The wanton spring

Spring is a collage of blossom.  My favourite is the wild cherry: luminous cups languidly dangling from purple stems; tiny anthers dusting the blooms with turmeric sprinkles.  The blossom is beyond white – as though composed not of matter, but purely of light.  There is nothing in nature as joyous as a wild cherry in full blossom.  I haven’t painted since early in the year, but the cherry blossom inspired me to try to capture it, with brushstrokes as nonchalant as the tree itself.  Hawthorn is the traditional Beltane blossom but, though clusters of flower buds are ready to burst, only a smattering of the blooms has appeared in time for May Eve.  If there is one word that can be used to describe Beltane, it is abundance.  It’s a festival of sensuality, when we celebrate all the fruitfulness of the earth.  Spring was sluggish last year, but this spring has been gloriously different.  And the rampant cherry blossom has symbolised the season for me this year.

This has been a season of wanton blooming, a fitting prelude to Beltane.  It caught me by surprise.  One moment I was plodding through the dull winter that was barely a season at all and the next, a profusion of daffodils and blossom confronted me.  I think it may have caught the insects by surprise too, because it was only as the daffodils started to wither that they appeared.  I saw my first bees in early April, my first butterfly just a week ago.  They are still just a few straggling pioneers, still hidden from view.  And though I haven’t yet seen my first spider, they have been quietly busy.  In the dew of early morning, their webs astound me, sparkling on the edge of ponds, strung across budding trees and nestled carefully in the undergrowth.

Everywhere, there is new green – a hundred shades of it.  And everywhere, points or masses of colour, as the flowers bloom.  Marsh marigolds and cowslips offer carpets of yellow.  Dog violets flash purple in the undergrowth.  Butterbur blooms like an alien forest.  I learned recently that catkins, too, are flowers, straggling from trees or like fluff on the edge of branches.  Whorls of budding leaves seem like blossom in themselves.  And as though woken by the blooming of the world around them, the birds and the mammals make themselves known.  Ponds awash with fowl: mallards, tufted duck, moorhens, coots and geese.  A grey heron, dominating the sky like the messenger from the gods he is believed to be.  And a brown hare, watching from the undergrowth around his burrow – you can see him in one of these photos if you look very closely!

The growing time is almost over.  It is time for ideas and projects to bloom.  I’ve been growing stories: six new short stories since the dark of the year and another almost ready to blossom.  And my novel is finally fully grown.  Some of them are already out in the world, awaiting their fate.  But I’ll be using the energy of the coming waxing moon and conjuring a little natural magic to help my novel on its way.  And perhaps, now that the light half of the year is beginning, I’ll feel the urge to fledge the paintings that still nest in my imagination.

As Beltane draws in, we’re doing the last of our spring cleaning, cleansing the house both physically and spiritually to make space for the summer energy to flow in.  There are many goddesses associated with Beltane, but this year, I’ll be seeking the qualities of the goddesses of the forests, the hills and the wild places for the vital, energetic power they bring.  Beltane is for celebrating, so, once the house is cleansed and all the preparations for my work are done, I’ll be pausing to celebrate what I’ve achieved so far this year.  But Beltane is also a time of promises, so before the summer begins in earnest, I’ll make a promise to myself, so that my creative goals are nurtured to their full bloom.

Memories, musing and mischief

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Time is fluid at Halloween.  It is the old Celtic new year, when past, present and future merge.  On this night, all borders dissolve and we can commune with our ancestors or see our future.  Summer has ended and the sun will slumber until spring.  It is the time of Hecate, the crone goddess who both guides us to the land of the dead and is ready to act as midwife to the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice.   This is the gateway between the old and the new year, when the wheel turns and the cycle begins again.

