All posts by amclaughlin2014

Member of Community of Grey Sisters of Pembroke; Masters Degree in Religious Communication, Loyola University, Chicago; Author: Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind (2013) Planted in the Sky (2006) both published by Borealis Press, Ottawa Canada www.borealipress.com Retreat facilitator: The Wooing of the Soul (2013) The Sophia Salons, beginning in February 2016, offer journeys to one's own inner wisdom for small groups of women. For information: amclaughlin@sympatico.ca

Women’s Christmas

home another wayIn her Retreat for Women’s Chrismas 2019, Jan Richarsdon writes:

There is a custom, rooted in Ireland, of celebrating Epiphany (January 6, which brings the Christmas season to a close) as Women’s Christmas. Called Nollaig na mBan in Irish, Women’s Christmas originated as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to celebrate together at the end of the holidays, leaving hearth and home to the men for a few hours. Celebrated particularly in County Cork and County Kerry, the tradition is enjoying a revival… As the Christmas season ends, this is an occasion both to celebrate with friends and also to spend time in reflection before diving into the responsibilities of this new year.

 

Constellation by Jan Richardson

A Blessing for Women’s Christmas

Consider that the heart

holds its own constellation.

Consider that it has

a secret chamber

radiant with unspent light.

Consider this when you cannot find

that one star, that dream

that compels you to the road.

When every last thing seems

to have disappeared into dark,

consider that you cannot always know

how you bear this brightness

but that it holds you

and is not wasted

or lost.

See how we share this sky,

how it stretches above us

beyond every border,

how every day

turns each of us

in steady revolution

through morning, night,

morning again.

 

Or think of it like this:

that every heart is its own voyage,

sending its vessels out,

drawing them back again,

never by the same way they went

but still somehow making for

home, that place

that shimmers now in welcome

with all the gathered light

you had thought

you could not see.

Consider what helps you put the pieces of your life together: the experiences you carry, the scraps of your story, the fragments that seem jagged and painful as well as those that you think of as beautiful. What response—in words, in images, in prayer, in movement, in stillness, in conversation, in solitude—helps you recognize and honor the pieces and put them together in a new way, making your path as you go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany of Sophia

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

(T.S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi”)

The Christmas Story holds an allurement for the human heart that never seems to fade. It is deceptively simple in its plot and characters: a young couple, exhausted, make a long journey by decree of a far-off Emperor. Unable to find lodgings in an inn, they take shelter in a stable, warmed by the breath of animals. And there the young woman gives birth to a son. They are visited by shepherds who have been minding their flocks in the fields nearby. Suddenly the story takes on mystery: these shepherds tell a tale of wonder: angels have appeared in the fields singing to them of the child’s birth, urging them to go to find him….

And then, sometime afterwards, a trio of guests arrives. These are men of royal bearing from the Far East, and they tell a stranger tale: “We have seen his star in the East and have come to pay him homage.” Opening their bundles, they lay gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Child. The story adds this line: “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

 

images

As with so many ancient powerful tales, the truth of this story is within, and our hearts recognize its truth without having to seek proof of external elements. Great myths, like the dreams that sometimes appear in our sleep, carry treasures that we can unpack for ourselves, as we ponder them in our hearts. To do this, we must enter into the tale, find ourselves within the story, experience it as though it were happening now with us part of the tale.

In “The Journey of the Magi”, the poet T.S. Eliot offers us an intimate look within the hearts of these three mythical Eastern Kings, describing their journey in the “very dead of winter.”

Where might we find ourselves today within their part of the Christmas Story? For those of us now in the icy grip of a North American winter, the weather is familiar, as are the hazards of travel at “the worst time of the year.” If our December journeys were made to celebrate the Feast of Christmas with family and friends, we might say even our purpose is aligned with theirs…. But let’s go deeper.

Before the Feast of Epiphany, I happened to wake in the deep heart of the night. Some sound drew me to my window. Looking out, I saw a starlit sky shimmering with such brilliance in the absence of moonlight or city glare that my breath stopped in pure wonder. Though I could recognize Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper, the uncountable number of bright stars made me ask HOW those ancient travellers identified the one they were meant to follow….

