pond, Imbolc 2015

Walking the Imbolc Spiral on the Pond, Imbolc 2015

In my part of the world, Winter has finally arrived in all of her glory and we are now at Imboc, a wintry holiday of renewal and regeneration (ok, so some people say that Imbolc is the first sign of spring; I consider it a winter holiday and celebrate it as such. There are no real stirrings of spring here till late February or early March when the maple sap begins to run). In today’s post, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite Imbolc activities–unfolding sacred patterns and symbols upon the inner and outer realms, using snow as our canvas. This is a delightful outdoor activity you can do while we have snow coverage during this quiet and most sacred time of the year. For those that are already groaning and saying “Oh no, not more snow!” please scroll to the bottom of this post, to the “Shifting Mindsets” heading and read that first :).

 

A Blessing Within and Without

Fresh snowfall blesses us an incredible canvas upon which to work, to imbue ancient patterns of sacred meaning. The act of creating sacred geometrical patterns, mandalas, or other symbols in the snow allows you to embody those patterns through the simple practice of walking meditation. This act creates not only a blessing from within, where those patterns unfold on the inner planes as you walk them, but also a pattern for blessing our land on the outer planes. This blessing can resonate for weeks, months, and years after the patterns themselves melt away. There are few things we can do in winter that are so simple, and yet so profound.

 

I use the strategies I’m going to be sharing today with you as either the main celebration ritual that I do for Imbolc, or as a large part of that ritual.  The photo above was taken at Imbolc last year (2015). My friends and grove members gathered on the frozen pond at Imbolc, where we created an “unwinding” spiral (counter-clockwise) to unwind and de-stress as we went deeper within.  Then we laid upon the ice in the center of the spiral for a time, and, when we felt ready, we “wound back up” and brought the positive energy, rejuvenation, and clarity to ourselves as we went out. This ritual was conducted when I had just been offered a new job in home state of Pennsylvania and was making a decision that would have life-long ramifications–the act of walking this snow spiral helped clarify, for me, the next stage of my journey. I cried as helped create the spiral, unsure of the best path.  But by the time I had walked back out of that massive spiral, I knew the answer to my decision: I was going home. These practices can be profound, indeed!

 

The Process

Another Imbolc spiral - this one in the sacred circle

Another Imbolc spiral – this one in the sacred circle

So let’s take a look at this process and how it can unfold as a sacred magical practice or ritual.

Your Snow Canvas. First, find yourself a snowy space, of any size.  It doesn’t have to be completely clear–in fact, trees, stones, or other features can add their own beauty to the design.  My favorite place to walk on my homestead was my frozen-over pond, once I was sure it was frozen :).  It was a perfectly flat surface and usually had less snow than the surrounding areas.  My other place that I always traced symbols was my sacred circle.  Since moving to a new state and living in town, I have found that my tiny backyard and even local parks are good spots to do this.  You can even do this on a small porch or balcony.   Even a tiny patch of snow can be used, where you trace the symbol with your fingers rather than your feet.  The snow can be fresh or even starting to melt (as my second photo suggests) Once you have selected your canvas–it is time to select your symbol.

 

Symbolism. There are two ways to go about selecting a symbol.  You can choose to use a symbol for a specific purpose and meaning (see the next section) or you can choose to create an organic symbol from what emerges.  I’ll cover both practices.

  • Selected Symbol. Set forth in your mind the symbol you wish to create. Envision that symbol already traced upon the snow–how large it will be, how you will need to walk to form it, where its boundaries are and spend some time in this visualiation process–it will help you plan things out, especially for more complex symbols. Visualize that symbol in an appropriate color (yellow-green light or white light is a good choice), already there upon the landscape. All that you will need to do, then, is follow the pattern.
  • Intuitive Symbols. The alternative is not to select a symbol at all, but simply to begin walking and see what symbols unfold within and without–I’ve done this numerous times with my eyes closed in an empty field. I also like weaving spirals among the trees in a forest in this manner.

 

Establish Sacred Space, Ground, and Center. As you are ready to begin to create the actual symbol, you can choose to open up a sacred space at this point (I use the AODA’s solitary grove opening for this), but its not always necessary.  Since I usually do these snow symbols as part of a seasonal celebration, I usually will open a space, standing to the side of my selected “canvas” and then include my canvas in the ritual space.  If nothing else, however, you can take three deep breaths, clear your mind, and begin to walk.

