Some would have gone into the barrows and journeyed with their ancestors to gain insight and wisdom and tap into the deepest parts of themselves. The earth energy is still there for us to connect with. Each of the eight festivals is an opportunity for us to get out onto the land and experience its changing energy for ourselves.
At these times we can extend our awareness and explore our true, personal and honest connection to the Earth and once we truly feel this connection and experience the intrinsic unity of life, a natural shift in our consciousness begins to evolve. The way the Celtic festivals are celebrated is a matter of choice and experiment.
What matters most is the experience of communicating with the outer world, bursting with created abundance and connecting to our inner levels and spiritual path. The changing year provides a wealth of experiences through the cyclic ebbs and flow of the Sun's energy. Interwoven with this, are the monthly cycles of the waxing and waning Moon, and the planetary influences. Each festival is a chance to feel ourselves as part of the whole, and also to connect to the moment, the here and now. From this point of being we can look back on what we have been doing, feeling and thinking; on our health, and our spiritual journey.
We can also look forward with an understanding of the Earth's and our inherent energy flow, to where we wish to go and how we may best use the oncoming energy for our greater good, the greater good of the Earth, and all those around us. Each cycle of connection to the wheel of the year brings new awareness, direction and an understanding that healing ourselves and healing the Earth are the same, as all things are connected.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Earth will continue with its own slow and evolving journey as it needs to. But the survival of the Earth as we know it is inextricably linked to our own survival. Our united healing depends on our ability to each take responsibility for our own 'separation patterns' that disconnect us from our inner wisdom, from each other and from the Earth.
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And at the same time we need to embrace a new and integrated perspective that will transform everything we do. In this time of great transition and change, we find ourselves re-evaluating the customs and traditions we have grown up with.
Many people are no longer comfortable with the religious or the commercial aspects of Christmas and there is a real need to reclaim this celebration in new ways that have true meaning for us and make the best use of our Midwinter energy. Nature is resting now and we too can use this time to slow down, rest and reflect on what we have learnt from the old year and what we wish to begin in the new.
There is nothing finer than taking some time out to make your own Midwinter decorations. Creative playing gives you time for reflection, helps you to rest your active achieving selves and makes space for your unconscious thoughts to come to the surface for review. We know that its good for our children and what's good for our children is good for us! So put on some good music, relax and enjoy getting in touch with your playful creative self! For most people the Christmas tree is the main focus for their decorations. I could never buy a butchered dead tree and decorate it!
I did buy a living tree in a pot one year, which was better, but it soon became pot-bound and it was tricky keeping it watered in the summer. It now lives happily in the ground at the bottom of the garden and is growing into a beautiful tree. But there is definitely a limit to how many Pine trees a town garden can sustain! One is enough for mine and I have to keep trimming it to keep it small enough for the space. I can use the trimmings to make my Solstice bush - a collection of pruned evergreen branches and twigs, which creates a wonderful alternative tree to decorate at Midwinter.
Every year it's different according to what I find, where I go and what I add to it by way of other decorations. It's called a Solstice bush because traditionally myself and my family would go out on the Winter Solstice and collect for it on our walk and create it when we came home. This has made it special to us on many levels.
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I begin with a few sturdy larger branches first and push them into a large plant pot of earth and hold them in position with medium sized stones and some earth. Best to put the pot in it's final position first so that it does not have to be moved again.
Place the pot in a large bowl or dish so that you can water it and keep everything fresh. Smaller twigs are pushed in around the main branches until a satisfying shape is achieved. Solstice bushes can be created from a mixture of different evergreen branches, dried flowers, dried grasses, seed heads, anything that still has berries and represents the old year.
Decorations can be made from other collected natural things. They can simply be painted with gold, copper or silver acrylic paint and hung in the tree. Lights can be hung from the branches in the usual way. Other natural things can be added to the arrangement to bring in colour, such as Chinese lanterns or dried everlasting flowers. Buy them when they are available in the Autumn, or even better grow them yourself.
They need to be hung upside down to dry and the stems can be strengthened with thin garden wire. Connecting to the natural world around us in this way helps us stay in touch with it and helps us live our lives in harmony with the prevailing energy of the Earth and her cycles.
