Join me on a journey to rediscover ancient traditions, seasonal living and wellbeing practices. A theme for each season. Winter: resting, Spring: growth, Summer: abundance and Autumn: harvesting. We will explore them literally and metaphorically.
I will post in line with the Celtic seasonal calendar (approx every 6 weeks) but there will be no link to the previous post. I want to avoid people feeling that they 'have to catch up'. So if you miss a season or two just start right from where you are.
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Currently temperatures are still low and it is still quite cold in the evenings. Days can be punctuated by gusty winds and icy rain but when the skies are clear, the days are getting noticeably warmer. And as we move into April we will see the last of the frosts.
As the word suggests, ‘Spring’ is jumping up and leaping forward. Seeds that fell in autumn have started to germinate as the earth is warming. Sprouting and moving upwards towards the light. Sap is rising in trees. And we may feel energy within ourselves, as we shift from the deep introspective low energy of winter towards a more expansive and active energy.
If you rested properly in winter, you may have already arrived into spring feeling fresh and full of optimism. Alternatively, you may not be ready to come out of hibernation yet. Transitions can be unsettling, you may need to move tenderly, rather than letting the expectation of the season run away with you.
Vernal means spring. And equinox comes from two latin words, ‘aequi’ = equal and ‘nox’ = night. It is a day of balance, when light and darkness are briefly at equal length before the light increases and days become longer. The 12 hours of daylight at the equinox will increase to around 15 hours by Beltane on 1 May.
The vernal equinox is also known as Ostara. This is the beginning of Spring named after Eostre the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring. Her sacred symbols are the egg and the hare.
Eggs are a symbol of fertility and new life. The round shape represents the cycle of life and the golden yolk, the coming summer sun. The hare also symbolises fertility and re-birth. In addition they are associated with shape shifting and magically disappearing. Given that in reality the hares ‘disappearance’ is them laying down low to the ground, out of sight, these attributes don’t have to be taken literally but metaphorically. To shape shift, means we change, make a fresh start and become whatever we choose.
We see these two symbols in the Christian celebration of Easter, with the traditions of decorating/exchanging eggs and the Easter bunny. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that follows the vernal equinox, which is why it doesn’t have a fixed date on the calendar. This mirrors an ancient Greek celebration of the Goddess Eos, who presided over the dawn and fertile season, at the full moon nearest to the vernal equinox.
Many ancient cultures celebrated the equinoxes and there are sites around the world built with equinoctial alignments, such as Chichen Itza in Mexico, built by the Mayans around 1000AD. When light hits the pyramid on the vernal equinox, it looks as though a snake is slithering down the steps. The day was called ‘the return of the sun serpent’.
A Selection of Ostara Rituals
The celebration starts at sunset 20 March to sunset 21 March.
- Have eggs for breakfast, even if they are of the chocolate variety. Whilst cracking open your egg, think about ‘coming out of your shell’ and going for what you want. What has shifted for you since last year? What still interests you and what is no longer alluring?
- If you can, get outside and enjoy the experience of the world awakening. If you come across things that are unfamiliar to you, take a photo on your phone and do some research.
- Forage wild garlic, which can be found amongst bluebell foliage. The leaves are at their sweetest before flowers appear. Make pesto: 100g leaves, 60ml olive oil, 50g parmesan cheese, 50g pine nuts, juice 1/2 lemon plus salt and pepper to season. Blitz everything in a blender or make in a pestle with a mortar. Make garlic butter: simply chop the garlic, meld into butter and add a couple of pinches of salt.
- If you don’t already have one, set up a bird feeder. This is something that we can mindful of during winter but not so much as the weather warms up. Spring is a busy time for birds nest building and rearing hatchlings. So they need all the nutrition that they can get.
- Set up a drinking station for bees and insects. Pop marbles in a shallow dish and top up with water. The marbles will act as a resting spot.
- Whether alone or celebrating with others, take time to sit by a fire or sit and watch candle light with a cup of mint, nettle or rosehip tea.
- If you began nurturing ideas at Imbolc, begin to develop them. Take time to consider which projects do you want to bring forth and what can remain dormant.
- Are you ready to shake off the stiffness of winter and return to activity? Being active releases endorphins, our happy hormones. If you are starting from scratch, movement after winter could look like gentle stretching, yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming, light weights. If you already have a regular exercise routine you may want to increase the energy that you expand.
- Open all your windows for a 15 minute blast each day.
- Purify the air with houseplants such as; bamboo, snake, aloe vera, spider, dracaena or peace lily. They absorb pollutants from the air through the leaves, which leach into the soli, where they are broken down by micro-organisms.