 

Walk the shape. The process unfolds from the simple practice of walking.  Walk slow and purposefully.  As you walk, set your intentions for the work you are to do.  It might inner healing or direction (as my opening example suggested).  Or, it might be a strong land blessing.  As you walk, with each step, imbue that energy into the space and into the symbol. Note that you can use the symbol again and again as long as the snow remains on the ground–so it might be that you start with a land healing symbol, and once that’s firmly established, you then walk it again for some personal healing.  Another note here–the more snow, the more challenging walking may be.  I remember a few years ago when I was making one of my pond spirals and it was over a 20″ deep–I had to walk that symbol many times to really have a nice path, but it was a wonderful experience to do so.

 

Return often. Even after you’ve walked the shape, you can continue to come back to it.  A few winters ago, during the year of polar vortexes, I had symbols in the snow that continued to persist for several months!  Each day in the month of February, I would come home and walk the pond spiral before going into the house.  It was a great way to reconnect with my sacred land. You can also rewalk the symbol with fresh snowfall.  The longer the symbol persists, the more energized the space will be.

Vesica Piscis and Cross Design

Vesica Piscis and Cross Design in Recent Snowfall in my backyard in town – this was walked one time.

Symbols, Energy and Intentions

The symbol you choose to create and why you create it is an important part of this process–and like all other magical acts, you should consider this carefully before you begin. When my grove came together last Imbolc to create the spiral, each of us were faced with a major issue in our lives that needed some guidance–and we created the spiral primarily for that purpose.  If you have no direct intentions, then saying you are “open” is a good one!  Also, the land can *always* use a blessing, and certain symbols are particularly good for that.

 

I’m going to now share a few different symbols, primarily drawn from sacred geometry, that can help you see the wide range of symbols available to you.  A few of these images are from a project I’ve been collaborating on with with a friend–a sacred geometry oracle deck and book. I’ll share more about the project as we get closer to the release date–so stay tuned!  But in the meantime, here are some of the symbols:

 

The Pentagram and Pentacle

The Pentagram and Pentacle are symbols over 5,000 years old, used for a variety of purposes, nearly all of them protective in origin. A pentagram is a protective symbol that radiates that energy outward with the five points. A pentacle contains the energy within the five points as it is surrounded by a circle. If you wanted to do a blessing and protective symbol for the entire land, a good choice would be a pentagram. If you had a sacred space you were working on empowering, say, a stone circle or garden, you might choose a pentacle instead to keep the energy contained within that space.

Pentagram (left) and Pentacle (right)

Pentagram (left) and Pentacle (right)

The Spiral

Spirals are my favorite of the snow symbols to create because they can be very easy to create, requiring nearly no thought, and yet profound.  Spirals are likely one of the oldest symbols in human culture, and can be found in paintings in caves and carved in stones as far back as 8000 BCE.  The spiral is representative of many things–to the Ancient Celts, one meaning was the life force or cycle of life.  Spirals reinforce the notion of a cycle or season upon us, and are particularly useful for meditation and walking meditation.  I have found that my snow spirals have a twofold effect–they encourage a deeper awareness and meditative state where I can work out various deep rooted issues, but they also have a profoundly energizing (winding) or clearing (unwinding) energy about them.

Some simple winding (sunwise) and unwinding (desoil) spirals

Some simple winding (sunwise) and unwinding (desoil) spirals

A second kind of spiral, a bit harder to get right in the snow, but no less profound is the one that unfolds from the golden mean. This spiral is created from the Fibonacci sequence (1, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21….).  Entire books have been written on the meaning of this spiral (here is a nice overview)–a most basic understanding of it is that it is what connects the heavens and the earth; we see this spiral reflected in the shape of the Milky Way galaxy all the way down to a simple snail shell.  This same sequence is present in the many ratios of the human body, the notes on a scale, the pattern of a sunflower or the branches on a tree.  When I walk this spiral in the snow, I see it as a connecting spiral, a spiral signifying the universal gnosis, the oneness of all living things.  Walk this spiral and see what unfolds from it.

Golden Mean Spiral

Golden Mean Spiral (with divisions)

The Vesica Piscis

Another symbol for snow workings is the vesica piscis–another ancient symbol drawn from sacred geometry with profound implications.  The vesica piscis is reflected on Glastonbury’s Chalice Well as well as in various religious art and symbolism; it literally means “the bladder of the fish.”  It is a symbol representing unions of many kinds–the union between heaven and earth, between humans and nature, between male and female, between light and dark.  When I create this symbol in the snow, I see it as a promise–a sacred pact between myself and the lands that I serve.  This is the one I walked last week in the snow–a promise of unity with my land.