And that question has become my own question: the one so many of us are asking at this crucial time in our planet’s history when there are so many paths opening, so many possible routes…

Somewhere in the Universe my question was heard. Since then, stars have been separating out from the overall pattern, placing themselves in my path. I spent much of January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, recording these gifts of light:

By chance, on Friday, I had come across these words of Joseph Campbell:

If you are going to act on the basis of what you know, you cannot just hold onto your knowledge. You have to translate it into a movement.

That same evening, on CBC radio, I heard an interview with a researcher and teacher of English Literature at an Independent University in Barcelona. She has just received a two million euro grant to study forgotten writings of women from past centuries. Asked about emerging themes, she said the writings “demonstrate a very keen understanding and search for spiritual meaning in life”: Why are we here? What is our relationship to divinity? The women writers were convinced of the connection between their life and spirituality. “They have an understanding of spirituality which is very intimate.”

Joseph Campbell’s words stayed with me sparking ideas, raising questions:

“What is the knowing I act on?” The answer came that we each carry within us a guiding star, as does all that exists in the universe (guided as Dante says by the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars). Our task is to learn to recognize and follow this inner star. This requires time, intention, deep listening and grace.

I knew with greater clarity that this is the purpose of my work: assisting people to find and follow that inner star within them. For my own journey, guidance has come through a deepened relationship with a Sacred Presence, a true co-creative partner in all that I do. This mysterious Friend is an aspect of the Sacred Feminine, the Sophia Presence of the Hebrew Scriptures. In dialogue with her, I have been shown the pathways to choose. This story is still unfolding for me, and it is my deep desire to invite others to find their own Star within and to follow it into joy and wisdom.

We must follow it with courage as well for Eliot’s poem has a less-often quoted ending:

But set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and

death,

But had thought they were different: this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Yes, we must be prepared for radical change on our journey, for loss of comfort

“in the old dispensation”.

From the glimpse I have had so far of the journey to new life, I promise you it is worth the cost.

 

 

What is our role in the Christmas Story?

As children we may have taken part in the “Nativity Play”. Festooned with cardboard wings and glitter, we may have played the angels, or in our father’s old bathrobe, hitched up with a rope belt, taken our part as shepherds. If we were judged to be wholly lacking in dramatic gifts, we may have been cast as a palm tree. Secretly most little girls longed to play Mary, though the part usually required both an angelic expression and a cascade of golden ringlets thus disqualifying a child with red braids, freckles and a taste for mischief…

Our child’s heart quickly learned not to aspire to dreams beyond our reach.

And yet the Christmas Story continues to carry its own enchantment. Year after year we enter it, welcoming its familiar storylines, greeting its supportive cast of shining angels, stumbling shepherds, overburdened innkeepers, royal camel-driving Wise Ones, with affection.

Each year we experience something more. As with all great archetypal tales, what we bring to the listening becomes part of the story. No other story holds this power of transmutation, this gift of shape-shifting into what each of us most needs to hear… this capacity to take us beyond ordinary time into mythic time where we ourselves become part of a greater story.

As Jean Houston describes it in her book Godseed:

In the telling and the taking of the myth, you leave behind your usual time and are symbolically and psychologically projected into Great Time, into a paradoxical moment that cannot be measured because it has no duration. There is a breach in time and in the surrounding world. The inner psyche opens and a passage to the possible human is revealed. (p.33)

In this sacred experience of Great Time, we recognize that we are living the Christmas Story in our own time on this planet. We do not have to imagine the displacement, the discomfort, the life-endangering journeys resulting from the call of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world be taken and people must travel to their own towns to be counted… Today’s emperors initiate through their inhumane policies a huge migration of people away from their home towns and countries with appalling results in human suffering.

We live in a time of immense longing for a more humane and life-enhancing world… as a young songwriter reflected: giving a Christmas meal to the hungry is a lovely gesture, but in a better world, the hungry would be fed every day….

Christmas is about yearning for something to come into the world,” Jean Houston believes. “It’s the story of the birth of love, of hope, of a Holy Child in huge danger of being destroyed, bringing a new order of possibility into the world, needing to be protected and nurtured so it may grow into a free and luminous, numinous being.”   

In the midst of the suffering across the planet that is reported to us hourly in words and pictures, the Universe invites us to play the role to which we may once have aspired: to be a bearer of new life for a world that hungers for so much.

The Universe invites each of us to play the role of Mary (golden curls not required).

Here is how John O’Donohue imagines that invitation:

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

 The day’s last light frames her by the window,

A young woman with distance in her gaze,

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now.

