When I Am Not Writing I Am Writing

Samhain season is here. The clocks have fallen back in Europe and North America. This is the season of the Cailleach (sounds like call-yuck). She is the Old ‘Un, considered the creatrix of the island of Ireland. The myth says that this Mother Winter piled stone upon stone to create this island in the North Atlantic. While autumn temperatures are still nmild here, and the Virginia creeper was slow to turn crimson, the darkness has crept in. I want to be a bear and sleep in my den. Maybe that has to do with solar flares, or the clock time shifting around, or the darkness that requires artificial light in at least some corners of the house all day. How did they cope before electrification? Most any time of the day requires some extra light for reading or writing or any close work…

While not ascribing to writer’s block, I do believe there are creative lulls. Sometimes it just needs to be pen down. Meanwhile, I have hoked out bag after bag of comfrey root before dibbing in many kilos of narcissus bulbs to naturalise. I also felt an urge to make an effigy of the Cailleach. Tis her season after all! And then I still had some wool and made her a Wyrd Little Sister. Or Maid. Or Assistant in the creation of the world. While the Wyrd Sister has the button face that many folk Bridéogs have had, I really felt that the Cailleach needed a blank face…sort of like Original Face, since she is Origin. I also found a piece of felled tree branch that works as a stick for her to lean on and into the winter gales. She is a giantess and the Wryd Little Sister is considerably smaller even with her bending into the wind. They have stones in their aprons in accordance with some legends and stones at their feet as they empty load upon load. Creation begins…over and over.

Which really does prove that putting tools down and getting away from the screen or the page can fuel your creativity. Sometimes, some other creative activity will fill your well. I play with wool, collage, cook, bake; I specialise in garden demolition work! The words will come eventually, but first I need to shush the mind chatter and emotional whirlwinds. I need the silence. Perhaps silence is the writer’s equivalent tool to an artist using chiaroscuro in a painting. Silence helps delineate the light and shadow.

Onward to the Weekly Poem in its infant form… It arises from a interrogating myself on what do I want and need to myself at this Samhain time.

Silence and Juice

I want more...
silence to quell the deep uncertainty out there beyond
our small sanctuary of green beginning to sleep,
beds caped against frost, for the frost will come,
it will bite, it will bleed the juice from the comfrey
that will wilt and blacken and lie flat
down on the ground, macerating.

I want
some of that juice. Let it flow.
Let it allow something new to grow.
Let it be strong and useful and somehow
even a little bit beautiful.

I need some of that juice from the get go.
Also
deep sleep, like some bear in its winter lair.
I need this darkness
though some may feel despair...

There is the soft heart beat
of seeds waiting for more light, 
for more warmth,
for some water and some wind,
some thing...

I need to just put my ear to the ground
counting earth's twenty-three beats per minute
even in the winter,
even in the dark,
even in the cold.

I want silence for myself, but I need the beat.
I want the beat for myself in the silence.
I need the silence to hear the beat.
I need the beat to soften the silence.

I need to trust the unexpected.
I want to pay the price of all with my all.

If you need a little light in the season of darkness I am going to be conducting some Sunday Zoom reflective writing sessions from the first night of the Festival of Light, Hanukah, until Winter Solstice on 21st December. Because this is a spendy time of year I am only requesting a donation, pay what you are able. Sometimes you just need to have a lighthouse in your living/dining room and beam it out so others don’t run aground. Message me if you are interested in joining.

In the Darkness before Dawn

I was born at this dark time of the year. I was a Samhain baby, born on All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead. For a multitude of reasons – my fair skin burns easily and is prone to heat rash, allergies, biting insects who find me oh so tasty – I do not love the summer. Perversely, now at the darkest time of year I have found myself wakeful at 4am. And I do not think this is necessarily linked to anxiety. This has happened in other years. Maybe because I was born at this time of year my body perks up. The sun is low, the temperatures cool, insects have flown away and pollen is dormant.

So it has been in this past week that I have been awake and writing before 5am on a few occasions. Some call this the amrit vela, those ‘ambrosial hours’ before dawn that seem the natural habitat of prayer, meditation, and creative endeavour. I am well aware what today is in the motherland. So first I prayed – for love to cast out fear. Then I pulled out the notebook and my fountain pen and wrote, after a false start, this:

Love

Love makes you brave. 
Waking up at the darkest hour
on this cold November morning
I contemplate the ways love 
made me. 
The rebukes and cautions
made in the hope of keeping me safe.
The brush of a lover's lips where
bloomed faith.
Just as arms shielded me so
mine grew strong enough.
Love and I could belong.
Not  completely safe, but secure
in faith and the hope
and the knowledge
dawn always follows
the darkest hours.
That when love is brave
it will never ever betray.

Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved. 