Vesica Piscis

Vesica Piscis

Awen

Of course, no discussion of sacred symbolism on a druid’s blog can be complete without a discussion of the Awen symbol!  Not nearly as ancient as those above, the symbol still carries profound energy–the energy of creative awakening, divine inspiration, and the arts.  I draw this symbol when I want to bring those blessings into my life or into the lives of those around me.  This symbol is particularly good for workspaces or areas where creativity may flow–consider, for example, using this symbol near a fire pit where the bardic arts are often shared!

Simple awen symbol

Simple awen symbol

 

The Warrior’s Call Symbol

The final symbol I wanted to direct your attention to specifically for land protection is a symbol developed by the pagan group against fracking, The Warrior’s Call. This is is the newest symbol here, but it is being actively used by many around the world to energetically address fracking and protect the lands from fracking activities.  I have found that this symbol is fairly complex for the snow, but its do-able. I have recently used a simplified version of this symbol during our latest snow fall  here in Pennsylvania, near some gas wells, given that I live among the oldest sites of Fracking in the USA.  This symbol works well as an acknowledgement of the land’s suffering and pain. I think this symbol is highly appropriate for snow sigils in areas being fracked or under threat of fracking or other duress.

Warrior's Sigil - Against Fracking

Warrior’s Sigil – Against Fracking

These symbols presented here are few among many, many, many others that you can work with. Be creative and consider what personal symbols or those from the ancient mystery traditions might be most appropriate to your purposes and path.

 

Shifting Mindsets: Embracing the Snow

This special section is for those who want to work snow magic, but have a problem with the snow :).  I am a great lover of winter and the snow, and I find it to be an incredibly magical time of year.  The icicles and shimmery ice on the trees, the gentle snowflakes falling to the ground, the rich carpet of whiteness across the land.  The more that comes, the happier that I get in these cold and wintery months! However, so many people do not share that sentiment. Yet, if you are  are going to do magical workings with the snow, like anything else, you need to come into it with the right mindset.

Small Spiral in Snow

Small Spiral in Snow

For some, winter can be a very hard time due to seasonal affective disorders, managing the snowy weather and work schedules, food insecurity, or other issues. I laid out this fully in my post on cultural challenges surrounding our relationship with snow–if you haven’t read it, its well worth a read.  If you do have serious issues with the snow–I suggest you seek out the root of your discomfort.  Is it that you don’t like driving and have to go to work when its snowing?  That may be an underlying issue with rigid work rules and inflexibility or economic insecurity.  Is it that you don’t like getting stuck in your house with limited food during a storm? Perhaps that’s an issue of food insecurity. Perhaps its the chilling cold–few modern clothes are designed to be sufficiently warm (wool socks have changed my life).  Perhaps, your discomfort isn’t your own, but rather the collective’s continual complaining and demonizing the winter.  We have a copious amount of negative media coverage surrounding natural weather phenomena like snow (a visit to weather.com’s page will demonstrate this in spades–I get stressed just looking at their homepage).  If you are on social media, there’s no shortage of it there either.

 

The problem with all of this negativity wrapped up in snow is that it blinds us to the beauty and magic of this time of year.  And, just as importantly, if you are going to attempt to do the snow workings and sacred activities laid out here–its important to make sure you are putting the right energy into it: loving energy, peacefullness, and goodwill!  As within, so without!

 

Energetic Patterns and Time

This snowy ritual I have shared can be used for an number of different purposes, and can deeply weave patterns of energy into the landscape–both inner and outer. After doing spirals on my frozen  pond for a number of years, I had a druid friend visit me for the first time a few summers ago and he said, “wow, your pond has some spiraling energy going on!” And I just smiled and said, “Yes, it certainly does.” Even after the snow has melted, the energy that I raised in that space becomes part of the energetic underpinnings of the land for years to come. It can be further reinforced with other kind of sacred space, plant, or stone work! The sky is the limit…or perhaps, the snowfall :).

Another shot of the Vesica Piscis

Another shot of the Vesica Piscis

 

In Praise and Honor of the Snow: Understanding and Overcoming Cultural Challenges February 2, 2014

In January, this year, we’ve gotten record amounts of snow (somewhere above 50″ since the new year). This is true of much of the midwest and eastern seaboard in the USA.  Snow holds a very convoluted position in modern American society. At least half of us live in areas that receive at a decent amount of snowfall per year, year after year. With the increase of weather events relating to climate change, more and more extreme weather events are occurring, and snowstorms are not the exception. In recent years, it has been my perception that as the extreme weather events are increasing, so is the weeping, gnashing of teeth, and hatred towards the snow.  But it is not the snow to blame, but rather our underlying cultural issues that are exacerbated and intensified by the snow; we have a number of deep-rooted problems in society that are manifested by the appearance of snow. I am breaking these cultural issues into to two categories–issues we, as individuals, can more easily change and things that are more difficult to change but are still serious problems.  After the discussion of these areas, I conclude with some insights and reverence for the snow.