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It is appropriate that the world is unsettled leading up to Halloween.  Rain, gales and thunder have assailed us in the past week.  A storm is making its way across the country and the sky is full of a luminous darkness.  Now and then, I hear the squawks of geese, as they pass over on their migration from the arctic.  The trees have begun to turn: the small sycamores and the horse chestnuts are the first to show their colours and the ground already crackles with leaves.  There is a hint of smoke in the air and the clatter of fireworks leading up to Bonfire Night.  Fittingly, it is the crows that now seem to colonise the green spaces, tricksters and harbingers of death and magic that they are.

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This is a time to celebrate the wisdom of age and experience.  On Halloween night, our ancestors may choose to visit us, so we might set a place at the dinner table for them or leave offerings of food outside or on their graves.  The pumpkin lanterns now traditional at Halloween have evolved from the candles that were left in the window all night to guide the dead home.  It is a tradition at Halloween to create an altar to your ancestors, containing photos and mementoes that honour them and trigger memories.  It is a good time to consider the gifts your ancestors have given you, both genetically and through the lives they lived.  But you might also recognise the strangers that have gone before – the writers and artists that have inspired you and stoked your creativity.

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Halloween signals the death of summer and the old year, for which we mourn, but we also look into the future.  This is the best time of year for divination, when we use the old arts, such as scrying and Tarot, to gain guidance about what is to come.  Winter is the still, dark time of the year, when the earth retreats and we have space to delve into the hidden places within us.  This is where the cycle of our creativity begins.  Time to ponder our dreams and hopes for the year to come.  The hushed repose of winter is when our vision for what this year could be is dreamed into being.  That spark of creativity is always there, though it may not seem so in the dark, cold months, until the winter solstice, when it will be symbolically reborn.

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Halloween is a time of deep thinking and remembrance, but it is, of course, also the season of mischief.  The chaos and unpredictability of winter will last for many months.  For our ancestors, it was a time of great tension as they worried if the harvest would help them survive the winter.  The mischief of Halloween is both a challenge to and a light-hearted acceptance of the uncertainty to come.  The costumes are disguises to protect us against malevolent influences.  The traditions, such as bobbing for apples, an affirmation of life.  Creativity is often kindled out of chaos. So before the introspection of winter, why not indulge in a little mischief and see where it leads you?

Completion

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As we approach the autumn equinox, which is a point of perfect balance within the year, wind and rain have heralded a palpable change in the season.  Though the vegetation is still green and the trees are clinging to their foliage, the first few leaves litter the park.  I notice berries everywhere: fat clusters of rowan, glossy rosehips, fiery sea buckthorn and white snowberries.  Fungi still fruits and disappears overnight.  Seeds latch on to clothing and drift through windows.  The heating is on once more and I often wrap a blanket around me to keep me warm.  The nights have darkened rapidly and it won’t be long before we put the clocks back.

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Night and day are equal on the equinox, as they are in spring, but this time, the hours of darkness will take over, with the nights lengthening until the solstice in December.  This is the time for turning inwards, both physically, when we don’t feel so much like leaving the house, but also mentally.  It’s the season of the mind and of the soul, when we can rest, be still and concentrate on intellectual and spiritual concerns.  If we’re willing to embrace the darkness, this can be a time of deep creativity.

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But before the stillness arrives, the turbulent energies of this transition must come into equilibrium.  It’s a season of storms in the physical world and just as in the spring, it can be a challenging time mentally, as we let go of the light and expansion of summer and accept the coming darkness and repose.  For me, it brings a return to a challenging time of year in my day job after a couple of weeks of holiday, when I once again feel constrained by the routine stresses that suck energy from family life and creativity.  In her excellent post, Unpeeled, Helen White captures many of the things I am feeling at this time of year.

