Hunger of Winter, Quickening of Spring

Snow may be thick but spring is quickening. Can you feel the difference? Can you see it? Buds on branches, a few blooming Dandelions, the lengthening days … and, yes, on our island, the presence of lambs in fields. One possible translation of “Imbolc” — the name for the Celtic festival that falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox — is ‘ewe’s milk’ (oi-melc), in reference to the pregnancy of ewes, and the imminence of milk, new life, renewal, and rich abundance returning to the land.

While the Feast Day of St. Brigid and festival of Imbolc may be past, the quickening of heart that comes with the sense of the end of winter and the promise of spring remains. We made some videos in honor of this time of year, when both the hunger of winter and the awakening of spring are side-by-side. We hope you enjoy these videos.

In celebration of St. Brigid and Imbolc, we decided to honor Brigid’s connection with milk. Here, while we churn cream into butter, Erin recites the “Charm of the Churn,” an incantation gathered by Alexander Carmichael during the 19th century in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

A phenomenon and folklore exists in Ireland of the Hungry Grass. This grass grows at the place where someone dropped dead of starvation. One who steps upon such grass will be overcome with excruciating pain and hunger, and will drop dead themselves, unless they have bread with them to feed themselves, and perhaps to feed the land too.

We created this video to acknowledge the terrible tragedy of the Great Famine (also known as the Irish Potato Famine, the Great Hunger, and the Great Starvation) which took place in Ireland from 1845-1852. Jane’s great-great grandmother was born at the tail end of the Famine, and her ancestors left Ireland not long after. This video imagines Jane’s thrice-great grandmother Margaret encountering the Hungry Grass. Erin is Grandmother Margaret. Harp music is composed and played by Jane.

What does the Hungry Grass have to do with Brigit? As we were churning the butter and celebrating the awakening of spring, and Brigid’s connection with nourishment, we learned about the Hungry Grass. It suddenly felt appalling that the children of the land might die of hunger — absolutely counter to what the land — and Brigit — intend for the people. To us, it seems that this pain and the trauma of this kind of death is held and expressed in the Hungry Grass.

Beannachtaí Bhríde (Brigid’s Blessings),
Jane and Erin

When the Veil is Thin, We Meet Anew

Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia – European Mountain-Ash (we have an American Mountain-Ash too) is a tree highly regarded as protective in Celtic herbal lore.

Dear Ones,

The veil is thin. Do you feel it? This is a time when our Beloved Dead seem close to us, close enough to speak with and perhaps for us to hear or feel some response in turn. This is a time when we may look at our hands and see our father’s hands in them, look in a mirror and see our grandmother’s eyes, or our great-uncle’s nose. A time when we look through old family photos and see our children or grandchildren in the faces and bodies of our great-great-great aunts and uncles. We know in the marrow and minerals of our bones, at the hearthfire of each one of our cells, our Ancestors within us.

And we recognize within our imaginative and joyful hearts, in the weaving of thought and memory, those whom we have loved who have gone before — be they friends, teachers, or connected by other means to our souls and lives. These Beloved Dead live on in us, even as they live on in some other form where we cannot go (for now).

This is a time when the dark takes hold of the light and expands into shadow and into the deep soul of the earth, when mystery widens and takes hold of the stars. This threshold time is when we can turn our faces toward the wind, and catch our Loved Ones’ voices in our beings. It’s a time when we glimpse them in the movement of branches and hear them in the call of Owl, and when we meet them in our Dreams.

Everywhere I poke and prod into the cultural ways of my lineages — from my Irish great-great grandmother to my many generations back German ancestry to my Mexican heritage to my own more immediate Catholic heritage — this is the time when we honor All Souls, as a collective, but also specifically as Loved Ones in our lives full of personality and rich in quirks. If you look in your lineages I’m sure you’ll find this awareness too. It seems to me that to honor our Dead, to respect our Ancestors, to speak with them and our own urge to invite them to the table is an urge woven into the fabric of our human family. By definition one’s family in both the nuclear and species sense includes the Ancestors — and the Future Generations too, I might add. Whether we are consciously aware or this fact or not, we are embedded in generations. This is true Family Nature.

This is a time to feast our Beloved Dead and to know them to be caring for us still. This awareness makes and keeps us strong. As the turning of the earth and her passage round the sun carries those of us in the Northern Hemisphere into the Dark of the Year, how are your departed Loved Ones speaking to you? It may be through a certain songbird drawing close, or the unfurling of a particular flower by which you know them. It may be in your dreams, or in a feeling as you stand at the stove, stirring with a particular wooden spoon. You may feel the hand of your Loved One holding yours around the spoon, and the two of you preparing the food together. You may know them in the golden light of sunset, a comforting sweep and sigh of cloud.

Go outside, open your senses, feel yourself in your bones and blood and cells, and in the aurora borealis dance of your thoughts, imaginings, and emotions. How do your Beloved Dead still show up for you? How are they speaking to you right now?

Here is the secret that is woven into this time of year: The veil is always thin. This threshold time of year, autumn moving into winter and the en-darkening of the year invites us into the truth and awareness that this is so.

Plants to Honor our Beloved Dead – Rose, Rosemary, Rowan, Red Cedar

A Celtic Herbs and Healing Ways Workshop to Honor Our Beloved Dead

Greetings, Friends,

Erin and I are excited about our upcoming workshop, and hope you’ll join us. Here’s info about it:

Through the lens of Celtic heritage, we’ll honor our Dead within an expression of an intimate conversation woven of community, the land, and the Sacred, and shepherded by the generosity and blessing of the herbs and trees. We’ll touch into Scottish, Irish, and Welsh folk customs, myth, music and plant lore not to imitate or appropriate, but to awaken our hearts to celebrating our beloved Dead in spontaneous, deep-felt ways, and to them perhaps celebrating us. Our day will be interspersed with solo time outdoors and in reflection and simple ceremony.

The workshop takes place on Saturday, Oct. 31, from 9am to 3pm PT via Zoom. Fee: $65. Partial scholarships are available. Find out more/register at here.