The White Wonderland

The White Wonderland

 

 

Underlying Cultural Problems Manifested by the Snow: Things We Can More Easily Change

The following four areas represent cultural issues, and responses, that I think are fairly easy for us as individuals living within this culture to change.  These changes do take some work, but they are still very much within our own power to change.

 

 

1. Negative framing of snow by national media (Underlying cultural problems = negative news, disconnection from natural cycles).

We have a substantially negative framing of snow by our news and weather media.  For the snowstorms we’ve had the pleasure of receiving in the last month, I saw everything from “Life Threatening Snow” to “Winter Fury Unleashed” to “Ion Bears Down on US” as ways to discuss the snow. These negative discussions take away from the otherwise beautiful, yet powerful, winter scenes and immediately frame it as a negative event that has to be dealt with rather than a natural occurrence. Beautiful scenes of snow aren’t portrayed on our local or national news–no, we hear about the 30-car pile ups and the difficulties people have with the snow.

 

The second thing that I think is going on with negative framing of the snow is that as humans, we are disconnected from the natural cycles.  Snow is an integral part of most climates; trees like the Black Birch and Maple need the cold before their sap can begin to run.  Because of this lack of understanding of the cycles of nature and the negative framing, we don’t take time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the snow.

 

Of course, with snow being framed in such terms nationally, its no wonder that individuals feel nothing but negativity towards the snow. Facebook feeds, twitter feeds, and other social media, combined with in-person weeping and gnashing of teeth, all frame snow in a negative light. Its a nuisance, its a bother, it causes work, it delays plans.  And that is certainly one way of looking at it–but not the only way!

 

 

 

My response: Positive Framing of Snow.

My response to the negative framing of snow, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, is simple–I don’t participate in the negative framing of snow. Snow is a natural part of the seasonal cycle, and something to be celebrated in the same way that we celebrate a warm summer day. I work hard to revere the snow, to recognize its artistry and beauty, and to help others do the same.  Are there times that a snowstorm messes up some plans I’ve had? Sure.  Does that mean its the snowstorm’s fault?  No.  What it means is that I get to make new plans, to stay home, and to enjoy the winter.  I can celebrate the solitude and quietude that the snow brings; revel in its incredible beauty, and remember the lessons it has to teach.  I also remember that snow is but part of the cycle of the seasons, and that soon enough, spring will return.

Through the Branches

Through the Branches

 

 

 

2. State-of-Fear Reactions in Society (Underlying cultural problems = state of fear hype, fragility of current system). 

One of the big shifts that occurred in America following the September 11th tragedy is that our leadership and mass media work hard to keep people in a constant state of fear.  Everything is something to react to, to be afraid, and to panic about. Why? Its simple–people are easier to control when they are reacting and feeling, rather than approaching something using reason and their minds. This is why Aristotle, when speaking of the three primary ways that persuasion happens, suggested that pathos (or emotional-based appeals) were the most effective, but also the most dangerous.  A reactionary populace is not a thinking populace.   Snow, unfortunately, has become caught up in this state-of-fear mentality.

 

Furthermore, the media has made the move to name winter snowstorms and other large weather events.  This personifies the storm, gives it human qualities and motives, and makes the personified storm’s actions more severe.  Snowstorm “Ion” is somehow much more nasty than “that snowstorm coming tomorrow.”

 

Can snow cause problems and can it be dangerous? Absolutely, especially with the mass stupidity which which people treat snow (more under “transportation” below).  We know snow is coming, its a natural occurrence. If one is carefully prepared, there is no reason to get upset or frightened.  The underlying problem is not that we get a snowstorm, its that people are now so unprepared to have a snowstorm, it causes fear.

 

My Response: Careful Preparation and Building Resiliency

I look forward to the snowy times, but I only do this because I’ve worked to be well prepared for the winter months and to plan ahead.  With a stock of wood to heat my house in the event of a power outage, a good relationship with a neighbor who has a plow, a stock of herbs and tinctures in case I fall ill, adequate winter clothing that I could wear to stay warm for hours outside in the snow, and the potential to call others in case of any difficulty, I’m not so concerned when the snow begins to fall.

