Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Slow Waxing of Light and Life

This is such an awkward time of year. I'm tired of winter, being housebound, being cold, and I'm still immersed in the inner world of contemplation, to the point that I am fairly grumpy with anyone who wants to distract me from it, which is mainly my children, of course.  Rumi said, "My worst habit is I get so tired of winter I become a torture to those I'm with."  I relate to that bear in hibernation.  Just leave me alone and let me dream.  Let me focus on my sap rising, but don't ask me for any of it yet. 

Alas, that is not the way it works in Real Life, is it?  It's hard to slow down when the world doesn't want you to.  And we don't get days off for Tu Bishvat, or for Imbolc and Candlemas, the other two holidays that have occurred recently:

January 29/30 - Tu Bishvat (I discussed this here.)

February 1 - Imbolc.
A day to celebrate the Celtic Brigid, who is goddess or saint, depending on your tradition.  In typical Celtic fashion, the goddess and saint stories blend; she was said to be the foster-mother of Jesus.  I adore her; she is my divine soul-sister, associated with poetry, the hearth-fire, metalsmithing, midwifery, bees, and sacred wells.
February 2 - Candlemas.
A Christian celebration of the return of the light, involving the blessing of beeswax candles, and officially ending the Epiphany season.  Traditionally, people would leave up their Christmas greenery until this day.
All three of these days celebrate the return of life to the earth, the very beginning of spring's return, the waxing of light.  The planting of seeds is a common ritual for all three celebrations.  Imbolc and Candlemas are closely associated and the focus is on purification and renewal of vows, rededication to the Path, refocusing, taking new action.

This ties in nicely for me with Yesod's emphasis on actualizing spiritual concepts.  My sap is rising up the Tree, from Malkuth to Yesod, but I needed a jumpstart.  These holidays provided me with it.  However, the not getting days off really irked me.  I ended up spreading my celebrations and rituals out over an entire week, just to fit it all in around my schedule.

My plans were elaborate; I was going to:
  • burn my Christmas tree which has been standing forlornly in my backyard since Epiphany
  • take a meditative orange-tinted salt bath for purification (using kosher sea salt and the Elmo fizzy bath colors Eliana got for Christmas - one yellow and one red)
  • begin my Svadhisthana exercises
  • bless the orange beeswax candles I bought at Cid's
  • then fill the whole house with candlelight, while I 
  • thoughtfully write out and then recite my spiritual vows for the year
  • plant an indoor herb garden with the kit I bought, focusing on the meaning and fruitful fulfillment of my vows (Basil - for love, exorcism, prosperity; Rosemary - for love, purification, and faithfulness; Thyme - for courage, health, and strength)
The first day I tried to do all these things, I had to begin by cleaning the house, which is obviously part of the purification process.  I mopped all the floors, which was a wonderful way to start, but by the time I had wiped down all surfaces, picked up everything off the floors, then swept and mopped, half the day was gone.

I then went through my new exercises for the first time, while listening to The Bee Priestesses, which was remarkably energizing and empowering.  After that, I took my ritual bath, which was also a powerful experience, but by then, the day was winding down to the time when the kids come home, so I had to stop there.

Then the boiler that powers my baseboard heater system went out.  And I became very aware that elaborate rituals and celebrations are a luxury when you're too cold to function.   I was forced to slow down, then.  One day I was so cold all I could do was take a bath and get into bed.  I slept all afternoon, which was a luxury in itself, and one I haven't indulged in since I can't remember when. 

During that period without heat, I thought about homeless people in cold places like New York and Chicago, and I thought about people who don't have any time to themselves because they're too busy surviving, and I felt that strange tension between gratitude and guilt that seems to be a characteristic of citizens of western industrialized cultures.   

Am I being frivolous, self-indulgent by doing these things when I "should" be working?  This was the question I kept pushing away when I started my celebrations.  But after the heater broke, the question was irrelevant, because I was involved in a more basic existence issue.  Even being able to ask questions like the one above is a luxury.  A privilege, a freedom.

But no.  It is not frivolous to do these things if they help me to center and be healthy and grow.  It is, however, a luxury, a privilege, a freedom - not to feel guilty about, but to be grateful for.  And so, the heater breaking factored into my vows, which hadn't been properly written yet when it happened.  I made several vows related to different areas of my life, but the most important one, resulting from my heater ordeal, was to offer gratitude and praise for everything, not in some vague general way, but for specific individual things and people and events as they come into my field of vision, and thus to grow in my awareness of them.  Even when they're unpleasant and I don't like them.

So with the burning of the tree*, I let my guilt becomes ashes to feed the earth.
With the blessing and lighting of candles, I awaken my awareness of blessing and light.
With the burying of seeds into earth**, I plant my intentions, and as the seeds die out of their form and grow into something new, I will express my gratitude for the death of my old shell and limits of perspective, and I praise the earth and light and water and struggle that bring forth new life.


