I dislike winter….sure it has its moments but for the most part I spend the whole of winter longing for spring. OK, there are parts of winter I like, there is nothing more beautiful than those bright chilly mornings when dense frosts coat the land and everything seems to sparkle and shimmer, nothing more joyful than a lone Robin nipping back and forth into the garden for a tasty morsel, nothing more inspiring as the occasional low lying mist which hovers over the lakes like wraiths dancing in the cool air and nothing more awe-inspiring as the raging storms which lash and howl. These events however are rare occurrences, for the most part and certainly this year, Britain just sits under a cloak of grey, just…grey…miserable, non-descript, uninspiring… grey. Maybe it’s because I am a summer baby, born around the longest day, maybe it’s because I’m a Cancerian, preferring to spend winter hibernating in my little shell all cozy and warm, protected from the cold and wet. At this time of year something compels me to retreat and withdraw, it isn’t just the winter however.
For the Witch it is vital to understand their inner rhythms, the peaks and troughs, the highs and lulls in energy and activity which we all experience from time to time, just as the greater and lesser tides of nature also ebb and flow. How we handle the lows however can make all the difference and is something I have been working on of late.
In her book ‘A Deed Without Name’ Lee Morgan makes specific reference to these periods in our practise as being what she calls “Red Rest”. Unfortunately she doesn’t give details around why she names it so, however her commentary provides some reassurance that we all at some time or another experience a withdrawal and a retreat from our practise which may be voluntary or involuntary (i.e. something we chose to do for personal reasons or something which happens due to our natural rhythms). Some folks may only experience this once or twice every few years or only a few times throughout their entire life, I however experience this pretty much every winter, around January and for a long time not only did I not see the pattern, I equally didn’t understand why this was happening or what to do about it…it can be uncomfortable, disconcerting and frustrating especially if like me, you are somewhat impatient!
Last week I started attending Yoga classes again, and as the teacher was introducing us to the class she stressed something which resonated strongly with me… “If you experience pain or discomfort, stop. Yoga is not an activity, like sport, where you ‘push through’ the pain, if you do this in Yoga it will make the pain worse”. I didn’t register it at the time but a day or two after I thought to myself that actually this seems to be true for these periods of ‘Red Rest’ also (to use Lee Morgan’s terminology).
It’s important that we recognise these quiet dormant times and learn to go with the flow. Speaking from experience I think it’s natural to want to push through involuntary feelings of inertia, we may wonder what the hell is happening, worry we are not giving our practise the time it deserves, or in extreme cases even think our Gods and Spirits have abandoned us, think we are no good and should walk away from our Craft. But it isn’t so…when your soul is telling you to give it a rest or have a break ignoring it will only lead to more dismay and more self-doubt. A strong, healthy and well rested archer is far more likely to hit their target in the future than one who over does it and therefore lacks strength, stamina and focus in the present.
For me, getting to grips with this has been in large part thanks to the runes. There have been many occasions when I have turned to the spirits of this ancient oracle for help and advice. Two runes in particular often appear, Isa and Laguz, ice and water, inertia and activity, standstill and flow respectively. We often have misconceptions that ice is bad; inertia is something to fight or to standstill is to be lazy. On the contrary, our Germanic fore fathers saw ice as an ancient primal element of creation from which all form emerged, Hail in fact was seen as the divine seed falling to earth, the mother rune from which all other runes sprung forth was seen as a snowflake. It took me some time, but eventually after seeing these two runes appear on countless occasions I began to understand the interrelationship between these two forces of stillness and flow, rest and movement….the seed, and the seedling! We must always listen to our rhythms, and learn to go with the flow just as water effortlessly makes its way from the centre of the earth towards the widest ocean, yet under certain conditions water will freeze, it isn’t bad, it isn’t good…it just is. Does freezing make water any less water, less pure or less potent? Of course not…no more than a period of rest and reflection makes us any less the individuals we always were, it is often only when we are still that we are truly blessed with the opportunity to see, to appreciate, to reflect…it is an integral part of the great pentagram of birth, life, death, rest and rebirth.
We must not fear or lose faith when the soul requires some downtime, whenever this may be and no matter how long it lasts. Instead listen to it, acknowledge it, and take the time to catch up on mundane stuff. We can of course keep our toe in the water by reading, studying, keeping up a short but regular practise of devotional offerings perhaps or just spending quality time outdoors but experience has shown me that attempting any more than this or exerting real effort can often be more detrimental to our progress along the crooked path. It’s true the mysteries do not come a-knocking, and we must all work towards our goal of attainment, but sometimes learning the art of being still can be quite the feat of endurance. As I was once told “The Gods keep no records of rites done!”
It’s OK to relax, remember that there will follow a period of renewed vigour and enthusiasm for your craft, and if anything it will be all the better for it than if we carried on regardless…after the frost always comes the thaw and the river shall continue on its merry way!
Candlemas approaches…the first snowdrops are visible…soon it will be spring!