Snowy scene of pond

Snowy scene of pond

 

 

 

3. Frantic Supermarket Chaos before Snowstorms (Underlying cultural problems = no food security, complete dependency on corporations for basic needs).

Hype about any given snowstorm is first built up to a frenzied state using the “state of fear” tactics I describe above.  This encourages people to go out and spend more money than the otherwise would on massive amounts of food and other “supplies.”  Supermarket shelves are stripped bare, and people take their stuff back to their houses and hope for the best.  If we recognize that fueling consumptive activity is the primary goal of all media, it becomes no surprise that this is what occurs. However, there is a deeper issue at play, and that issue is food insecurity. 

 

In this region of the world, when winter came, individuals, families, tribes, and communities had substantial stores–they spent the bulk of the spring, summer, and fall, growing, foraging, raising, or otherwise producing enough food to get them through the winter months.  I think about the caches that Buffalo Bird Woman discusses in Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, or the extensive pantry and larder that Laura Ingalls Wilder discusses at her family’s homestead.  In The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe describes the Hopi’s rule of growing and storing enough corn for two seasons, not one, to ensure survivability in case of crop failure. Having a store of food through the winter time, with access to what one needs, is one definition of “food security.”

 

Right now, most Americans react to the snowstorm in what I’d call a reasonable manner, given their food-insecure circumstances.  Most Americans have only 1 or 2 weeks of available food in their houses at any given time, and literally no skills or ability to produce their own food.  Part of this is that many now live on convenience foods, rather than staples like dried beans, or rice, and there is only so much room in one’s freezer.  So when they rush off to the grocery store, they are reacting due to their food insecure circumstances (which seems ironic, in a country that wastes up to 40% of its food).

 

 

My response: Increasing Food Security.

My solution has been to be more food secure and to work to produce as much of my food as I can, to store my food effectively, and to be prepared for when snowstorms happen.  With 150 lbs of rice; 100 lbs of various beans, nuts, and other dry goods; 300+ jars of sauce, jams, preserves, jellies; and a freezerful of fresh pressed apple cider, meats, and other goodies, I’m not worried when the snowstorms come.  I could get snowed in here for two months or more and still be eating healthily and with variety.  If producing your own food isn’t possible, at least moving toward a pantry/bulk food buying system where one has more than a week of groceries in the house at any given time would help with food security issues.

All white!

All white!

 

 

 

4.  The Work of Snow (underlying cultural problem = sedentary lifestyles). 

When a snowstorm hits, there is, of course, the complaints about shoveling the walks, cleaning off the car, and so forth.  I believe a lot of this is rooted in our culture’s largely sedentary lifestyle, where people aren’t used to a lot of physical labor, and shoveling a foot of snow is certainly physical labor. I realize here that some people have health conditions that prevent them from doing the labor–and to them, I suggest to make friends with a neighbor (this is another underlying cultural challenge–we don’t actually know our neighbors).

 

My response: Snow = Free Exercise.

Since I derive all of my physical activity from either being in nature (hiking, kayaking) or productive work (like double-digging beds, putting in a chicken fence, chopping wood, hoeing the garden, raking leaves, etc.) I am happy when the snow comes down.  Why? It gives me a chance to get out, get some exercise, and move around a bit.  I look forward to shoveling that long pathway to the chicken coop, and throughout the year, I work hard to keep myself in shape so that I can do that work.  I don’t have to pay for expensive gym memberships–I can just shovel snow!

Snowy maple guardian

Snowy maple guardian

 

 

Underlying Cultural Problems Manifested by the Snow: Things We Cannot Easily Change

The last set of cultural problems that are manifested through the snowstorm are not things that we can easily or readily change, but issues that are very much impacting our cultural responses to snow.

 

1. Lost wages & Job issues (Underlying cultural problems = erosion of the middle class; living hand-to-mouth; income disparity). 

A snowstorm,  like the ones we’ve experienced here in Michigan for the last month, means one or two days where no pay is coming in, where a lost paycheck can mean the difference between paying the rent and not paying the rent. This is actually probably the biggest concern for a lot of people, especially those working hourly-wage based jobs or several jobs to make ends meet.  Several days of lost paychecks can hit a family very hard, and again, the easiest culprit to blame is the snowstorm out one’s window.

 

However, I want to point out that issues of personal economic security have nothing to do with the snow itself–it has more to do with the fact that we have so many people working low-wage jobs in poor conditions and struggling to make ends meet.  This whole situation has more to do with the erosion of the middle class and corporate greed than it has to do with a snowstorm.

 

 

My response: Shifting lifestyles, Reducing Consumption and Debt, and Doing Meaningful Work.