- As you put your winter clothes away and bring out your spring ones, sort through both sets including accessories. What needs repairing, what could be repurposed and what do you want to donate.
- Dust off your ballpoint pen and drop friends some snail mail, a simple postcard always brings pleasure.
Lessons from la Luna
18 March - full worm moon in Virgo. A solid and practical sign, that will help you ground your dreams into reality by making a clear action plan. However the shadow side of this sign is perfectionism, so don’t get carried away with tweaking and drilling down on details so much that you don’t get started.
1 April - new moon in Aries. A sign that is brave and bold. Believe in yourself, the path that you want to follow and be courageous enough to take the first steps.
16th April - pink full moon in Libra. The sign of balance. Take a pause and review where you may need some balance in your life. Are you burning the candle at both ends? Do you need to implement or re-establish boundaries? What does your self-care currently look like?
30 April - new moon in Taurus. A sign that is grounded and present. This is a time for truly connecting with yourself. A time for slowing down, mindful moments and pleasure.
Out and About
Are you feeling the shift in season? Traditionally in the UK March has turbulent weather and is a blustery month. The sea is cold but the sun is getting higher in the sky and warming the earth, creating a mix of cold and warm pockets of air resulting in windy weather.
These moments are the perfect time to get outside and look for the signs of spring emerging, as biologically the energy of spring boosts our mood and motivates us. We can see this reflected in other aspects of nature. With the increase of sunlight you should notice morning birdsong starting earlier and the busyness of nest building. Over meadows, salt marshes and farmland sky larks are rising up in the air, seemingly dancing. You may catch a glimpse of buzzards, sparrow hawks, lapwings, swifts, house martins, swallows, nightingales and cuckoos. And those that live near coastal cliffs will start to see the return of sea bird colonies.
Buds are coming through on the hedgerows and blackthorn is starting to flower. If the blossoms are plentiful that should mean an abundance of sloes for autumnal sloe gin making. Also look out for pear, damson, plum, cherry and elder blossoms.
Hawthorn and hazel are starting to green up, their tips acid green against the branches. Pussy willows are out, attracting hungry pollinators particularly butterflies who are coming out from over wintering or beginning to return from migration. Queen bumble bees are emerging too, on the hunt for pollen and nectar to sustain them whilst they hatch their initial brood that will be the first worker bees of the colony.
If you have sycamore trees near you, keep an eye on their bulging pink buds. Once they burst open and the leaves spring forth, the eggs of the sycamore aphids hatch and the bugs suck up the sap of the new foliage, which in turn attracts birds to feast on the aphids.
In this same vein, an increase in slugs will see hedgehogs stirring and moths in the evening will slowly bring out bats.
Foxes and badgers are giving birth. Voles are producing their first litters. And frog, toad and newt spawn will hatch. Tadpoles that develop their back legs first are frogs and toads, those that develop the front first are newts.
If you see hares chasing across fields and boxing each other, it is the female fighting off the amorous intentions of the male.
Flower wise, apart from the ubiquitous daffodils you may see wood anemones, sweet violets, the foliage of bluebells and fritillaries. Also look between pavement cracks for the tiny white flowers of common whitlowgrass.
Seed and Soil
With a focus this year on edibles that can be grown on the windowsill or on the patio. At Imbolc we planted aubergines, chillies and tomatoes. These are now little seedlings. I was meant to plant spring onions and cucumbers but forgot so these will be sown now. Along with little gem lettuce, herbs for the windowsill and edible flowers. I have selected; basil, chives, Italian parsley, borage, marigold, nasturtium and viola. My daughter is trying her hand at growing a few different varieties of mint, something that I have never successfully grown from seed.
Seed Share: if you would like to receive a gift of seeds simply drop me a line noting whether you are windowsill, patio or garden growing and I will drop a section in the post. And if you have a garden, have an excess of seeds and want to share them with others, pop them over to me.
What's in Season
April and May are what is called the ‘hungry gap’. We are coming to the end of last years stores and awaiting this year’s new harvests, so the pickings are slim: asparagus, cauliflowers, kale, new potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb, spring cabbages and spring onions.
For those who like to forage, there are now bits and bobs to gather; Alexanders, bistort, burdock, chickweed, comfrey, dandelion, fat hen, gorse, hawthorn, hop shoots, nettle tips, sea beet, sorrel, sweet violets and wild garlic.
I sit under the old oak
And gaze at the white orchard
In bloom under the full moon
The oak purrs like a lion
And seems to quiver and breathe
I am startled until I
Realise that the beehive
In the hollow trunk will be
Busy all night long tonight
- Kenneth Rexroth
Next scribble: Beltane, 1 May.
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