As the days begin to fold in on themselves and the nights begin to stretch out their dark and wondrous ways, we have reached the final arc of the Celtic calendar, the Autumn Equinox. In the ancient Celtic calendar, the Autumn Equinox was one of eight points on the annual wheel of the year, mid-way between the festival of Lunasagh and Samhain (Celtic new year).
Like with the other Celtic seasons, the marking of the Autumn equinox can be evidenced in the ancient stones and monuments of Ireland. In Cairn T at Loughcrew, for instance, the sun is welcomed into the inner chamber on the dawn of Autumn equinox, illuminating the back stone to reveal symbols and markings, bringing light to the ordinarily dark places. Which in many senses is what rituals do; they create a pause and point into which to invite contemplation and reflection, focus and intentionality to the places in our lives which we may rush over or abandon due to busyness or the pace of contemporary life.
Like the Spring equinox six months ago, the autumn equinox is a time when day and night are in equal measure. At this time of year, as we enter the darker phase of the year, marking the turning with a ritual can help us embrace the change, and the gifts and offerings of the dark days ahead.
So, as the year turns and we cross this autumnal threshold, we are invited to an inwards motion, a introspection and a re-gathering, calling us to bring ourselves into relationship with our own rhythms and needs, our own equilibrium and to take stock of our resources for the winter ahead.
To support you, I have created the final ritual in the cycle of eight, beginning last October (with Samhain), all the way through the Celtic year, until now. For those of you who completed the Spring (Vernal) equinox ritual, you’ll find parallels in the practices, with a focus on equanimity. In addition there is a new section on preparing you for the winter days ahead.
I recommend you carve an hour for yourself, light some candles, cuddle up with your journal and a hot cuppa, and savour.
You can download your free ritual guide when via my mailing list (and for those of you already on it- check your inbox!) Sign up here.
You can listen to an audio recording of this letter here (11 mins)
I like to think of you as friends. Or at least that we gather here in the spirit of friendship. It makes writing these letters to you more real, more connected for me. In writing to a friend we are writing to a companion on a journey, a fellow seeker, those who have a listening ear and an open heart. A friend is a companion in adventure, and whether close or distant, an acquaintance or even a stranger, to commune in friendship is to turn towards each other and be willing to see the best in each other, even through the rough times.
So, right now, in order to write this, I’m imagining you sitting nearby, as a companion would, tucked in by the fire. I’m sitting on my sheepskin rug, having just made a pot of tea. You’ve brought the dark chocolate and I’ve put some logs on the flames. We are in for the night.
And so, to begin, I’d want to hear what is bringing you alive right now. I’d want to know what’s in your heart, what’s really in your heart- even the anger, even the fear, even the doubt, even the hurt. You’d tell me things that you’ve been holding onto, and in the telling you can sense that you are passing them over to me for a while, and it would make things lighter. Then, when I pass them back to you, without me having said a word, you’d feel that they’ve changed shape. The worries and fears are less complex somehow, better understood.
And then I’d begin by telling you that the blackberries were beyond generous this year, and how it has amazed me, the abundance. I’d show you my inky fingers, still purple from the morning’s pickings, and I’d promise you a jar of jam from the next batch. And then I’d tell you how I hosted my first solo writing retreat this week, and how it was deep, and intense, and challenging for both the writer, and for me. But I’d also explain that there were moments when life’s clarity jumped from the page, and shed new light on everything, and how we were right in the creative process, even the messy bits, and got to a place where the journey ahead for the writing revealed itself as exactly that, a journey. But I’d also say that I felt I could have done better, and I made mistakes. And, you’d probably tell me to be less hard on myself, but I’d explain that I’m glad, in a way, that it was challenging, because now I can really learn to sit into the imperfection, knowing that it too is part of the beauty, and the growth.
Then you’d tell me about your own dreams, and the ideas you are working on, and this ‘thing’ that you just won’t go away. And both of us can sense that the ‘thing’, is a key, and to lean in there.
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Autumn is on it’s way and I can feel the pull and the turning. I’ve been picking blackberries nearly every day. The bushes are literally bursting with their generosity, and now my freezer is too. Winter will be made all the sweeter by this season’s harvest.
