I’d usually be telling you about us preparing the first of this year’s bonfires as we celebrate Imbolc, Bridgid’s Day and Candlemas and how nature is beginning to show tentative signs of new growth. However we are in Scotland, in the Cairngorms, and have just experienced winter Storm Malik and Storm Corrie and find ourselves in a place of ice, snow and fallen trees. It reminds us that although our seasonal celebrations are given dates sometimes it’s more about place and what is being experienced there.

Certainly we know spring travels up our country as does the summer in a south/north direction and autumn and winter seem to be experienced in the north first. Here amongst Scotland’s mountains it feels that winter still truly has its grip. But then again I’ve always thought we need to use our own observances and guidelines as to when and how we celebrate nature and not be leashed to dates and instead to use them as guidelines to remind us that changes will be taking place.

Another good example of us having a bit of variation in our annual celebrations is in regards to taking down our Yuletide decorations down. Many people have felt the need to at least leave the fairy lights up this year as they have continued to give a much needed lift and twinkle in dark January and especially after what we have all been through. I was happy to inform all that felt this way that there is wiggle room about taking our decorations down as Candlemas was the traditional time until it was decided that workers, too much full of revelry because of keeping decorations up, needed a date to get them back in work mode and so twelfth night or the Epiphany became the time to take them down, with the added measure that bad luck would befall you for good measure to ensure compliance. There is no reason that we can’t dip in and out of the past country calendar if it makes us feel better and we can even follow the ‘old calendar’ meaning everything is 11 days after - so old Candlemas would be on 12th/13th Feb ! Of course this can get a little confusing! Farmers of the past used their eyes, the feel, sounds and smells of the land to know when it is time to plant and to harvest. They would touch the earth to feel if it had warmth (some sat on it with a bare bottom !) and at harvest they would bite the corn to see if it was full of flour. This made them attuned to the year and nature. I think being more attuned to nature is something we all aspire to now as we feel disconnected to this giver of our well-being.

People have always looked for the first signs of spring as winter seems to stretch its cold, dark grip for so long. Snowdrops are really very much a winter flower but their emergence seems to signify such hope and resilience. But we have to be mindful that February can often be the coldest month. Of course our climate is now changing so many perceptions of what the temperature should be.

The Scottish poet George Wilson wrote a poem ‘The origin of the snowdrop. In it he finished with;

"And thus the snowdrop, like the bow That spans the cloudy sky, Becomes a symbol whence we know That brighter days are nigh.’’

I think this sums up the snowdrop that it makes us look forward to the promise of springtime even if it’s not yet here. That will do for now, just being reminded the wheel of the year is turning and we are now moving away from winter.

The Oyster Catcher are known in Ireland as ‘Gille Brighde’ meaning servants of the bride. This was because they are said to make their first appearance on St. Bridgid’s day/Imbolc. It is said they bring the spring with them.

Although we won’t have our garden bonfire this year to celebrate the coming of February we will light a candle to mark the returning light and warmth and the promise that Imbolc brings, whilst sitting by an open fire in our holiday hotel talking about how we can prepare ourselves for the coming months and look forward towards springtime.

Wherever you are and whenever you choose to mark this time of the year please remember the old ways and be guided by them and the respect for nature they imbue but don’t be slaves to dates instead use your intuition and personal observations and mark the time in a way that makes you happy x

Brightest Blessings to you all x

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Updated: Dec 23, 2021

The Solstice tells us to be still, to slow down, to notice things and to dream of things to come.

The Winter Solstice, this year on 21st December, marks the shortest day. It’s the day of least daylight and to many (including astronomically) is considered the first day of winter. But to us it marks a day of hope as we light a bonfire & candles and call to our Sun to shine once again.

This day is followed by a few days where the daylight and dark hours remain almost static, still, and unmoving until bit by bit, minute by minute we notice that our Sun is indeed once more returning. We may call it the bleak mid-winter, but this is a moment in time to celebrate. The years wheel has turned towards the coming of springtime & summer.

