As we move into the new moon, the moon I know as White Waking, we remain in the thick of winter. The dark and cold are still very much with us although the days are noticeably lighter now and the snowdrops cover the ground in my garden. Looking out over the fields at the back of my home I see heavy grey clouds, the grass thick and wet, the trees bare, and the mud… The Saxon folk, as usual telling it like it is, called this month Solmonath; Mud-month. If I hadn’t had first hand experience of rural life: trudging up and down the tow path to the boat with logs and water, squelching and slipping, cold hands, leaky boots, frost flowers on the inside of the windows, I would be tempted to say that I could only imagine how it was for our ancestors. But despite now living on dry land, the misery of this time of year is now imprinted in me too. It feels to be a time when all our energy is put into just surviving, try as I might I am yet to find the joy in February.
At this time, our focus shifts from the depths of the heavy earth where we have been hibernating, to the air around us where we stretch, open an eye and find ourselves awake. We breathe the cold air and really feel the new cycle begin, infusing it with the winds of change that start to shift, encouraging us to move; fresh, cold, biting and clear. If of course we are able to extrapolate ourselves from the mud. I remember sliding my way down the towpath last year, frustrated when I finally arrived at my car and my wheels spun uselessly in the mud, thinking that surely the mud must have a purpose. That is not to say that the gods of the mud, magical alchemy of rain and soil don’t of course have their own very good purpose for their own very good reasons, but surely there was some useful sense I could make of it? I came to the conclusion that mud did the very useful job of slowing us down. For country folk, walking anywhere off the beaten track takes twice as long, boots are heavy, the floor needs constant cleaning, and there is more washing that doesn’t dry, the only thing to do seems to be to sit by the fire a while longer. Nature calls us not to speed up, not yet. This is not the time of year to be hailing the sun and the return of the spring, pushing too fast and too far. It is a time to consider everything in its own time. That only the snowdrops and perhaps the odd brave crocus are out, tells us something about the probability of the sharp frost biting off the first tender shoots that venture out too early. Nature reminds us to take our time. So as we open a groggy eye, stretch and take those first breaths, we use the time we have to dream. We have the space to imagine what the new cycle could be like, fill it with potential and hope and begin the process of crafting it consciously in the darkness. As we find our in-breath with which to infuse it, so too do we find our out breath with which to sing it, speak it, tell it; rusty at first and unsure, childlike stumbling over the words, we breathe it to life. Slowly but surely, our energy is rising toward Imbolc.
Perhaps inevitably at this time, through breath, I am moved to look at my voice. As Druids, the craft of the bard is central to what we do but how often do we imagine that craft to be confined to songs, poetry or performance? I am not looking only at the creativity of songs and poetry here though, but at everything we create with our voices, The conversation with a friend on the phone this morning, the email tapped out to a work colleague, the Facebook update, this blog post… our voices have such power and so often we are not aware of how we appear to others. Do we complain too much, are we unnecessarily sharp, short, whiney, arrogant, grumpy? How do we make others feel when we behave this way? Where do we provoke, where SHOULD we provoke and where should we stay silent and where can we be a valuable force for change? We have such ethical responsibility as far as our voices are concerned, in considering how we use them well. In the past week I have had wonderful conversations, full of challenge, insight, a willingness to listen, explore and be moved where discussion has meandered releasing the need to be right, where exploration is the only thing that matters. Such discussion is the one of the cornerstones of my craft. I’ve learned a lesson where I wrongly assumed another was open to questioning and exploration but missed the signs that they weren’t, and been provoked myself into irritation by the voices of others on numerous occasions.
Os is the Rune that I feel most powerfully to embody this time and all that it represents. Implicit in its Anglo-Saxon name ‘OS’ carries the sense of a mouth or an opening, that word continues down to us today in its context of birthing as a cervical os, the mouth of the womb which opens and dilates so the baby can be born. The name in Old Norse where it appears as Ansuz suggests a god, or an As, one of the Aesir. Within it then are echos of a sense of divine communication inspired by the gods, as the Old English Rune Poem suggests;
Os byth ordfruma aelcre spraece
(Mouth is the source of all speech)
wisdomes wrathu ond witena frofur
(mainstay of wisdom, comfort to wise ones)
and eorla gehwen eadnys and tohit.
(a blessing and joy to everyone)
(translation my own)
Clearly for the Anglo Saxons, although we cannot hope to know exactly what this rune meant to them, the verse tells us of the wisdom of considering carefully how we use our speech and language. If you have ever watched a good story-teller, it is magical to experience how the audience is swept up in the words, every intonation and cadence pushing and pulling the audience with the emotions of the story. This effect can be even more profound when you don’t understand the language and can release into the patterns, feeling the story as it unfolds, disengaging our need for words for a while and experiencing the full flow of pure language. Listening to Beowulf in Old English is completely extraordinary, we can learn to feel the sense of the words through the emotion of the teller and the language is just close enough to Modern English for us to almost believe you can understand it word for word.
As a flow or a power of nature described by the rune, I experience Os as both the open mouth and the exhalation of breath; it is slow considered and musical or whispered into the stillness, blowing across a puddle and watching as the words spread like ripples across dark water. It reminds us, wherever we are, whomever we are speaking to and in whatever medium, of the importance of crafting the story of our lives in a creative and honourable way. If we slow down, inspired by the mud, our words considered rather than spilling out in a jumble, we stop complaining, understanding that it’s just not a good story to listen to, and instead learn to narrate a tale far more interesting. We share how it is for us rather than just offloading, we are more able to communicate effectively and watch the ripples as they spread, observing their effect and moderating our behaviour accordingly. Gradually we begin to learn when it is right to speak out and to challenge, how much and when, and when there is wisdom in silence.