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The custom of bringing evergreens into the home at Midwinter goes back to a time in our past when people were more intrinsically linked to the patterns and cycles of nature. Evergreens had special significance, and represented everlasting life in the dark time of the year. They were hung around doorways and windows and each European country and every county in the British Isles would have had their own customs, inclusions, and superstitions. The main native evergreens are Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine and Yew, but of course there are many other evergreens you can use, depending what is available in your garden or in your locality.
I use the time spent collecting evergreens to slow down, to open my senses to their essential energy. I like to take time to connect to the tree or plant in any way that feels honest and real to me. The way they grow and where they like to grow provide clues to their essential energy, as well as their herbal properties and flower essence dynamic. I thank them in the cutting and afterwards use what wood I can for creative and healing projects and compost the rest back into the earth, or add to the outdoor bonfire to burn later.
Holly Ilex aquifolium Holly is one of our most sacred native trees, a symbol of everlasting life, good luck, good will, and potent life energy. In folklore the red berries represent the red female blood of life. The berries are mildly poisonous and may cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
The flower essence is used to help the heart become open to Unconditional Love. The beautiful hard white wood is wonderful to carve and is used energetically to restore clear direction and focus loving intentions. Mistletoe Viscum album The ancient people of Europe revered the Mistletoe as it grew in two of their most sacred trees, the Oak and the Apple, both of which are symbolic of doorways into the Otherworld or the internal realms of our unconscious and subconscious selves.
In folklore the white berries represent the white semen drops of the life-giving male. Holly and Mistletoe were displayed together to represent the sacred marriage of the male and the female from which comes fertility and new life. Hence kissing under Mistletoe. The berries are poisonous. The flower essence is recommended for people experiencing rapid change in their lives. It encourages the energy of goodwill and Love. Scotch Pine Pinus sylvestris Pine symbolises immortality, the undying spirit, vitality and far-sighted vision. The cones were brought into the house to bring good luck, fertility and good fortune.click here
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The flower essence encourages personal forgiveness and moving into new aspects of life. The wood is used energetically for developing our ability to see beyond the present, encouraging us to act from our own insights, from our inner wisdom and personal power.
Yew Taxus baccata Yew represents everlasting life, transformation and rebirth. It has an unusual form of growth that enables the tree to regenerate from the decay of the same root bole. The Yew therefore symbolises fresh growth rising out of death of the old, such as our old selves, or old ways of thinking.
Because it is such a long-lived tree, Yew represents contact with our past and our ancestors and connection to the ancient wisdom. The wood can be used for all transformation work and the power of the regenerative cycle of death, rest and rebirth. The bark, leaves and seeds of the Yew are poisonous and obviously it should be kept out of reach of children and animals.
Ivy Hedera helix Ivy represents the search for the self and the freedom to choose our life's path. I am aware that all of these common winter evergreens have poisonous berries, but I believe we should be teaching our children about the natural world, not disconnecting them.
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Teaching children what they can and cannot put in their mouths is essential knowledge that connects them to their natural environment. Another alternative tree idea is to cut large living twigs and arrange them in a very large vase or pot of water. They look stunning in their simplicity of colours and shapes and gradually during the next month or so they begin to sprout leaves and pale flowers! A reminder that spring is on its way! I tend to use plants from my garden that need pruning anyway. Willow, Dogwood, Winter Jasmine, Beech, Birch, Lilac, Forsythia, Flowering Currant, are things I have found work well but I am sure there are many more bushes and trees which you can use depending on what you have available.
Times when I've not had a garden I have done a bit of sensitive pruning in the woods, along canals or railway tracks, on waste ground, or along hedgerows. Long stemmed fresh flowers can be added. One single cut dead branch, or several cut dead branches look wonderful painted with white, gold, copper or silver acrylic paint.
Dab the paint on with bits of old cut up kitchen sponge. Glitter can be added when the paint is dry. Spread on PVA glue and sprinkling glitter on top. I save good branches from the Autumn garden prune or bring them back from the woods when I find them blown down in the wind. Old branches could be brittle and be home to various insects, so it is much better to use a recently cut or fallen branch.
The branches can be arranged in a sturdy pot or bucket, wedged in with stones. Again this is best done in or near it's final resting place. After the paint has dried, wrap up the pot with a coloured scarf and tie it round with ribbon.