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At Lammas, we celebrated the grain harvest, but at the equinox, we celebrate the completion of the harvest, when the final fruits and vegetables are brought in.  It’s a time of reckoning, when our ancestors would discover whether or not the harvest was enough to see them though the winter.  In the UK, this is a crucial harvest for many farmers, after the wet summer last year and this year’s long winter and slow spring.  If you’re like me, you buy your groceries without giving too much thought to the effort involved in bringing them to harvest – I hardly noticed the bad harvest last year, because I could still buy the fruit and vegetables I wanted.  This year, I’ve been learning more about what it takes to produce the food I eat and it’s given me a great respect for all the attention paid to each crop.

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But this is a time of reckoning for all of us, when we identify and celebrate our more personal achievements.  The goals we set in spring with hopefulness have either come to fruition or not.  This is a good time to gather together symbols of what you have achieved this year – completed work, plaudits, awards, complimentary words, new ideas, new connections – and display them in your own ‘harvest festival’.

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But the cycle always continues, so just as the farmers will be planting new seeds into the stubble of the current harvest, it’s also time to begin thinking of the seeds you will nurture next spring.  Consider what went well this year and what you could do differently to have a more bountiful harvest next year.  And begin to think about the ideas you can contemplate and refine during the long winter slumber, ready to be sown in spring.

If you’re in the southern hemisphere, you will be experiencing the spring equinox, so you may find this post of interest.

The spirit of the corn

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Lammas arrives on 1st August and heralds the slow fading of summer.  This is the beginning of the end for the sun, when the first hints of autumn are in the air.  But on this Lammas Day, you would never imagine that autumn would ever come.  This has been the hottest July for seven years in the UK and, as August arrives, we are still in the sticky centre of a heat wave.  The summer flowers have been vibrant, the air busy with insects and for many, the heat is welcome after the cold, slow spring.  But for a nation that loves to talk about the weather, we’re ill-prepared to deal with its caprices.  The humidity has been relentless, stopping thinking, cultivating ill-temper and indolence.  The shops have run out of fans and huge sums of money are changing hands by those desperate to conquer the heat.  On the evening of Lammas Day, I’m travelling south.  Two hundred miles and still in the north, but when we get out of the car at the services the air is so humid and thick, it’s as though we’ve stepped off a plane into a hot country.

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Lammas is sometimes known as the harvest of the first fruits and is the time when the wheat is harvested.  If it has been a good year, it is a time of abundance, when summer is still in full bloom and the gathering of the first harvest is celebrated.  But it is also a time of sacrifice.  The corn must be cut down to feed us.  The spirit of the corn, which is really the essence of the summer sun, retreats to the last few stalks of corn and is cut down by the crone goddess with her sickle.  Traditionally, the last stalks of corn were woven into a corn dolly, to provide a refuge for the spirit of the corn during the darkness of winter, until it was released once more over the fields at spring time.   The dolly is decorated with red ribbon to represent the sacrificial blood of the corn spirit.  Travelling south on Lammas, I observed the harvest in various stages: the wheat still slightly green further north, combine harvesters in mid-harvest to the south, and cylinders of hay dotting the fields.  The corn dolly I have made is a simple one, representing the power of the sun and the lessons I learned about my creativity at the summer solstice.  It will hang above the hearth – the heart of the home – throughout the winter, as a reminder.

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But the harvest of the wheat brings transformation as well as sacrifice.  It is cut down and ground into flour, to be transformed into bread and other baked goods.  The sacrifice is worth it, for the alchemy it brings.  This is a hopeful time: a premonition of the bounty of the September harvest to come.  It’s a time to be thankful for what we have harvested thus far, to recognise and celebrate the hard work that has led to these first fruits of our labour.  If, like me, you used the time around Imbolc to plan your new creative goals and re-dedicate yourself to your creative path, what first fruits of that creativity have you been able to harvest?  Have you recognised the sacrifices of time and effort you have made to reach this first harvest, or have you not sacrificed enough for it to have borne fruit?  Lammas is another pause in the year when we can consider where we have come from and what we still need to do to achieve our goals.  What do you need to do to ensure your creative harvest for the year is an abundant one?