Speaking of harvest, around this time of year, I often run my Living Seasonally Autumn course. It’s a chance to reflect on the year so far and tune in with the rhythms of the seasons. It is particularly a chance to think of harvesting your own life, and then contemplating on what needs to fall away in order to create space for new growth down the line.
The autumn equinox is not for another few weeks, when I’ll share the Celtic ritual for that threshold, but I am aware of the ‘back to school feeling’ at the moment. So many people have been speaking of transitions, and not feeling grounded.
I decided not to run the course this Autumn. I am in the process of reconfiguring my online teaching, but that does not detract from the value of reflection and tuning in at this time of year- and I am feeling the gap too!
I’ve been savouring the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer this year also, reading each essay slowly, and sometimes twice. It’s so rich and lyrical, and grounded. She speaks a lot of reciprocity and generosity as nature’s rhythms. The final paragraph sums up so much of my current thinking, which I am seeking to incorporate not only into how I share my gifts, but also the economy in which this operates.
‘The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honour our responsibilities for all that we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread out blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Imagine the books, the paintings, the poems, the clever machines, the compassionate acts, the transcendent ideas, the perfect tools. The fierce defence of all that has been given. Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice and vision, all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.
Residing in the Celtic heritage (and thus imagination) there are emblems of feminine power, resilience and guardianship. I met these figures of Sile NaGig in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork last week, and once again was struck by the strength of the symbolism. The female, open vulva, open breasted, were placed on sacred ground, perhaps representing portals to the otherworld—fertile thresholds into creativity and receptivity, or as empowered emblems of the Goddess. No shame, no guilt, no corporeal covering or body blaming. Here, the feminine as sacred ground too– wedded to the land and wedded to the Gods, — the feminine of intuition, protection, fecundity, and power.
We see the feminine voice rising again, claiming back it’s power through referendum and marches, movements and turning points in our collective history, and now too, I think, a time to deeply reclaim the feminine in not only our institutions and laws but also how we create each day we have been gifted and how we use our gifts. Whether male or female, we can honour the feminine (the intuition and power) by noticing all the ways we are giving it away. The ‘always on’, ‘badge of busy’, is based on linear models of growth and productivity. It comes from the industrial era, where to be productive was to been deemed efficient and thus worthy. But it’s not efficient. It’s eating our land’s resources, it’s constantly selling us things we don’t need, it’s advertising subverts the feminine form and feminine spirit in so many ways.
When we are in our creative bodies, tapped into deep core needs of belonging and ‘aliveness’; when we are writing or painting or creating organisations, businesses, or projects which honour cycles of time, and cycles of growth; when we refuse to define our worth by how busy we are or how much we can produce, this is the reclamation. And that’s a radical thing, because it can topple these linear growth models. A woman in her full power, is not a full-on capitalist consumer- instead she is creating, sharing, connecting, yeilding, resting, opening her body and breast to the land and to the sky, realising her body is enough, and her creativity is her birthright. And as men, in their feminine, their emotions are their path and power, their worth too is not defined by how much they can earn or produce or contribute to the economy, but by their wholeness and their beauty too.
We all have so much to (re)learn. For me; it means creating the ‘things’ even when it doesn’t make ‘rational sense’, for the sake of it. Does it make me come alive? Does it connect me to a deeper power and a deeper voice.
Then that, follow that…. this is my own personal revolution. And yours?
Hello all, and hope the summer has been unfolding well for you.
Time for some updates and stories. So, grab yourself a cuppa, make yourself comfortable, as I invite you to dive in. You can listen to this post below (10 min listen)
The Immram and the Aisling.
The weather is on a cusp between summer and autumn here in West Cork. Outside the coffee shop window the harbour is still cast with sails and the voyagers are off to seek their pleasure. The sails are bobbing and dancing on the dancing water, letting the wind take them further out. There is so much power in this unseen force.
The sailboats shrink as they get closer to the horizon, leaving my sight as dots, then vanishing across a thin line. What must it have taken back in the day, I wonder, to journey across this line, into what was unknown, uncharted lands. What quest was strong enough to carry these men into the dark sea?