Featured image Photo by Paigie Page on Unsplash

Standing, holding uncertainty

As part of my weekly cherishing of myself, this past Sunday evening I registered for a live Zoom by Dolores Whelan and Mari Kennedy on the “Gifts and Wisdom of the Celtic Tradition for these uncertain times.” The Celtic religious traditions – both spiritually and socially – were quite different until Christianity went the way of Rome after the Synod of Whitby in 665 CE. Between the Celtic spiritual sensibility and the Brehon legal system based on reparative justice as opposed to punitive measures, life on the Celtic fringes was the light that blazed during the Dark Ages. Brehon law lingered in the Gaelic areas of Ireland up until the 17th century and was a liberal system that enshrined women’s rights when few existed elsewhere in European civilisation.

Nor did the Whitby Synod completely extinguish the underpinnings of Celtic spirituality and religious practice. The popularity of John O’ Donohue’s writings tapped into a hunger for that older wisdom creating something of a renaissance.

Ancient Celtic wisdom revers nature, contemplative silence, the giving of hospitality as a sacred duty, and the porous veil between our material world and ‘the other world.’ Dolores gave us an Irish proverb in translation- “Tir na nÓg is behind my house.” As Mari Kennedy discussed, the ancient Celtic world a millenia and more ago operated so that individuals were responsible for being in ‘right relationship’ with themselves, with the land, with their neighbours and with their god. Sovereignty was not just for the high king. It was, and still is, about living with integrity and maintaining that wholeness in all one’s dealings. That right relationship with all four is the cross surrounded by the circle of wholeness. Right relationship opens a way for there to be reparative justice rather than the punitive justice of our current systems.

The Celtic Cross – a symbolic unbroken wholeness as referenced in Whelan’s and Kennedy’s Celtic Wisdom webinar

The Celtic world was not afraid of darkness or death. The Cailleach is a terrible hag and rules winter. But she is also credited with being the Creatrix of our known world. The Celtic New Year – Samhain – or Halloween as it is known elsewhere – is at our darkest time of year. Out of that darkness the light is reborn at winter solstice.

I am reminded of the time I listened to our cat Zelda purr her litter of kittens into the world as she sat beside me. A few months earlier my husband sat with our cat Sophie as she purred her way out of this world. Birth and death both require labour; they are two sides of the same coin.

We are in that liminal space (there’s another point that Mari brought up in the webinar!) where we are witnessing the death of our old known world. The birth of the ‘new normal’ is not yet with us. We stand on our threshold with the door open. We are between the old model of our known world and the yet to be seen new model. We are needing to hold our uncertainty and stand with it – in our own integrity.

This was all very synchronous for me. The previous Friday I sat with my husband and a friend outdoors mulling over how I might devise a course that would speak to the the long days of December. With indoor visitations disappearing across the map as areas lockdown because of localised Covid19 spikes, I wondered how the Covid19 Christmas would look in 2020. I had already emailed siblings in the States asking that we don’t do the present parcel routine this year. I really do not want my siblings – all over 69 years of age – queuing for a long time in a post office, potentially exposing themselves to pathogens.

On Saturday, a discussion with some students who stayed in the Zoom room after class helped clarify what I can offer. And, credit where it is due – thanks to the late Mammy Rountree who helped construct the name for the course.

Which will be…21 Days Journey through the Dark Days of December. I will be writing more about this next week. For now, just know that my hope is that there can be a community of souls helping each other hold the uncertainty as they wait upon the return of the light.

If you want to learn more about the wisdom of Celtic spirituality I refer you to Dolores Whelan’s website (http://www.doloreswhelan.ie) and Mari Kennedy’s Celtic Wheel year long course starting soon. (https://www.marikennedy.com).

Waking in Darkness

I wonder if I will be able to keep up this poem a day poetry writing practice through to the New Year? I would like to think so, but the pace is ratcheting up for holiday preparation. I have hand made Christmas presents on the go – one and a half done, one and a half to go, and no they are not poems! I have funded projects to finish and have two schools visits over the next two weeks. And like almost everything in 2018, schedules have been very changeable. There has been a lot of flux and flow under the bridge, perhaps mirroring a general instability or jitteriness. But this poem a day writing has become a still point in what often manifests as a Crazyville world. It’s very wearing. And though I am more often a night owl who cannot fall asleep, some evenings even I drop off early. Then, eight hours later I lie awake listening to how the house breathes.

Waking in the Darkness

Waking in the morning darkness

at a time beyond the hour

of fear and trembling, no

waking at the time of cat’s eye clarity

in a silence so profound

it is undisturbed by whirr

of owl wing or bat’s squeak.

The world is just breathing.

In night’s muffled velvet 

Venus sparkles large and cold and bright,

a maharajah’s giant jewel.

And she is not lonesome

in a suddenly crowded sky.

It is as if all the dying stars from

light years’ away have burst

their last glory to their final witness

one soul speaking to another.

Copyright Bee Smith 2018