The sentence awakens like a raven,

Fluttering and dark, opening her heart

To nest the voice that first whispered the earth

From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean.

She offers to mother the shadow’s child;

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

Jean Houston encourages us to take this invitation to heart:

Just think of the promise, the potential, the divinity in you,

which you have probably disowned over and over again

because it wasn’t logical, because it didn’t jibe,

because it was terribly inconvenient (it always is),

because it didn’t fit conventional reality,

because… because… because….

What could be more embarrassing than finding yourself pregnant with the Holy Spirit?

It’s a very eccentric, inconvenient thing to have happen.

What are your “becauses”?,

the reasons that you disowned your divine potential,

your divine conceptions.

(“because I felt unworthy…” “because of what people would say…” ) Godseed p. 38

This Christmas, as we listen once again to the story’s unfolding, let us see ourselves as Mary, guided by John O’Donohue’s Visualization:

The Nativity

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman.

Even the moon leaves her when she opens

Deeper into the ripple in her womb

That encircles dark to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her.

A face deciphers itself from water

And she curves around the gathering wave,

Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers,

She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears.

A red wire of pain feeds through every vein

Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn.

Outside each other now, she sees him first.

Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

John O’Donohue (Connemara Blues

Doubleday, Great Britain, 2000; Bantam Books, 2001)

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Engaging with the Dark Mother

Each of us began our life on this planet in darkness, within our mother’s womb. The planet herself, our Earth, emerged out of an almost fourteen billion year process that began in primordial darkness. When we speak of the Sacred feminine Presence, however we name her, we know intuitively that she is part of the fruitful darkness that is needed for every new birthing.

Black Madonna at Holy Wisdom Monastery (2)

Statue of the Black Madonna: Holy Wisdom Monastery Chapel in Wisconsin

In recent weeks we have been reading and reflecting upon the gift of darkness in our lives, on our call to “do our work” in the birthing of new life, however it must come, in the darkness of our lives, of our time on this planet.

To last week’s urgings from Helen Luke and Sylvia Senensky, we add the call to deep work given to us by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Her name for this Dark Feminine  presence is “Wild Woman”:

“The wild force of our soul-psyches is shadowing us for a reason. There is a saying from medieval times that if you are in a descent and pursued by a great power — and if this great power is able to snag your shadow, then you too shall become a power in your own right.

“The great wild force of our own psyches means to place its paw on our shadows, and in that manner she claims us as her own.  Once the Wild Woman snags our shadows, we belong to ourselves again, we are in our own right environ and our rightful home.

“Most women are not afraid of this, in fact, they crave the reunion.  If they could this very moment find the lair of the Wild Woman, they would dive right in and jump happily into her lap. They only need to be set in the right direction, which is always down down into one’s own work, down into one’s own inner life, down through the tunnel to the lair.

“We began our search for the wild, whether as girl-children or as adult women, because in the midst of some wildish endeavour we felt that a wild and supportive presence was near. Perhaps we found her tracks across fresh snow in a dream. Or psychically, we noticed a bent twig here and there, pebbles overturned so that their wet sides faced upwards….and we knew that something blessed had passed our way.  We sensed within our psyches the sound of a familiar breath from afar, we felt tremors in the ground, and we innately knew that something powerful, someone important, some wild freedom within us was on the move.

“We could not turn from it, but rather followed, learning more and more how to leap, how to run, how to shadow all things that came across our psychic ground. We began to shadow the Wild Woman and she lovingly shadowed us in return.  She howled and we tried to answer her, even before we remembered how to speak her language, and even before we exactly knew to whom we were speaking.  And she waited for us, and encouraged us.  This is the miracle of the wild and instinctual nature within.  Without full knowing, we knew. Without full sight, we understood that a miraculous and loving force existed beyond the boundaries of ego alone.”

“The things that have been lost to women for centuries can be found again by following the shadows they cast….We women are building a motherland; each with her own plot of soil eked from a night of dreams, and a day of work.  We are spreading this soil in larger and larger circles, slowly, slowly.  One day it will be a continuous land, a resurrected land, come back from the dead. Munda de la Madre, psychic motherworld, coexisting and coequal with all other worlds. This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.  It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity.“ (Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves  pp 457-9)

May each of us, graced to live in this time of fecund darkness, know its profound value and work to build a “world worth living in” a motherland woven “from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

 

“To do this work”: over and over I have read these words, heard them spoken by other carriers of Women’s Wisdom for our time: Jean Houston, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sylvia Senensky to name just a few.