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My first intimation of autumn comes a week after Lammas.  Taking the dog for his early morning walk, I notice the dew thick on the grass.  From a distance, it looks like frost and I feel the relief of the autumn to come.  The air is becoming cooler and over the next few days, I have to wear an extra layer in the mornings for warmth.  I see the first blackberries and haws in the hedgerows, still small and green but already promising their autumn harvest.  The lavender still buzzes with bees, but the flowers are fading and its summer vibrancy has passed.

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I’m fortunate that I no longer need to rely on the harvest in the way that my ancestors did.  If the harvest fails, I will still have the sustenance I need to live through the winter.  So this is also a time to think of those who don’t have what they need to see them through and to consider what you can do to help.  This may be practical help, such as donating food to those who need it.  But in addition to this, perhaps we can use our creativity to help those who may have enough in the way of food and shelter, but need some kind of mental or spiritual sustenance to make it through the darkest months.

If you live in the Southern hemisphere, you may want to read Quickening, written at Imbolc, which will be more relevant to the energies in your area at this time of year.

The sun stands still

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The meadow is the essence of summer.  Sun-drenched, delicate grasses swaying gently in a light breeze; spindly bobbing buttercups; squat purple clover and pale pink ragged robin with their windmill-shaped petals.  Swallows are lightning acrobats, diving low over the meadow to eat their fill of insects.  Butterflies and bees meander from flower to flower.  A procession of three male pheasants clucks through the grass, their bright plumage just visible among the vegetation.  A brook, glutted after days of rain, gurgles in the background.  The surrounding forest wears its summer plumage with abandon, oak and ash and pine lush with leaf and entwined with the hedonism of rhododendrons in luminous pink flower.

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Solstice is one of my favourite words.  I find the sound of it soothing and mysterious.  It conjures magic and anticipation.  Literally, its meaning is simple: ‘the standing still of the sun’.  And this idea too, I find evocative – a tipping point, when all in the heavens is unmoving, before the next phase in the cycle begins.  Solstice marks both the longest day, at midsummer and the longest night, in the dark of December.  The midsummer solstice signifies both plenty – the longest day when the sun is at the height of its power – but also heralds the lean winter to come.

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If you pay quiet attention, you can already sense the loss in the air.  It isn’t quite tangible, but from this day, the daylight will become shorter as the summer inevitably ends.  And yet this is a paradox, since it is following the solstice that summer for us in the UK really begins.  The hottest months are still to come, the summer holidays, the season of being outdoors.  Summer solstice is a celebration of all those carefree events that happen when there is an abundance of light.  The transition to shortening days is a reminder that everything moves in a cycle, but for now, we should celebrate what we have and enjoy the things that are bearing fruit for us.

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Here, the slow spring has finally blossomed into summer.  The days have been humid, flowers are blooming and you can hear the song of the summer birds.  While I would always choose the delights of autumn and winter over those of summer, my soul responds to the season’s energies almost despite itself.  I feel lighter and more open.  I want to be outside in the long days and evenings.  My body craves the fresh fruits and vegetables of the season.  I like to feel the heat on my skin.  I want to go down to the sea and plunge in to the cool water.  Perhaps the reason summer is my least favourite season is because I’m much more comfortable turning inwards to the succour of darkness and solitude, but we all need a pause from introversion to replenish the lightness of our being.

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Summer solstice is a time for empowerment.  As the crops are ripening in the fields and the fruits on the trees, so the creative projects we germinated and nurtured in spring begin to bloom.  If we chose our projects wisely and invested the time, energy and resources they needed during the growing season, we should now be feeling pleased with what is emerging.  Midsummer is the time for success and material wellbeing and is a good time to put energy into making outward success happen.  But at the personal level, it is about renewing your energy and healing.  The long days and warmth should make us feel more vital.  They should also make us more outward looking.  Creatively, we could use this lighter aspect to be looser, more experimental, liberating ourselves from looking inward in the way we would in the darker seasons.  To be most effective creatively, we need to attend both to our physical health, by taking advantage of fresh produce and opportunities to be active, but also our mental health, by absorbing light, warmth and the rejuvenating effect of green spaces.