The power of dreaming, and the power of quest, is a power, it would seem bequeathed to men back then, but I can’t help thinking of the women. How did they voyage? How did they quest? So I am searching for the stories.
I turn first to the immrama. In ancient Irish mythology there are tales of men who embarked on heroic sea quests —an immram. They’d set sail on pilgrimages which had no end. It’s wasn’t about reaching a holy place, a Mecca, but the journey itself which held the gold. They didn’t know where they were going but trusted that wherever they landed would offer them clues and some unusual gifts. St. Brendan’s immram, for instance, was an epic sea voyage which took him and his monastic crew into islands of the otherworld, of the mystical and the fanciful, the magical or the surreal — each landing was an island of story and experience. There was the island of sheep and the island paradise of birds. There was an island of grapes- on which they dined for 40 days. Then there was the island on which they lit a fire, only realising it wasn’t an island at all, but a whale. Imaginal or real, the immram was always a creative, almost mystical adventure, the force of which had the power to transform those who dared to journey. One could only return a changed man. Still I wonder of the women.
So, I turn to the Aisling, in search of clues. The Aisling is a poetic form which appeared much later, around the 17th Century, in which a dream or a vision was presented to a bard. The dream was to stir up nationalist or political sentiment, and incite feelings of love and loyalty towards Ireland. The ‘Aisling’, was always in the shape of a female figure who came as spéirbhean, or sky-woman, a heavenly creature who was the carrier of the dream. So, why was it always the men to have the big dreams and the license to sea-quest? So, once again I wonder—What of the women? How did they find their quest? What vision was presented to them? And to what were they called?
I took a boat to an island a couple of weeks, not to quest, but to be in conversation and friendship. It was a Tuesday. The sky was tussled but the sun was promised. So I packed a picnic, rain-gear and my swimming togs, popped Milly on her lead, and then collected my friend Jennifer from the next village over. It’s only a five minute ferry journey to Heir Island from Cunnamore Pier, and by the time we got there, we were already in a different world.
In the two years I have known her, Jennifer has become a dear and trusted friend. She wraps me in listening and helps me see the truth of myself, and the truth of my future-self too. You see, Jennifer is a film-maker. She is one of those people who has a beautiful blend of talent and humility, so when she speaks of her craft and her creative process, she speaks as a learner and a fellow seeker too. She does not proclaim to have the answers. And so we read poems, and talk of open hearts and broken hearts. She tells me of the films she is working on. I tell her of the books I am working on. In between we laugh at silly jokes, drink another cup of tea, then jump into the sea. I am aware that it is a Tuesday, mid-week. I am aware this is another form of wealth. I am aware that this is not considered ‘work’, but I feel alive, and I feel clear, and I feel like I can, in fact, accomplish anything, if only I keep listening to the conversations which are alive in me, then following the conversation into my heart where I will be shown how to keep responding creatively, shown what to do next.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because, I think it has to do with women, and their immram and their Aisling, how we journey, and how we vision. I think it is about how we make our way over the horizon to that place beyond our current sightline, a place we know our hearts are longing to be.
A couple of nights ago I finished the final chapter of a memoir I am working. It is still very much in draft form. There is lots and lots more work to do, but I have made it to a point in the process where I sense there is light. A couple of months ago I wanted to pack it all in. It had been taking so much longer than I thought it would. The timeline of any of our lives is never linear and definitely not straightforward and I was still trying to find the core themes from which I could weave a stronger story. I had hit a part of the process where it all felt chaotic, unruly, even impenetrable. Here was a warren of stories which were not falling into a neat narrative arc, a thing I could easily call ‘a book’, and I was beginning to question the whole venture. ‘Who am I to call myself a writer?’, a little voice nagged, and ‘who was I ever to even begin?’
But that day on the island, something clicked. My journey, my immram suddenly came into focus. I was aware, yes, that it was a Tuesday mid-week, but I was also aware of the choices which had led me to this point, sitting on an island, feeling alive, feeling completely at sea. I have been led to voyage in new ways. It has meant listing to a voice which encouraged me to write, despite myself. It meant leaving my home in Dublin and moving to an entire new place. It meant asking questions of myself, my mother and my lineage which I have never dared ask before, and it has taken me into a whole new orbit of friendships and connections, on a Tuesday, on an island, speaking of stories.