What is our work?   How do we make our way back and down to wisdom? And who is there to guide us on the way?

Sylvia Senensky writes that we are companioned by the Dark Feminine, an archetype in many cultures, known by many names:  

We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent.  We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine

“We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her…our Mother Earth.  She is calling upon us, each in in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.  This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember.  We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports.  We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being….As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others.  Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves.”

(Sylvia Shaindel Senensky in Healing and Empowering the Feminine)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Heart of Darkness

The external darkness of December is mirrored by internal darkness this year. The fragility of our planet, the depletion of uncounted life-forms, the pollution of lakes, rivers, oceans, soil, even the air we breathe can no longer be ignored. The warnings of scientists about a coming time of disaster have shifted to confirmation that the dark future is already here. We see the effects of the destruction of our home planet with our own eyes and hearts.

In a time of great darkness, we may look for light: seeking it in denial of the reality, in distractions, in whatever comfort we may find to help us “make it through the night”…

Yet there is another way: the way of the Cailleach, the way of Wisdom: we may choose to enter the darkness, to explore it for its hidden gifts, for what it has to teach us. We may learn to know the darkness.

Jan Richardson offers a Blessing for this:

Bless those

Who know the darkness

and do not fear it,

Who carry the light

And are not consumed,

Who prepare the way

 and will not abandon it,

Who bless with grace

That does not leave us.

 

Ancient people came to “know the darkness” with such accuracy that they could predict the time of the longer nights, the earlier dawns of winter solstice when the return of light became visible. We, in our time, have come to understand the darkness has come from an excessive love of light, from a worship of bright intellect over the nurturing of nature, the extremes of using the planet’s resources without the needed balance of wisdom….

The 20th century Jungian writer Helen Luke explains it clearly in her book The Way of Woman:

“…the instinct of the feminine is precisely to use nothing, but simply to give and to receive. This is the nature of the earth – to receive the seed and to nourish the roots– to foster growth in the dark so that it may reach up to the light.

“How are women to recover their reverence for and their joy in this great archetype of which the symbols have always been the earth, the moon, the dark, and the ocean, mother of us all? For thousands of years the necessity of freeing consciousness from the grip of the destructive inertia and from the devouring quality, which are the negative side of the life-giving mother, rightly gave to the emerging spirit of activity and exploration an enormous predominance; but the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun have produced in our time an estrangement even in women themselves from the patient nurturing and enduring qualities of the earth, from the reflected beauty of the silver light of the moon in the darkness, from the unknown in the deep sea of the unconscious and from the springs of the water of life. The way back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree is likewise the way on and up to the spirit of air and fire in the vaults of heaven.” (pp. 15-16)

It is time for humanity to shift from “the extremes of this worship of the bright light of the sun”. Women and men who are not afraid to explore their own feminine side, are called now urgently to do this work, essential for our time, to befriend once more the qualities of earth, moon, sea and springs, to make our way “back and down to those springs and to the roots of the tree.”

winter

“To do this work”: over and over I have read these words, heard them spoken by other carriers of Women’s Wisdom for our time: Jean Houston, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sylvia Senensky to name just a few.

What is our work?   How do we make our way back and down to wisdom? And who is there to guide us on the way?

Sylvia Senensky writes that we are companioned by the Dark Feminine, an archetype in many cultures, known by many names:  

We have come to a time when we can no longer remain silent.  We are being called upon by the sorrowing and powerful Dark Feminine to know our own darkness and the profound richness of all dark places, even when they are laden with pain.  Through her we know the mystery of existence and the sacredness of the cycles of life.  We learn how important the destruction of the old ways is to the rebirth of the new.  When she steps into our lives and awakens us, we can be shattered to our core, and we know, as we see the tears streaming down her face, that she too is holding us in her compassionate and loving embrace.