This is not an easy, or quick, thing to respond to.  The prevailing cultural and economic winds have made times tougher and tougher for everyone I know, myself included. However, a series of life changes have caused me to deeply reflect on my own relationship to finances, working to track my funds and reduce my consumption, and creating a plan for getting out of debt. One of the books I’m reading now is a book called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin; in this book, she suggests that we should align our values with meaningful work, examine our true hourly wage, and examine the relationship of time and money (too much to discuss here, but worth reading).

 

 

2. Difficulty in transportation, dangerous conditions (Underlying cultural problems = lack of care for employees, unnecessary travel)

The last issue that snow often raises is the transportation issue. The roads get covered in snow or ice, flights get delayed or cancelled, and travel is, generally, dangerous and frustrating. For some people, they have to travel because of their jobs (see #1 above) and have little choice if they are going to keep their jobs. For others, they are planning on some travel and that travel is delayed.  I’m thankful, at least, that schools have it right–they don’t ask teachers or students to go out in bad weather, and I only wish that the rest of the nation would do the same.

 

 

My response: Shift Plans, Stay in if Possible

I often wonder how much travel is actually necessary during a snowstorm.  I think that people try to treat snow like any other day–driving to go get gas, to the grocery store, to keep those dinner plans, etc.  But we can’t treat snow like another occurrence–its a special time, a time that asks us to slow down, to reflect, to enjoy the quietude of the winter time.

 

People in other centuries holed up for a good snowstorm.  Winter was a time of rest and reflection–you see this in the holidays in the druid tradition, based on the wheel of the year–we rest, we recuperate, we rejuvenate, we heal.  When there is snow, I make a point to change my plans, to stay in, and to accept the gift that nature is giving me–a day off.  Even if its an unplanned day off, its a message from the universe to slow down.

White Pine, the Tree of Peace

White Pine, the Tree of Peace

Winter as a Sacred Time of Healing and Rest

To conclude this post, I’d like to ask us to untangle snow from its cultural baggage, to take some time to enjoy it for what it is, and to embrace the cold and snowy times as times of rest and reflection. Our ancestors did this–they saw winter as a time of rest, a time to enjoy the fruits of their hard labors of the summer months.  Warm in their houses, they enjoyed fruit preserves, family, music, and quietude.  This is part of the natural cycle of the seasons, an important part of rest–for ourselves, for the land, for the trees, for all.

 

We have no such sacred times of rest in current American culture unless we create those times for ourselves.  The snow provides us the gentle nudge to do that–to see the world in wonder, blanked and far from its usual state.  To go out into a white wonderland, full of bliss and joy.  To take time for ourselves away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

 

It took me a long time to write this post–I started when the snows started coming down over a month ago, but it was only today that I finally figured out what I wanted to say.    I hope that this causes you, dear readers, some pause for reflection and perhaps helps you see the snow in a new light.  I feel like I’ve been called to be an ambassador for the snow, speaking the snow’s message of hope and renewal.As part of the message of the snow for me this year, I will be taking a hiatus from the web/social media for the next few weeks.  I hope you go enjoy the snows!  That’s what I plan on doing in the next few weeks :).

 

The Wheel of the Year in the Druid Tradition – Description of Druidic Holidays April 6, 2013

When we think about the practices that various groups and cultures did on a yearly cycle, agricultural holidays are some of the most prominent.  The modern Wheel of the Year in the Druid tradition seeks to re-establish a set of holidays that clearly align with the changing season and with earth-based practices.  Therefore, many druids celebrate the “Wheel of the Year” or a set of eight holidays occurring every seven weeks. The holidays in the Wheel include include the solstices and equinoxes (which we give special names in the Druid Revival tradition, see below) as well as the four fire festivals (which occur at the halfway point between solstice and equinox/equinox and solstice).

The following material comes from a workshop that I wrote a while ago to introduce new druids into the wheel of the year. It started with a guided meditation for the wheel of the year, which I posted a few weeks ago on the blog. I thought this might be of use to others, so here it is!

The following graphic shows the holidays as we progress from Alban Arthan, the Winter Solstice and the time of greatest darkness, to Alban Hefin, the Summer Solstice and time of the greatest light. As you can see from the graphic, Alban Eiler and Alban Elfed fall on the midpoints—they provide us two balance points of the year where the darkness and light are equal.   The other six holidays firmly sit within the light or dark half of the year and reflect the themes of growth, harvest, compost, and rebirth.