So, I think I am beginning to see; our dreams, our Aislings, happen through the Immram, the journey. It’s how creativity works. We meet it halfway, and it takes us along for one hell of a ride. It’s not about waiting for the ‘sky-woman’ to descend and offer the dream, but the dream comes from the whispering of the unknown force. Call it a creative urge, the one deep within, which quietly keeps on tugging and says, ‘look here, this is interesting, follow me’. There is no major fanfare, there is no ecstatic cry, but following the whisperings of our creative urges is like those boats being led to the great beyond through the power of wind and the power of sail. There is a sense of heart opening, an uplift, and a pull to follow the urge out over that thin line of knowing and not knowing.
But here comes the challenge: the whisper- it’s so easy to silence. ‘Oh, that’s just a silly idea’, ‘Oh, that will never work’, ‘Who am I to write, or tell that story, or create that business, or start that thing’. So we sit in the coffeeshop, still waiting for the descent of the Aisling, while looking at others set sail, and we slowly begin to shut down our vital life-force, our creative power, the little voice knocking on the doors of our heart and saying, ‘follow me’. Little do we realise that beside us in the coffeeshop is a Jennifer, a woman who knows that the Aisling is in the immran, and if you tap on her on the shoulder, and ask her to tell you a story about her journey and her questions, soon you’ll find yourself jumping into the sea of yours. Our guides are always closer than we think.
After the island that day, with laughter lines still salty, and my hair knotted with sand, I realised the only way to get through the chaos was to face the chaos. So I got out my yoga mat, I put on some music, I danced until the sand fell out of my hair, and then I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote, until I got to the end of what I needed to get to, enough to know I was on the other side of the horizon. I came up for air, to say that yes, this journey, this life, this immram, the feeling, this is the dream that has been seeking me. Yes, it’s always closer than we think.
So I want to tell you, reader, that urge inside, that voice which says, ‘follow me’, no matter how quiet, no matter how silly, this is our gold. Our creativity has a gift of aliveness, a gift of both the immram and the Aisling. We can not return, but changed. So, yes, as those ancient voyagers knew, it’s not about the mecca, but it is about the pilgrimage —the ultimate journey home. No matter who you are, your creativity is ready to take you on the ride of your life. The way is in the whisper. Listen, then listen deeper, then tap the shoulder of the woman next to you, and start the conversation. That may be just enough to begin.
For those who have been following along this year, you may remember we started the year with an invitation to set our intentions for the months ahead. Then, over the course of the year, I have been sharing rituals, inspired by the celtic calendar, to help us tune into the gifts of the season and stay close to our intentions.
Tonight is Lughnasa in the Celtic Calendar- a time that signals the beginning of the harvest. And so, an offering and a gift from me to you- a short ritual for reflection on your own gifts, that you may honour them, embrace them and have the confidence to offer them outwards and onwards.
You can access your seasonal ritual via my mailing list by signing up here. You’ll be sent a download link directly.
Below, the introduction to the guide, happy reading, and savouring, and harvesting of your wonderful and important gifts.
From the Lughnasa Ritual
‘The ripening is upon us. Along the roads the blackberries are changing their form, from tight knots to full of summer swell, their juicy bulbous domes are rising for the picking. The thought of blackberries also brings thoughts of poetry, their sight is so coupled with Seamus Heaney’s remembrances that his are also my own. Moving into the memories of when ‘briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots’, ‘Blackberry Picking’, the poem, is now synonymous with blackberry picking, the act.
All year I’ve been collecting jars. What once was filled with pickle is soon to be filled with jam. I’m awaiting the days when the berries are at their best, perhaps a few weeks from now, when a day will be given over to the picking and jam-making. I’m thinking already of who I’d like to invite along and what pot I’ll use. I’m thinking of being able to give the jam-filled jars away, as gifts, and I’m thinking of the winter ahead, when a dollop of sweet jam will be added to warm porridge, to ride the winter tide with sweetness and let the gift of the harvest extend it’s time. For what is a harvest but a gathering of the gifts, in extension.