The unexpected completion to my celebrations:
Jenny Stevning posted this drawing as a page to print and color
in response to my mention of her in this post.
Thank you, Jenny.  Coloring this was most fun!

*The tree burning actually didn't go too well.  I had forgotten how long it takes wood to dry.  I did manage to singe it a bit,  after a half hour involving a lighter, copious amounts of newspaper, very cold hands, and more starter fluid than I care to admit.
**I mixed the body of the dead bee I found at Epiphany into the soil.  It just seemed like the thing to do. 


  1. I love the coloring of Jenny's drawing that you did. Not too surprised to see the field orange, either.

    Around here spring is busting out all over. Daffodils, Acacia trees, Daphne, Jonquils, they're all saying in no uncertain terms, "Bye, winter!"

  2. Thank you, Dan! I'm not much of a visual artist, but it sure is fun to color with crayons from time to time.

    That's how it was in Louisiana too. Right now the azaleas are blazing in hot pink, I'll bet. Nothing like that here. There's a little less snow on the mountain, that's about it. But I can smell spring coming, oh yes I can.

  3. Hi Polly

    it is interesting to learn of ther rituals and practices that you are immersing yourself in and how that have been repeated for eons and to see how they have grown out of a northern hemisphere climate and psyche.
    None of the practices you mention have any relevance here at this time of year being as we are in mid summer and the land and flora in full flush.

    Except of course for gratitude which can feature all year round...

    But I do like to hear about them and your take on them

    Happy days

  4. Oh, that last stanza is goooood! Amen!
    And you coloring is beautiful!!! I love her sweet, little blue bindhi. I am happy to know you gave yourself time to color! One of the reasons I love coloring is the fact it doesn't have to do with "artistic skill." It is the simple beauty of choosing the color of your liking to be applied in a given area and then in the meditative back-n-forth movement the color spreads to life. When I was about 4 I colored a picture of Sonny Bono. I happened to think his forearms would look lovely in vibrant red. My older sister and brother teased me. Quickly, I made the excuse he had a sunburn.
    May we all color the way we want: bold & juicy!!

  5. It's funny, because I was just thinking about that a little while ago, about the irrelevance of this post to your end of the world. I'm now wanting to learn about the seasonal celebrations that have emerged out of the southern hemisphere.

  6. Thank you, Jenny. I wish I could see that picture of Sonny Bono.

    I have posted my coloring up in my kitchen, so I can look at her every day. Thank you for sharing her with me.

  7. " offer gratitude and praise for everything, not in some vague general way, but for specific individual things and people and events as they come into my field of vision, and thus to grow in my awareness of them."

    I love it.

    A worthy and noble idea, the perfect sentiment. Just as I expected of you. Another informative and just-plain-beautiful post.

    And our Christmas tree keeps blowing over in the harsh winter desert winds. We've got to plant it here sometime.

  8. Postie - Thanks for drawing out those particular words, as I feel they're the heart of this whole post, and indeed this whole enterprise. They are, of course, not always easy to apply.

    Plant that tree and post a photo!

  9. i feel like i have just gone on this journey with you. so many thoughts and emotions surrounding winter, brigid, ritual. i love where you land here:

    "It is not frivolous to do these things if they help me to center and be healthy and grow. It is, however, a luxury, a privilege, a freedom - not to feel guilty about, but to be grateful for."

    gratitude instead of guilt... now that's a concept that could change the world (... one person at a time).

  10. Indeed. It's a concept I return to fairly often, because of my "natural" tendency to move in the guilt direction. It makes me think of your post this morning too - that we can turn every fear into a prayer.

  11. Like Lucy, I experienced this post as a journey. If it makes you feel any better, I almost think we have a duty to do things that centre us, help us grow.
    And thank you for the Bee Priestesses introduction - the name alone is intoxicating.

  12. I think you're right, Tess. And the other thing is that I believe we're here to enjoy life, and that the growing and centering are FOR that end.

    I've been listening to the Bee Priestesses every time I do my exercises; they go together very well.

  13. You are an ambitious bee - pollinatrix -hmmm. Anyway, after reading of your housecleaning, I was exhausted and can't figure out how you really had any energy for anything else!! Loved the crayon drawing and the synchronicity of Jenny's drawing here. Aside from your site, I "found" her somewhere else today and had written down her site to visit again and THERE she was:)

  14. The experience of all of this is what I enjoy most. The effort and attention to give yourself health, wholeness, and love.

  15. It's funny - I was thinking about this post today, as I was much more inspired by these holidays than I currently am by Valentine's Day, the Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday.



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