The stillness, the pale and watery sunlight, the now bare trees, the evergreens and the chill in the air are to be witnessed as we mark this moment in time and the passage of our seasons.

Whilst we have a lot more of winter still to come and many more darker hours we have already spotted catkins on our hazel and primulas in flower, almost as a reminder to us that spring is coming, if we can just see the winter through.

We like to slow down over the coming months, to stay in a little more and use it as creative work time preparing new country wisdom & folklore writings and images. We look forward to cosying up in front of our log burner, wrapping up warm and walking briskly in the pared back winter landscape and looking at the magnificent winter skies particularly the night sky and listening to our resident tawny owls.

Once again, we all find ourselves in uncertain times because of the pandemic, plans are being cancelled, get togethers not being able to happen and livelihoods in jeopardy. It feels a time of so much worry. These things are beyond our control. This is where I truly believe nature is our teacher and our healer and that following old traditions and marking the seasons is so important. Yuletide and winter was always a time for smaller gatherings, staying close to home, looking after those in our local community, eating seasonal foods and enjoying the preserves and drinks we made in autumn and looking out for those small changes.

Seeing frost glistening on a leaf, mist hovering between heaven and earth, the silhouette of a favourite tree against a wintery sky, a halo around the moon, noticing a snowdrop emerging. Perhaps we can make this the ‘win’ of this very awful situation in that it forces us to turn back to our earth mother and remember how to live a little more harmoniously and peacefully with her.

Dark days and nights made many superstitions arise and stories of the supernatural shared. In Shropshire we believe that the witches, ghosts and other spirits and unearthly beings meet at a rocky outcrop called the Stiperstones. This gathering takes place on the evening of the winter solstice at midnight. They supposedly meet to decide on what dastardly deeds they can deliver upon us over the year ahead. I like to think of it as either an AGM or an office party with music, games, nibbles and a drop to much booze leading to sore heads and inappropriate couplings discovered the morning after.

Many people like to watch the sunrise at solstice, often in historic places set in ancient landscapes, some monuments such as Newgrange in Ireland are aligned to the winter solstice allowing the first beams from the sun to travel within its chambers to bring light into darkness.

After all isn’t this what this seasonal celebration time is all about whether you follow the Christian tradition of a child’s birth who is the light of the world or the rebirth/return of our sun. It is a beautiful symbol of light overcoming darkness which we all need right now whether actually or metaphorically.

Wishing you all a wonderful Yuletide and we hope you get to mark this special day if Solstice in your own quiet and celebratory way. Hope your lives will be full of love and light throughout the coming year and good health be with us all x

#winter #solstice #yuletide #Christmas #nature #bestill #quiet #folklore #tradition

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Updated: Oct 31, 2021

We have recently returned from a folklore collecting ‘holiday’ in the northern isles of Orkney & Shetland. These very wild and wonderful places leached the stories, superstitions and traditions in landscapes that had been inhabited by Picts, Nordic and Scottish peoples resulting in an often unique and wonderful folklore.

As we are approaching Hallowe’en we noticed how much more emphasis was placed on this tradition than in our home county of Shropshire in England. We all know that this tradition has become more commercialised and our current celebration has been very much influenced by America through popular culture. But here on these outlying islands, where daylight is in short supply and it is acknowledged that winter begins with the coming of October, we could really see how fear of an unknown lurking in the darkness of the land or within the turbulent waves or down the thin dark passageways in old towns could give rise to superstitions, traditions and customs that mark this time of the year.

Every shop window in the little towns and communities were lit up, adorned in decorations. Community buildings and schools were also decorated and there was a wonderful feeling of living folklore taking place as people chatted about Hallowe’en and what they were doing to mark it.

The name Hallowe’en comes from a Scottish shortening of All-Hallows Eve which was the Eve of All Saints’ Day celebrated by the Christian church on November 1st and has its roots in the Gaelic festival of Samhain.