As the blackberries turn, so to does the season. We have reached another turning point on the celtic calendar,moving into Lughnasa (pronounced Lu-na-sa), a time that signals the beginning of the annual harvest. Lughnasa, a cross-quarter celebration in the celtic wheel, rests mid-way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox and is named after the sun God Lugh, of the Tuatha De Dannan. Lugh was said to be a God of many gifts and talents, a Master of the Arts and Culture, who yielded a cunning sword and a swopping presence which harnessed the light energy of the sun.
The festival of Lughnasa (July 31- August 1) is a time to celebrate and give thanks and praise for the coming harvest, that which has been ripened by the sun, as if the dance and the joy will aid the final stages of growth and quicken the ripening. After months of tending barren soil, then tending seeds, the land now offers it’s fruits. In the offering is also the gift, and with any gift comes the invitation to rejoice. Yet how often do we see our gifts as offerings, as things to rejoice? How often do we really honour our own gifts so that they may be quickened?
Thinking of Lugh today, we might say that he was ‘gifted’. However if Lugh claimed it for himself, if he declared his own giftedness, we’d perhaps call him egotistic, or obnoxious, or a little bit full of himself! In contemporary society to honour our own gift, to really own it and to declare it, requires a confidence and a defiance. So often we dismiss the gifts we have been given, for fear of being labelled too full of ourselves, or sure of ourselves. Instead, inside we hide, keeping our gifts close, and in keeping them close we don’t reap the opportunity to share them with others.
So perhaps there are deeper lessons from the blackberries too: if they are not picked, shared and savoured- either by humans or animals, their fruit will go to rot, not serving their full potential. Similarly if we do not learn to harvest and share our own gifts, they too go underground, even to rot. And so in reclaiming the festival of Lughnasa we are also given this opportunity to reclaim and to declare our own gifts. It does not need to be a loud declaration, or even a public one, but an inward appreciation of the gifts given, from which we can share and serve, and seed the future we long to create.
So this Lughnasa, let’s take some pause to harvest and to celebrate. Let’s take time to name our gifts, claim them, declare them, so we may move outwards again, with a knowing that our gifts are also our generosity; that our gifts are our offerings, in extension’.
Sending love, onwards and outwards from my heart to yours,
Something a little different today. I decided to do a video update to shake things up a bit, and to share some happenings, ideas and invitations with you.
So grab yourself a cuppa and imagine we are sitting across the way from each other in our favourite coffee shop, sharing the stories of our lives. It’s not polished, it’s not perfect, but it is me, speaking from my heart to yours.
I’m going to share two recent dreams I’ve had and how they are shaping the emerging future for me. Plus I talk a little more about the retreats and workshops I have coming up.
Click here or on image below to bring you to the video…
Enjoy your cuppa! And hope you are having a lovely July so far.
If you have any questions about the retreats or workshops after watching this, or other enquiries, do drop me a line.
I’ve heard several people say that they have ‘melty brain’ syndrome at the moment, finding it hard to focus and ‘push on’. It is high summer. The air is warm and the invitation is to move our bodies and being in rhythm with the summer flow- time to be embodied, present to the delights and offerings of the season. My ‘work’ has also shifted gear with much walking, sitting, swimming, spontaneity, moving inwards to move outwards again. The ‘push on’ mode just isn’t working anymore. The ‘push on’ comes from a linear, patriarchal system of production and functioning, scaling economics and industrial model of efficiency. We are not machines, and linear time models are not functioning any more either. So we need ways to honour the intrinsic cyclical flow of time; the exchange between contemplation and output; pause and response.
This symbiosis or reciprocity is embedded into our ancient time systems, like the celtic and lunar calendars, but also into the creative process. Creativity arises in the gaps- the magic of the space between. It’s when you are out on a walk and an idea pops, or while fully engaged in another activity, a whole inner paradigm shifts. I’ve heard the production driven system of work being described as one of the greatest violences mankind has inflicted upon itself. With little room for pause, how can we expect the creative solutions and responses our world so desperately needs right now?