Druid Wheel of the Year Holidays

Druid Wheel of the Year Holidays

Recognizing these holidays as part of a never-ending cycle is important.  This cycle is repeated in our weather, our light patterns, and our growing and harvesting seasons externally.  Internally, it can also be reflected in our own lives.  We must have times of light and times of dark, times of harvest and times of sowing, times of high energy and times of quite reflection.  Celebrating the wheel of the year allows us to recognize this in our lives as well as balance our own energies with those of the land.

 

Celebrating the Wheel of the Year

As we begin to celebrate the wheel of the year, many druids express a growing sense of closeness to nature and an appreciation for the seasons.  The wheel gives us a sense of balance, of marking the passage of time, and recognizing what each season can teach us. Druids often celebrate the Wheel of the Year in a variety of ways.  Both spiritual/magical and more mundane/physical activities are appropriate for the celebration of the holidays.  Her are some ideas:

  • Celebrating the holiday with grove ritual, food, and companionship.
  • Building outdoor/indoor shrines and decorating a personal altar for the season
  • Planting or harvesting herbs, fruits, leafy greens, etc.
  • Engaging in various bardic arts such as wildcrafting, painting, music, writing
  • Donating your time to others, such as participating in in environmental clean-up,
  • Celebrating the holidays through personal ritual (it might be really useful to you to create your own meanings and ritual celebrations for each holiday)
  • meditation, reflection, and engaging in divination work.

    

The Wheel of the Year: Holidays

 

Samhain / Samhuinn – Approx. November 1st

Samhain was traditionally the Celtic New Year, a time when the veil between the worlds grew thin and the Celts honored their ancestors. Druidry often recognizes three kinds of ancestors: ancestors of our blood, ancestors of our lands, and ancestors of our spiritual tradition.  Samhain is usually our most solemn holiday, where we recognize the death that fall and the dark months bring, the need to compost and go into stillness, and the coming of the cold months.

This quote, gives you a sense of our Samhain ritual (adapted from the OBOD ritual) is telling of this holiday: “It is during this time that the last of the leaves are blown off the trees, that the ground becomes cold and frozen.  Like an egg or a womb, the Cailleach (known also as the crone) gives the land and us time to rest, to dream, so that in the springtime, the land and her peoples may awaken anew. She is nothing to fear—she is but part of the cycle that the lands, and that we humans live in the course of our lives.  She walks in the space between worlds, to our land.”

 

Alban Arthur / Winter Solstice / Yule – Approx. December 21st

This is the second of our “dark half of the year” holidays; the time of the greatest darkness in the year. In the druidic tradition, darkness is not something to be feared or something that it is evil—it is part of the cycle; we cannot appreciate the light if we never experience the darkness.  So we use this as a period of rest, of gestation, of recognizing the need for the cold and dark of the winter months for the land to rest and regenerate.  In our grove, this is when we traditionally give gifts, burn the Yule log, and work to bring light back into the world.

Here is part of our Alban Arthur ritual (adapted from the OBOD ritual): “Now is the time to acknowledge all that has gone before and is no more. The warm breezes of the high summer are but a memory, we are far from that place and now we witness the darkest point. The oak is bare, the earth is cold, the sky is black—from where could hope arise? Our eyes are wet with the tears of dreams lost to the dark.  Our inner vision is misted by grief. Let the darkness be felt within our minds and our hearts.  Only out of the darkness does light arise….only when we have mourned the passing of the old can rebirth occur….we know well that there will be a new dawn tomorrow, after this the longest of nights.  Yet we often forget this simple truth: When we let go of our longing for the past, we are free to nurture the still small light of hope in our hearts.”

 

Imbolc – Approx. February 2nd

The third of our “dark half of the year” celebrations, Imbolc was traditionally a Celtic festival that celebrated the first sign of spring—and for most families, this was the lactating of the ewes, showing that they were going to give birth to lambs.  Although it seems still very much winter in South East Michigan during this holiday, we recognize the importance of the turning of the wheel and the brightening of days.  In our grove, we do healing of ourselves and our lands and recognize this holiday as one of reflection and rejuvenation.  We usually also focus on the element of water during this holiday.

Here is a quote from our Imbolc ritual (adapted from OBOD):  “Imbolc is a time when we begin to see the first stirrings of spring in the world.  Although the world is still plunged in darkness, we are moving towards the light half of the year; the snow is melting into water to nourish the land. Imbolc is a time of renewal and rebirth, a time of purification and starting anew, a time of quiet anticipation and reflection.  This is a time that we seek healing for ourselves and for this land.”