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How can you empower yourself around the solstice to renew your creativity?  How can you build up and store the season’s energy to get you through the winter to come?  It’s traditional on the summer solstice to stay awake all night, holding vigil until dawn comes and we can greet the sun, particularly at those ancient sites that are aligned to it at this time of year.  Why not devise a vigil that uses the images and energies of midsummer to help boost your creativity for the remaining year?  You don’t need to hold vigil on the solstice itself for this to have a benefit to you – any time around midsummer will do and it will be more practical to choose a time when you don’t have commitments the next day.

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You could spend the darkest hours of the night meditating on your creative work this past year and which aspects of your creative energies need to be replenished.  Lighting a fire or a candle can remind you that creativity, like the sun, is cyclical and will come and go.  Do you fly through your creative projects when your energy is high without really noticing it and become despondent when it seems to ebb, or do you recognise and accept that you have your own cycles of creative energy?  Greeting the dawn, in whichever way makes sense to you, represents the return of creativity, whenever it comes.  At noon, when the sun is at its strongest, you could consider how best to recognise, use and harvest your creativity when it is at its peak.  Then, at sunset, as the sun wanes, think about how you can accept the ebbs in creative energy and use what you have harvested to get you through the barren periods.

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This solstice, the forest is my creative vigil.  I have come here to replenish my energy, take in the sun through long walks and revel in the flower-studded meadows.  At dawn, I notice the moon still bright through the trees and the cacophony of birdsong in the silence.  Our longer walks take place in the morning, before the sun peaks, so noon is spent bathing in the dappled heat on the tree-shaded deck, losing myself in art magazines and an absorbing book.  Sunset is for bat-hunting, listening to the guttural sound of pipistrelles on the bat detector as they flit through the trees around the cabin.  Just like summer, this is a fleeting point in the year that I can hold onto to get me through the winter.  Knowing that when it’s over, it won’t be too long before I come again, to feel that same sigh of relief as my spirit relaxes.  Already, I want to paint again and invent new stories.

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But there is death too in the forest, reminding us that the sun has reached its zenith and can now only wane until the winter solstice.  A thrush, taking its dying breaths on our veranda, seemingly untouched, but fading each minute, until we lay it to rest with a prayer under a bower of rhododendron, returning it to the forest.  Three tiny moles, only feet apart on the woodland path, their soft pink noses upturned in death.  The bee that strayed too close to the hot tub and ended its life in a bubbling dance of legs and wings.  Death, reminding me that I need to seize the energy the forest has given me.  I must use this energy, not waste it, when I return home, because it, like the season, is all too fleeting.

Bringing in the May

Summer sweeps in accompanied by the night of mischief that is Beltane.  Beltane, or May Eve, is the second hinge of the year (after Halloween), representing an important turning point in the seasons.  Whereas Halloween marks the beginning of winter and the start of a new year, Beltane is the transition from spring to summer.  The veil between worlds is thin on both festivals, but whereas Halloween is a time to remember your ancestors, at Beltane the spirits around us are more mischievous and it was said to be a time when the door to the fairy realm stood open. Traditionally, Beltane is celebrated when the Hawthorn, or May tree, blossoms, but there are no May blossoms making an appearance yet.  Spring has barely sprung so it’s difficult to recognise that summer is about to begin.

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Beltane heralds an abundance of life and fertility.  The sun warms the earth and nature is in full force, flowers are blooming, trees full of blossom, lush greenery abounds.  At this time, we celebrate unfettered vitality, passion and self expression.  Finally, after the dark of winter and the fragile beginnings of spring, we can revel in the joy and power of life and love.  It’s a celebration of union, community and sensuality, but also commitment, as this is a time when handfastings would take place.