So what does a non-violent approach to time look like instead? Maybe it starts with giving ourselves some pause, not checking our phones so much. Maybe it starts with paying attention to how we are using our precious attention. If you are having ‘melty brain’, what part of yourself is not being honoured? What part of your being is craving attention? The opposite of ‘push on’ is not necessarily ‘slow down’ but ‘tune in’.
Melty brain? Maybe it is the best invitation we’ve ever received.
Summer is hitting West Cork in full glory. Across the skyline a heat haze hovers. It has the look of a mirage as the sea lights up in sparkle and dance. None of us can quite believe it. This is the weather of ice-creams and ice cubes, of deep orange sunsets, of spontaneity and buzz. I see people of all ages diving in to the sea, letting their bodies go under and emerge with an exhale of release.
Yet, I’ve been finding it hard to locate my words over the last few days. It is as if they have melted in the sun, moulded to the rock, or are evaporating in the mid-day heat. I know the words are there, for I can sense them, so many of them, circling and circling, in an ever widening sphere, spinning a vortex or a cocoon perhaps, into which I can climb and be transformed.
But the poets find a way even when we don’t quite have the words, and so instead I have been turning to poetry, to the curve and the swell of it, to its softness too. Reading aloud, and reading at night, under the cover of stars. Among them, these words from William Stafford glimmered and shone,
‘There is a thread you follow, it goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain the thread.’
And so I have been circling, locating the thread, pulling it, wondering where it will lead. I’ve been tracing it back through my work and words, seeing if it will reach a coherence, a theme, or even a guiding word which is the ark of all the other words, under which so much of my work has been unfolding. It’s like I need one word to coax the rest into being. So I go back still, tugging and unravelling, spinning and spiralling, into journals and archives, into memory, and then, just when I think I myself am unravelling, there it is, the one gleaming word shimmering amongst the thousands of words:
‘What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture, we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice’, writes Rebecca Solnit in the opening lines of her book, The Faraway Nearby.
‘Without a story, we are lost’. And so then to be with a story is to have a map; a way of locating ourselves in time and place. With a map we can orient ourselves through the terrain of our inner landscape- the rivers of our emotions, the fields of our relationships. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes of this also, ‘Get in the habit of welcoming your own words, you are making a map to the days of your life’.
Our words give us access to the power of narrating our own stories. They help us to listen in, dig deeper, find the thread and pull it closer. In that sense, when we listen to the stories we have been telling of our lives, we also have the choice to re-tell those stories. We get to narrate our own life rather than be passive about it.
Our personal stories may have taken us through loss, or heartbreak, or even trauma, but when we can find the fragments of ourselves in our words, and weave with them into a map of the terrain we have travelled, we get a fuller, and deeper, map of our lives. ‘We make our lives bigger or smaller, more expansive or more limited, according to the interpretation of our life that is our story’, writes Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher. This art of narrative re-telling is also the art of expansion; giving us a broader view, allowing us to survey where we have traveled with the tools of perspective and the tools of writing craft. It seems that our stories hold the key to our growth too.
Storytelling is also an art of combining things that otherwise would remain dispersed; we get to cohesion by illuminating the fragments. Take a mosaic- it’s the fragments which get re-worked into a new object, transformed into art by virtue of their brokenness. When we each tell our stories, we get to craft another object of beauty; the mosaic of our lives and place it central, like a cathedral window looking out into our days. It is a way we can heal the past, but perhaps too it is a way we can heal the future. A life, well lived, is the storyteller’s art.
So, yes, your story has power in it. Perhaps more than you think. For there are the stories at the individual level and then their are those of the collective. These are the stories we use to tell of the culture we create, and are also the stories of the rules and laws we use to protect and maintain that culture. It is why our stories are our survival, but perhaps our downfall too. It depends on how we choose to tell them, and what we choose to listen too as well. ‘Stories contain the hidden secrets of transformation, the alchemist’s formulas for turning lead into gold. If we hear enough stories about profound transformation, we find ourselves transforming, even in spite of ourselves’, writes Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona in Coyote Wisdom, adding, ‘while we can’t command transformation, we can create an enriched environment that makes it more possible’. Which basically implies that if we want to transform the culture we live in, we must learn to transform the stories we tell of that culture too. Storytelling is a collective act as much as a collective art.