Neeps (turnips) we’re hollowed out to hold candles, thought originally to be put in windows to guide people to the safety of home, but at some point this changed to more creative ghoulish faces being carved into them in an attempt to ward off evil. We now commonly use pumpkins, a type of squash, ‘exported’ from America that is easier to hollow and carve. The tradition of marking this nightwas most likely exported to America through migrants from Scotland and Ireland who adapted their folk customs to suit their new home.

Guising (disguising) was part of the tradition as Scottish children wandered the streets in costumes that were intended to make them pass as actual spirits and so remain unharmed by them. Tricks or songs were performed and gifts given in gratitude for warding off evil. Costumes were made from all sorts of things. Skeklers wore strange costumes made of straw and went round dancing, singing and making a din. This pre-cursor to trick-or-treating was often performed as a service to communities in an attempt to drive away evil that may be threatening. (I’m sure an entertainment value also became part of it to)

It was an important time for divination. Robert Burne’s poem Halloween tells of people pulling kale stalks from the ground after dark with their eyes closed. The length and shape of the stalk was said to represent your future lover’s height and figure, and the amount of soil around the roots represented their wealth.

Another Hallowe’en tradition involved young couples putting a nut in a fire. If the nuts burned quietly, the union would be a happy one. However, if they hissed and crackled, a turbulent future lay ahead.

Games were played such as Apple ‘Dookin’ which was where apples were floated in water and the person had to use only their teeth/mouth to retrieve and apple and also Treacle Scones- which was where scones were hung from rafters at mouth level of players and smothered in treacle. The idea was to retrieve the scone, again only using the mouth.

As we returned from our trip we arrived for an overnight stay at the border town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and again found a real visual community celebration in its shops and even inside an Italian restaurant we frequented.

We find it interesting that Hallowe’en is a Folk custom that has survived and even flourished in its ‘updated’ version, worldwide, when others have become lost and almost forgotten. Yuletide being the other great survivor with bonfire night, Valentine’s Day, Mayday, Easter and harvest festivals being survivors, even if to a lesser degree. So why do we hold on to this particular tradition ? Yes commercial gain has played its part but there has to be a will, consumers, who enable its existence and growth.

We have Gaelic and Celtic cultures, at the end of their farming year, to thank for the origins marking this time of the year- originally as Samhain, the beginning of winter and a time of marking darkness and connection with the spirit realms. Followed by the influence of Christianity that created the ‘Hallowed’ nature relating to honouring the Saints on November 1st and then the day after the Souls (All Souls day- November 2nd) of ordinary people. There can be no coincidence that the church recognised the need to continue the past practices and tradition of communities to come together at this time of the year. Death, endings, ancestors are very much connected to the dark winter months. But if we take a lead from our ancestors Samhain also marked beginnings, it was thought of as the beginning of the year and was the beginnings of customs that went on to become part of our New Year celebrations on December 31st/ January 1st.

If we too think of this time not only as endings but as beginnings it offers us hope, time to imagine and plan, something to celebrate and mark. We all need a bit of light as the darker months begin and it feels especially so this year. So do have some fun this Hallowe’en- try some of the traditional games, be outside with nature even if only for a short time to collect seasonal natural objects such as leaves, acorn cups, seed heads to decorate your home. Light fires or candles or fairy lights and bring the light into your lives. Tell ghost stories and acknowledge our ‘enjoyment’ of a little bit of controlled ‘fear’ that we all feel sometimes. And remember this wonderful folklore time of the year has its origins in those who have gone before us, wether it be those from the Northern Islands we visited or closer to home, let’s acknowledge and remember our family ancestors by setting a place for them in a seasonal celebration meal.

As for us we will be having a wonderful earthy mushroom and sage soup with a bannock and an apple pie made from our orchards apples, washed down with a seasonal mulled cider. Whatever is on you menu we hope your celebration of Hallowe’en is suitably chilling and warm - all at the same time x

#halloween #Samhain #noscalangaeaf #Shetland #Orkney #folklore #tradition #oldways

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