“We need to know her as the source of life in the material realm, and to know her sorrow at how we have so unconsciously set out to destroy her…our Mother Earth.  She is calling upon us, each in in our way to do our inner work, to become her allies, to become the best human beings we know how to be; to allow our creativity, our compassion and our love to flow to ourselves and to all life forms on this planet.  This is the lesson of the Feminine we all need to remember.  We need to honour our earth and all creatures, human and other, that she supports.  We need to nourish ourselves, each other, all children, and the unbelievable creative potential within each human being….As we come to a place of love and compassion for ourselves, our struggles, and our own vulnerable humanity, we will at the same time begin to kindle a similar compassion for others.  Love attracts love.  If we flood our planet with loving and transformative energy, our actions will begin to mirror our feelings.  We will come home to ourselves.”

(Sylvia Shaindel Senensky in Healing and Empowering the Feminine)

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting in Advent Darkness

Advent: Enchantment, Disenchantment, Re-enchantment       November 27, 2018

Advent was once my favourite Liturgical season. The weaving of a wreath that smelled of fir trees in winter forests. The candles whose shared light grew steadily with each week. The mysterious darkness of earth and heart, as both awaited the radiance, the wonder of Christmas. Enchantment.

P1010426

full moon of Novmber caught in a tree

There came a dark November day when I knew I would not gather the evergreen boughs that fell to the earth from generous trees near my home. I would not purchase four candles (three purple and one rose-coloured). I would not spend four weeks awaiting Christmas.

These symbols no longer held meaning: the four weeks of Advent were meant to represent the four thousand years that humans awaited the birth of Christ. It was the Irish priest-writer Diarmuid O’Murchu who pointed out that paleontologists estimate human life on this planet was conscious at least six million years ago, and that timeline keeps getting pushed back…. Cosmologists, most notably the luminous Teilhard de Chardin, acknowledge that there is a form of spirit/light/consciousness in all that exists on the planet, including rocks. That takes us back to the beginnings of our universe, more than thirteen billion years…

Further, as O’Murchu suggests, the earliest conscious humans expressed in their artwork and ritual an awarenss of a power in the universe that held them in love and light in all earth’s ages before the coming of Christ…

So what place can the four weeks of Advent have in this new Universe Story?  The allurement of the Universe as the expression, the visible Presence of Love in our lives, was/is so powerful that I gladly relinquished the lure of those dark weeks of Advent. Disenchantment.

And then I began to fall in love with the Winter Solstice. I discovered that this amazing yearly time (which for our ancestors only became evident in earlier dawns and later sunsets after a few days) was the reason why the early Christians chose December 25th to celebrate the Birth of Christ. Celtic scholar Dara Molloy, author of The Globalization of God, told me when I visited him in Ireland that it was the Celtic Christians who also suggested June 24th, a few days after the Summer Solstice, the time of the waning of the light, for the Feast of John the Baptist. Hadn’t John said of the Christ, “He must increase and I must decrease”?

Slowly, over recent years, the beauty, passion and power of the Christ-story are being rewoven on the loom of our new knowledge of the Universe.

Bruce Sanguin who has done this with clarity and poetic elegance in his article on “Evolutionary Cosmology”:

The season of Advent is an affirmation of the dark mysteries of life. In these four weeks, we enter into a deepening darkness, a fecund womb where new life stirs. Before the great Flaring Forth 13.8 billion years ago, there was only the empty dark womb of the Holy One.

We have a bias against darkness privileging the light in our tradition. But most of the universe is comprised of what scientists call dark matter….for the universe to exist in its present form, and not fly off in all directions, the gravitational pull of the dark matter is necessary. Creation needs the dark in order to gestate. Advent is a season of contemplation and meditation in which the soul, if allowed, falls willingly back into that primordial darkness out of which new worlds are birthed.

When Mary uttered those five words, “Let it be to me”, she was assenting to the descent into the sacred mystery that angels announce in the seasons of Advent and Christmas. We are called to trust this descent into darkness, making ourselves available as the ones through whom a holy birth can happen.

To go deep into the Season of Advent is to trust that there are galaxies of love stirring within the womb of your being, supernovas of compassion ready to explode and seed this wondrous world with Christ-shaped possibilities

Are we willing with Mary to consent to the birth of the divine coming through us? Are we willing to actually be a reconfigured presence of the originating Fireball, prepared to be centre of creative emergence – to give birth to the sacred future that is the dream of God? Are we willing both personally and in the context of our faith communities to birth the Christ?

So bring on the Christmas pageants….and when that cardboard star-on- a- stick glitters above the baby Jesus, think of it as your cosmological kin winking at you and settling over you as well, lighting you up as a sacred centre through whom the Christ waits to be born.   

