The Passing of the Seasons by Sarah Burgess

Every week when I sit down to write this article, I wonder if I have run out of ways I have been connecting to nature – especially those which correspond to the 19 ways that I wrote about 11 or 12 weeks ago.  Maybe I’m jinxing it by saying so, but it hasn’t happened yet. (Spoiler alert – it’s going to happen when we get to week 19 anyway!)  One of the strangest things that I have found about lockdown and the natural world has been observing the changing of the seasons through the window.  It has felt as though I’ve been watching it on the television, rather than being an active participant.

Ever since I discovered Glennie Kindred’s book Sacred Celebrations in a shop at the Avebury stone circle, I’ve enjoyed following the wheel of the year and have always tried to honour each festival.

I have a shelf in my hallway where I place things to help connect me to the season.  Throughout the winter I have a candle to welcome me.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to burn the house down, it’s a wee battery operated thing – and the wonderful thing is that it’s on a timer, so throughout the winter when I come home from work (oh how that seems like a thing from the past) I am greeted by candlelight.  However this year, the movement from winter to spring and now from spring to summer has felt too big a leap, a gesture too grand to cope with now our lives seem smaller and slower. 

In ancient times the Japanese divided their year into 24 periods based on classical Chinese sources which are then subdivided into 3, meaning that in the traditional Japanese calendar there are 72 seasons with each lasting only 5 days.  The vivid names of these seasons bring the natural world to life, offering a poetic journey through each twist and turn of the natural year with shoots sprouting, leaves coming into bud, trees blossoming and fruit forming before everything starts to die back and nature returns to slumber.  This week is Ume no mi kibamu – plums turn yellow.  Occasionally when I am feeling equally poetic I think about the world in this way – this week  for me would have been sunlight dapples the path. 

Eventually, when it became clear that of course the seasons were proceeding regardless, I did indeed replace my candle with some spring blossom and now suddenly it is almost the summer solstice.  This is often seen as the most important festival of the Druid tradition, and probably the most well known because of the gatherings at Stonehenge. (The picture is from the 2019 winter solstice).  Historically, on the summer solstice people would come together to light bonfires and the air was filled with the smell of aromatic herbs burning.  The sick would have been passed through the smoke for healing purposes.

Although COVID-19 means that this year we can’t come together, it has also offered us opportunities to do things that might not be available to us at other times.  This year English Heritage are setting up cameras at Stonehenge to capture the sunset (9.26pm)on Saturday 20th June and sunrise  (4.52am)on Sunday 21st June, allowing us to connect with this spiritual place from the comfort of our own homes.  The events will be streamed live across the English Heritage YouTubeFacebookTwitter and Instagram channels.

If you’d rather celebrate by moving your body then this Saturday 20th June is also International Yoga Day and there is a live yoga practice happening on YouTube at 5.00pm to celebrate the solstice.  Watch this space for more about yoga and the seasons.

As ever, find me on Instagram or email me on sarah.burgess@vaslan.org.uk