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At Beltane, the Goddess transforms from maiden to mother, often symbolised by the crowning of a May Queen.  She is at the beginning of the pregnancy that will result in her giving birth to herself at Yule.  Maypoles were, and in some places still are, used to celebrate the exuberant life and fertility of the season, with the weaving of red and white ribbons by dancers, beneath a sinking crown of flowers.

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Beltane is a fire festival, when beacons would be lit on hill tops to welcome the return of the sun.  People would jump over the fires to attract fertility and other wishes and cattle would be driven through the smoke before being taken to their summer pastures.  Old hearth fires were put out and re-lit from the Bel-fire.  Symbolically, you can absorb the light and life of summer by lighting a candle, just before sunset on May Eve and leaping the flame.

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In earlier times, people would go a-Maying in the woods, spending the night there taking advantage of the freedom and mischief of Beltane.  At dawn, they would bring back greenery they had collected to decorate doors and lintels for protection and good luck.   If you aren’t a witch, this is the only time of year when Hawthorn blossoms can be brought safely across the threshold.  I have already made my trip to the woods and brought back spring treasures to bring blessings to the house for the summer to come.

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Don’t be introspective on this festival – celebrate.  Enjoy the sensual pleasures of creating: get caught up in spreading paint on a canvas, try writing in longhand with an elegant pen and paper, do some sculpting or collage, make something physical with your photographs instead of just uploading them digitally, create a crown of flowers.  Work outdoors if you can, absorbing the energy of the returning sun.  Draw on the power of your own fertility of imagination as a creative spring.

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Or celebrate the abundance of your creativity.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had any objective success, celebrate the fact that you have inspiration, imagination and a creative talent.  If you can, get together with other people and use the dawn of summer to begin a project together, or to simply celebrate the power of collaboration.  Have your celebration outdoors, in a wood, an orchard, or a garden filled with flowers.

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Summer has had a slothful start this year, teasing us with the promise of warmth to come.  Beltane will be accompanied, not by the land in full provocative bloom, but by a more languid waking of the earth.  Still, the suggestion of summer is there in the lengthening days and a lightening of mood.  Our ancestors had faith that summer would return and lit fires on the highest hills to affirm this.  With all our science, we still doubt that the season will be all we want it to be.  But the magic of Beltane is to remind us that, whatever the weather now, summer always begins, life and creativity always persevere.  All that’s needed from us is to believe it.

Hatching

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The weeks around the spring equinox can be unsettled and chaotic, as the energies of nature battle to come into balance.   The signs of spring are obvious now, but the weather is still unpredictable.  Here, there are spring flowers bursting through the soil wherever I look, yet within the space of days the weather brings us snow, sunshine, fog and drizzle.  The wild March winds have made their debut, heralding this season of exuberant energy and movement.  It’s a season of growth, symbolised particularly by the dazzling yellow banks of daffodils known as the harbingers of spring.  Hares, the totem of the Goddess, are also a symbol of this festival, tearing through the fields with their own mad spring energy.  The equinox itself (also known as Ostara or Eostre, after the Germanic Goddess) is a moment of perfect balance, when the hours of daylight and darkness are equal, but following the equinox battle, the sun will have won, and the mornings and evenings will grow lighter as daylight expands.

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I can feel the difference in energy – there’s an optimism and a need to clean out and start anew.  In the weeks leading up to the equinox, I’ve been de-cluttering – putting aside old clothes for charity and taking the junk that’s accumulated over the winter to the dump.  Ostara is an ideal time for spring cleaning, and I find I want to do it at this time of year – to open up the doors and windows and let the spring energy blow in.  The brighter light illuminates the things we haven’t noticed during the winter – both physically and spiritually.  On a mundane level, I’m noticing all the hidden areas that need to be cleaned and considering which bits of home maintenance need to be done this year.  On the equinox itself, I’ll sweep the house with a besom broom – not to get rid of the dust, but to create movement in the energy of the home, to brush out some of winter’s lethargy and make space for the vitality of spring.