 

Alban Eiler/Eilir / Spring Equinox – Approx. March 21st

The Spring Equinox is one of our two “balance” holidays, or when night and day are in equal balance. The Spring Equinox allows us to step from the dark into the light half of the year, and for Michigan, truly does give us the first signs of spring in the land.  This is the time when we recognize the importance of planting, growing, and nurturing new ideas, projects, plans, and yes, even plants.  We seek balance in our lives and recognize the importance of balancing our activities in the greater landscape to minimize our impact.

Here is a quote from our Alban Eiler ritual (adapted from OBOD):  , “Today, as we celebrate the balance of the light and the dark and the first day of spring, we recognize that our path is not one we walk alone.  Just as the earth begins to awaken from her slumber, so too do animals in hibernation begin to emerge forth once more. The summer birds return from their long winter months in the south, and the amphibians come out from the watery depths to seek the light coming back into the world.  It is today, we honor the coming spring, planting the seeds of change, and seeking new beginnings.”

 

Beltane  – Approx. May 1st

                  Beltane is the third of our spring holidays, and celebrates the return of fertility to the land. Beltane is a holiday about fertility—bringing back the fertility to the land after the long winter, as well as bringing fertility to the land’s people.  The Celts celebrated Beltane with maypoles, dancing, fires, and the great rite.  Cattle were traditionally driven through the smoke of the bonfires to bless them with health and fertility for the coming year.  In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane—all other fires were lit from Tara’s flame.  For our ritual, we raise a maypole (symbolizing the union of masculine/projective and feminine/receptive energies) and walk through the Beltane fires in blessing.

Quote from our Beltane Ritual: “Beltane is a time to bring abundance and fertility to your life—whether you are looking to conceive a child or birth an idea, to enjoy fruitfulness in your career or creative endeavors, or just see your garden bloom.  Beltane is one of the two times in the year when the veils between the worlds are thinnest—this is a time of “no time” and is associated with the otherworld/fairy/spirit realms.”

 

Alban Hefin/Heruin  / Summer Solstice– Approx. June 21st

Alban Hefin takes place on the summer solstice, where we celebrate the heat and light of high summer and the fire of the sun.   For our grove and the broader OBOD tradition, we really take the time just to “be” during this holiday—to be present here and now and simply enjoy the bounty of the summer.  This is also a great time to gather herbs (for magical or mundane purposes).

Here is a quote from our Alban Hefin grove celebration: “Today is the celebration of the Summer Solstice in our part of the world. The Turning point – The longest day and the shortest night. This is a time of fullness, of life in blossomed expression, of the forest filled with creatures awake and moving. The summer solstice is marked throughout the whole world and belongs not to one area or people, but stands for truth universal.  As one we stand in this circle, we attend the triumph of the light.  Now is the time to celebrate the sun, the fire that burns to give us life, and the fire that burns within us.”

 

Lughnasadh –  Approx. August 1st

Lughnasadh is one of the four traditional fire festivals and is the festival of the first harvest.   In early August, the tomatoes and vegetables ripen, the grains grow heavy in the fields, and we celebrate the bounty—and future bounty—of the land. In Ireland, this festival was (and is) celebrated with games, festivities, and the gathering of the berries and fruits of high summer.  Our grove, likewise, celebrates this with games and also offerings to the land in thanksgiving.

Here is a quote from our Lughnasadh ritual, “Lughnasadh marks the time of the beginning of harvesting which is then completed by Alban Elfed, the Autumnal Equinox.  This is a time of joy and of preparing for the Autumn and winter months.  It is now that we begin to reap what we have sown, and it is now that we understand the wisdom of careful preparation, of the sowing of good seeds in our lives, and in the lives of others.”

 

Alban Elfed / Fall Equinox  – Approx.  September 21st

                  Alban Elfed represents the eighth holiday in our wheel of the year.  We return once more to the time balance, when we enter the dark half of the year.  Alban Elfed is the third of the harvest holidays, and a time when we recognize the need for balance in our lands, our lives, in what we harvest, and what we store away for the coming winter months.   Alban Elfed is also the time of the OBOD East Coast Gathering, a gathering that takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania and that many of our grove members attend.

Here is a quote from our Alban Elfed ritual: “I proclaim the festival of Alban Elfed, The Light of the Water, at the time of the Autumn Equinox! I proclaim the symmetry of day and night! I proclaim the balance of summer and winter! But balance lasts but for a moment, for from this very time, night becomes longer than day for a full half-year, until at the other side of the Wheel, when we reach the moment of the equinox again, and day gains in strength and exceeds the time of night for a full half-year again.  Today we seek balance in our lives, drawing upon the energies of the four elements and this sacred time of balance.”