Blessings of Mothernight, Modranicht, the longest darkest night of the year, and the deepest heart of the winter…
This is the time when many pagans honour our ancient mothers; those ancestors who birthed us through their own longest night of labour. Summoning all of their strength and courage they brought us slippery, wet and new into the world, just as many of us hold fast through the darkness of this night. We journey to find the tiny spark of the new cycle, the moment of inception, deep within ourselves at the moment of the solstice. This is a time of nothingness, stillness and peace. If we are able to stop and take the time to listen we find that the land has slowed to a stop, a moment of pause before the tide turns. Often at the solstice the earth is buried under a cloak of hoar frost, everything that can, sleeps. Underneath the bustle and hurry of the human world there is a deep stillness which permeates the very mud. This is what winter teaches us: Peace.
Yet for many, pagan and non, there is a deep uncertainty too. Will the winter ever end? Will the days begin to grow longer again, will the new sun be born? Here in Britain, the winter is hard and cold, the days short, the nights long. For our ancestors the daily chores of staying fed and warm enough would have been all consuming. We carry that memory of discomfort to varying degrees of consciousness, deep within our genetic memory. We remember what it is is like to fight for survival, to be cold, hungry. We fill this time of year with light and food, warmth and abundance, part in celebration for all that we have, that we are still alive. In part we do it to stave off the darkness and discomfort, our society’s fear of the dark, the unwillingness to release into it and all of it’s uncertainties. The idea that dark is bad and difficult and light is easy and good are limiting and unhelpful dualistic concepts that infuse much of the western consciousness, indeed much of paganism. So we turn on the fairy lights at the beginning of December as winter finds it’s depths, turn up the carols and the music as silence grows and eat too much as if to ensure we wont starve, cushioning ourselves from the world. We shout in the return of the new sun with bells and whistles, not realising in our rush to welcome it back, how tender, tiny and new that flickering spark is. How the tiniest breath could extinguish it, how much we need the stillness and nurture that the dark provides to become strong and viable in the new cycle. The world stays dark and quiet for a while yet, the coldest part is yet to come and it will be a long time before the lengthening days call the world to wake.
To live this time of year in relationship with the natural world, listening to what the gods of nature can teach us of the winter, rather than being swept up in the human current of excess, takes courage. To let go of the consumerism leaves many of us bereft, somehow not satisfied, unloved, hungry like something is missing…No piles of presents? At Christmas?! But there is much about winter that takes courage. Our labouring mothers gathered every scrap of resource that they had to walk the line between life and death to bring us into the world not knowing if they would survive the birth. By acknowledging and allowing ourselves to feel the deep uncertainties of winter, She brings us Her greatest gifts. Winter shows us where and what our own deepest resources are, strips away our dross and the unnecessary, strips us bare, as the frost strips the soil ready for the new seasons growth. That stripping back shows us what and who is really important. I shudder to think of the money (and environmental waste) I spent for many years on gifts that were unwrapped in a shower of pretty paper, only to be forgotten on the pile of rapidly accumulating junk, probably used once and then abandoned. Now, I buy or make useful and small tokens of affection for those I love the most, there are no huge piles of food. I cant bear the lights, the noise, the shopping. Even other pagans seem to think that’s a bit odd, cant understand that there could be celebration that is austere, beautiful in it’s simplicity.
This evening as I sit beside the fire, all of the electric lights in the house are off as I welcome the darkness. I find empathy with my ancestors who had no electricity and relied on the fire for warmth. I feel myself in awe of their courage and tenacity. It is inconvenient, awkward, I can’t see the keys to type well and cooking supper was interesting. But none of that is life threatening. I wonder, where do I fight for survival in my life, just as my ancestors did every day? Not many places if I’m honest. I fight to keep going in a challenging job, we struggle to pay the bills, but I have enough food and wood to be warm and fed. The winter makes me wonder where in my life I could cut back, releasing just a little more of the excess and the unnecessary to the frost, bringing me that one step closer to the survival line. Not through some sense of matyrdom or some strange need to make life as uncomfortable as possible just because it was for my ancestors. But because it is a useful exercise in distinguishing between need and greed, in finding balance in a world where we simply don’t have the resources to fulfil our every wish, where quite frankly, the less we use the better, for our own survival. For me there is deep satisfaction in having very little and celebrating anyway.
So it feels fitting in this time of darkness and uncertainty to gather my words and hurl them out into the public space of the internet for the first time. I wonder who will read them, who will be provoked, angered, bored, indifferent or inspired. Do I mind? Yes and no, I’m a sensitive soul really. What is the point? I’m not sure of that yet either other than to serve the gods who asked. The tiny spark of my new cycle is not yet kindled, not yet strong or sure, but I hope that at least some of what I write will be of use to someone.
Blessings of the Firelight.