The summer swell is here. The days have reached out at either end, with open arms, to embrace the light. By morning, the dawn chorus rises from the land, like bubbling cheer; pops of music to open the day. To close it, the late twilight stirs with the warbling of enlivened bird chatter, marking a full circle of a full day.
This year, along the West Cork hedgerows, blossom bursts from even the tightest of places.The purple foxgloves are ascending to the open skies as applause does, in rapture and in thanks. Their rising salutations, these bright flashes of bloom, are visitors to what only a few months ago was blanketed in heavy, uncharacteristic snow. Now instead the sweet scent of honeysuckle join the parade and the wispy white bog cotton raises it’s flag in surrender to the summer light. Everywhere the land is encoded with elixirs. This is life seeking life. Under every stone, a tussle of insects busy. In the bushes, the hum of the bumble bee, carrying the golden pollen; magic dust to carry on the life. The swallows have returned too, their black tips and white bellies tumbling through the fields in great bursts of speed and jubilant flight. Wrapped around every tree, every blade of growing grass, every blooming branch, every song that is carried in the air, there is a single word: fullness.
We have reached another tuning of the celtic year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the summer solstice is upon us; the mid-summer marker in the great turning of the earth into this fullness. The summer solstice is one of the eight points in this great cycle of time and earth spin when we are reminded that we too are encoded into a greater span of time, and a deeper web of life seeking life. The solstice offers a reminder to us to look around, celebrate where we have come from, and prepare for where we are heading. In that sense it is both a summit and a return. Having reached peak light, we will begin the slow return to the dark, the flip-side of fecundity, the yin to meet the yang. In the summer solstice, the winter solstice is born, and here, our light and our shadow are reunited in this mid-summer yielding to the earth’s natural spin. We inhale to exhale. We rise to fullness, to return to emptiness, in order to rise again. To honour the ancient rhythms, is to acknowledge our own connection to the flow of life and creation into which we offer our gifts.
In the celtic calendar, the solstice was not marked with a particular kind of ritual, but it is marked in stone. Summer solstice alignments can be seen in Bonane, in Co. Kerry, and in Co. Louth among the Knowth range of standing stones and sites. However, on St. John’s Eve, June 23rd into 24th, across the West Coast of Ireland, and in particular in Connemara, there is the tradition of the lighting of bonfires to commemorate St John the Baptist. This could be seen as an extension of the Bealtaine fires tradition, or the incorporation of a more ancient mid-summer fire lighting tradition; to gather and commune with the light.
To commune with our light. To gather around it. To celebrate fullness. These are the threads of ritual which the summer solstice now offers to us to weave into our own ways. We can take it as an invitation to pause in the fullness of the summer days, rest in the knowing that the bees and the plants, the trees and the wildness are preparing the way for harvest. We are invited also to use the solstice as a gesture to honour the way we have travelled across the span of the year, a moment to take stock, and a pause from which to align to our own intentions for our own becoming.
This is the power of ritual: the pause, the marking of distinct movements of time, so that we too can feel encoded into the very life that surrounds us; our gifts an intricate element of this fabric of time, our offerings- whether through our work, our families or our wider communities, a chance to contribute to the continuation of the life which supports us all. This is our call to protect those bees and those birds, those foxgloves and that bog cotton, so generations down the line they will still be giving thanks to this great summer flourishing, and this great span of unfolding fullness.
Our lives, all our lives, are woven. Our rituals help to keep them so.
Tonight, after I teach a yoga class (with lots of sun salutations!), I’ll head down to the beach, with some friends, some poems and my journal to take stock, to pause, to honour the gifts of life which have arrived this year and commune with the light.
I’ve created this short ritual for you too: a series of three reflective practices for you this solstice.
‘Taking Stock’, ‘Honouring the Fullness’, and ‘Cultivating Joy’