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I’ll also be considering how I can spring clean my creative process, to rid myself of bad habits and make way for new practices that will help me to work more effectively.  Because the real purpose of spring cleaning is to create a space where balance can exist.  Creatively, how can you spring clean the way you work so that you have less of what you don’t need and more of what you do, so that you create from a more balanced place?

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It’s not enough to clear out the old, useless habits, without bringing in some helpful new ones.  Ostara is a time of action.  In nature, things are moving.  It’s a season of breaking soil, bursting buds and hatching life – shoots pushing through the ground, trees bursting into first leaf, flowers blooming.  Nature is in full, intense motion.  As in nature, so in your creativity: the ideas that you incubated at Imbolc are now almost at the point of hatching.  Then, they were tiny seeds, waiting in the darkness.  Now, after the long respite of winter, it’s time to begin to act on them and do something concrete to put them in motion.   This year, I’ll be following the ancient tradition of decorating eggs, each one representing a creative project I’m bringing into action.  Eggs represent potential – the potential of renewal and birth, whether of a physical or a creative entity.

So, why not try decorating some eggs yourself, with symbols that represent the projects you want to harvest later in the year.  Magic is about intention and will as well as the craft of the spell or ritual itself, so as you work, focus your intention on how you will bring your projects to fruition.  Then act.

Ages of creativity

I recently celebrated a birthday and it prompted me to consider how creativity changes as we age.  Many witches use the idea of the triple goddess to represent the phases of the moon and the different stages in women’s lives.   The ‘maiden’ aspect is youth, independence, freedom, adventure, wildness and new beginnings.  The ‘crone’ is old age, wisdom, knowledge, experience and compassion.  Currently, I’m in the middle, or ‘mother’ phase of my life.  I’m not a mother in the traditional sense, but the meaning of the ‘mother’ goddess is about much more than having children.  It’s a time of full maturity, fertility and creativity, of shaping ideas into action and nourishing them to fruition.  The ‘mother’ goddess is emotionally, spiritually and physically powerful and fulfilled.

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When I was in the ‘maiden’ phase of my life, I had an abundance of ideas, endless inspiration and spent large periods of time creating things.  My ideas were undoubtedly quite narrow and lacking in depth, but what I did have was time and space in my head to create.  I had limited responsibilities, lots of time outside school and university and fewer worries to occupy my thoughts.  There was time for exploration and experimentation, but I didn’t have the life experience or breadth of vision to really take advantage of that.

Although we explore as young people, our exploration is often limited.  In trying to find out who we are, we can become fixated on being part of this or that group, only listening to ‘cool’ music or subscribing to inflexible ideas.  We can also become trapped by the labels we’re given, by what our parents and our peers think we should be.  It’s a brave young person who can truly explore without limits.  Youth often lacks confidence and this was certainly true of me.  Though I recognised I was good at art and I suspected I might be good at writing, I had little sense of confidence in myself, let alone in what I created.

SAMSUNG CSCI’m amazed by the sheer brash confidence many of the teenagers I watch on talent shows these days have: they ‘know’ they have talent and they ‘know’ that they deserve to get a break.  I wonder how much time I wasted not having that confidence and how my life would be different if I’d had it.  Would I now be the successful writer / artist I want to be?  But then, without the life experiences that I can now draw on in my work, my creativity would be something different, and perhaps something shallower, than it is.

Knowing what I know now, if I could give advice to my ‘maiden’ self, I would say take full advantage of the time and freedom you have to explore in your creative life.  Try not to be limited by labels or by what you think you should create.  It doesn’t matter if you fail in what you’re trying to produce, because you have time to begin again and again.