Re-enchantment.

We wait in darkness, and we do not wait alone, as poet Jessica Powers writes:

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary

And on one night when a great star swings free

From its high mooring and walks down the sky

To be the dot above the Christus i,

I shall be born of her by blessed grace.

I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectation of nativity.

I knew for long she carried me and fed me,

Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,

But only now, with inward jubilee,

I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:

Someone is hidden in this dark with me.

 

 

Enchanted by Darkness, Solaced by Snow

Winter has come early, as unwelcome as a dinner guest who arrives before the table is set, when preparations are still underway and the kitchen looks like the scene of an accident. Snow has been falling steadily, softly, resolutely upon the deck and lawn, the rooftops of nearby cottages, on the lakeshore, even on the lake itself where a thin skin of ice can bear its weight. The empty, wide-open arms of deciduous trees welcome it as a returning lover. The tamaracks and pine trees, spruce and cedar, stand proud as women draped in ermine…

Winter Snowfall Bonnechere

The roads and highways leading to and from the lakeside where I live have shapeshifted from alluring pathways leading through autumn’s extravagant colours to treacherous passages, slick with ice, choked with snow.

Inside my new home, with more windows than walls, the early darkness has entered without an invitation, brooding over chairs and bookcases, curling up in corners, an unwanted black cat claiming her space.

I am surprised by my reaction to all this, feeling resentful, defeated, besieged by an invasion of events outside myself that I cannot tame or control. I take refuge in reading, sitting by the dancing, artificial flames of an electric fireplace, ignoring the weather outside.

The book I open is by Sharon Blackie, a woman whom I met in Ireland at the 2018 Brigid Festival. Sharon had spoken of the need for women to be rooted in the earth, to know their relationship with the homeplace where they live… I had written to you of her talk, of her book If Women Rose Rooted. Now, eager to read her more recent book: The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday. (House of Anansi Press, Canada and USA, 2018), I settle in. If there was ever a time when I craved enchantment it was now in this “winter of our discontent”.

But I did not at first find what I was seeking. Instead of the magic of myth and fairy tales, Blackie wrote of the challenges she faced while living in a croft on an island in the Hebrides:

“You couldn’t extricate the land from the weather – it hit me then that I didn’t live in a landscape – I lived in a sort of weatherscape. And I wasn’t walking on the surface of the land, while weather happened above it and apart from it: I lived inside a coalescing world of sea, land and sky, all tangled up together, in which the weather was dynamic, always changing, always engrossed in its own process of becoming. The wind was not happening to me. The wind was in relationship with me. (p. 116)

From that moment, Blackie altered her attitude, began to court the wind, to dance with the currents. “I let it hold me up, facing into a westerly so strong that when I threw my arms out to the side and tilted forward, the immutable force of it prevented me from falling. We became playmates of sorts, the wind and I—and every kind of wind offered a different way to engage with it.” (p. 117)

I read these words and something shifts in me. Here in rural Ontario, the experience of winter is not a reality separate from my life, even less an obstacle to the life I wish to pursue. It is part of my life, and I may learn to live in active relationship with it. I have what I need to do this: warm clothing, snow boots, — even snow-shoes and cross-country skis—enabling me to go outside and engage with what is happening.

I can experience living within the snow, allowing myself to be enchanted by knowing it as Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes it in her telling of the Inuit tale, “Sealskin, Soulskin”  (in Women Who Run with the Wolves): “the white and abundant hair of old Annuluk, the old grandmother, the old sorceress, who is Earth herself.”

Earth herself, an aspect of the Sacred feminine, has something she needs us to learn about embodied life on our planet. Our souls, our psyches, require the grace notes of winter, require the darkness that may allure us into longer times of rest and sleep to balance our more active days in the brightness of sunlit seasons. Our hearts need time to heal from the engagements, the involvements with others that may have inflicted wounds we ignore when we are moving quickly through life.

Our winter dreams allow us time to recall what really matters most to us, to look ahead to the bright days that will blossom in late spring and perhaps change our focus. We may then pursue what we most desire for our lives, in our service to life on our beloved planet. A winter journal will assist us to record our night dreams and our daylight inspirations, to prepare for a new birth in our lives after winter’s incubation.

There are many ways to take winter as a partner in the dance of life.

Listen. The music is already starting…