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In the ‘mother’ phase of my life, I have many responsibilities and much less time.  It can sometimes feel as though the time for exploration is over, that I will never have the same freedom for adventure that I once had.  But I have so many life experiences to harvest.  I’ve been exposed to the inspiration of so many other people’s creativity.  The number and range of ideas I have (or can have) is just as abundant – the difference is that, I don’t always have the time and head space to incubate them.  But my ideas now have more depth.  I can consider other points of view without worrying about fitting in.  I don’t think ageing always increases confidence – experience can just as easily grind it down.  But I now have much more confidence in myself as a person than I did when I was young and I definitely have more confidence in my creativity.

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I’ve found that the ‘mother’ phase can be a difficult one, filled with hard work and not always a clear reward.  It’s the point in our lives when, if we’re fortunate, we’re building a career, a family, a home.  We’re preparing the groundwork for the security we hope to enjoy in later life, but we can become so wrapped up in building, that we forget to carry on creating.  It’s the time when we often forget to do all of the things that make us feel most fulfilled.  So, while in theory we should be at our most creative and most alive, in my experience it can often be one of the least productive phases of our creative lives.

For me, these have been the difficult lessons of the ‘mother’ phase. But I know now what the important things in my life should be.  I may forget them sometimes, and I may still get bogged down in day to day responsibilities, but I’ve realised that it’s not too late to explore.  While I’d still like the freedom and the time to experiment more, I’ve never been more creative than I am now.  I hope to spend the remaining years of my ‘motherhood’ on a new creative adventure, forging a strong verbal and visual voice to carry with me well into the wisdom of crone-hood.

Which creative phase of your life are you in?  How has your creativity changed as you’ve got older?

Quickening

If you’re seeking inspiration at one of the darkest times of the year, the festival of Imbolc is a good place to begin. Traditionally celebrated from sunset on 1st February until sunset on 2nd February, it is considered the ‘quickening’ of the year, when the first signs of spring begin to stir. It’s a time when the first hint of warmth and light returns to the land. But Imbolc is also a time of creative transformation, when we start to remember that the fire of inspiration is still inside us, after the introversion and stillness of winter.

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Imbolc is associated with the Goddess Bride (pronounced ‘Breed’), a goddess of creativity and inspiration. She was said to be a goddess of poetry, crafts and metalworking and so has a particular relevance for writers and artists. One way to pay tribute to Bride at Imbolc is to create something in her honour.

Although it is traditionally a time when the first spring flowers appear, Imbolc falls at a time when there may still be snow on the ground and the signs of spring can be difficult to see. Where I live, rain and gales are ushering in Imbolc, after weeks of heavy snow. There are few obvious signs of new life. Here, the only spring flowers are in pots. When I walk through the park in the morning, the grass is full of bare muddy patches.

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Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons and I feel a sense of anticipation as September comes. But February has none of the excitement of early winter. As I get older, the more I find that February is a long, hard month. I look forward, not so much to warmer weather, but to longer days. But that is the purpose of Imbolc, as with many of the fire festivals: to remind us that within the darkness, there’s always the promise that the light and the longer days will return. And if I pay close attention, I can feel the first changes in the season. The trees aren’t bare, but are jewelled with their first buds. The birds seem to sing a little more loudly before dawn. There is a new, lighter energy after the heaviness of winter.

This is a time for hope and optimism, for beginning to plan the projects you want to bring to fruition during the year. It is also a time for initiation and is therefore a good point in the year to re-dedicate yourself to whichever creative path you wish to follow. You don’t have to be a witch to take a little inspiration from Bride and from the energy of Imbolc.

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You can use this time as an opportunity to think about your creative goals and any new creative projects you might like to begin this year. In what ways can you nurture those projects so that as the year turns, they will grow into something worth harvesting? You can review your store cupboard of creative tools and consider what you may need to collect to create the things you wish to create. Why not light a candle to remind yourself that even in the darkness and cold of February, you still have inspiration inside you? But don’t forget to also go outside and gather inspiration from the changing energy that’s out there too.