Contrary Winter

Gone is the green of Summer, the brilliant reds and yellows of Autumn. In their place, shades of white; crystalline ice and snow that covers and decorates every surface, every branch of every tree. It is beautiful without a doubt; a beauty unlike any seen throughout the rest of the year, for it is a beauty of rest, of life unseen. The soft blanket of snow that covers the Earth in the Winter seems to do more than merely hide the dirt below; in some ways, it seems to cleanse, as though washing away the filth instead of merely cosmetically hiding it.

For many, it is a time of hibernation; not unlike those animals that practice that long slumber, they remain indoors, wishing and waiting for the warmer temperatures that will again allow them to go outside and revel in Nature. It is a mistake to abhor this season, to wish it non-existent, for this is when the cycle of Nature becomes most evident, when it can be seen in all of its glory. Winter is much more than cold temperatures and slick streets; it is a time to rejoice in the period of rest; to see the power of Nature in a much different light.

Even in the “Dead of Winter”, the world is not dead; signs of life abound at every step. The evergreens serve as a reminder that the trees are not dead, but resting. The chickadees and other birds brave enough to remain behind remind us that the birds have not passed on, but merely moved away for a short while. The busy squirrels, the deer, the rabbits in the field; all are evidence that Nature has not simply forsaken this time of year. If anything, She is busier than ever; for the Springtime will be here in a few short months and there is much to do before then.

There are few experiences quite like that of laying in a snowbank at night. Snowflakes land on my face, quickly melting away but at the same time slowly cleansing my soul,. The sound of those same flakes hitting the ground is so much more intense than true silence; it is a stillness of motion; a silent sound. The clouds in the sky reflect the snow on the earth, and there is no true darkness, yet breaks in those clouds reveal a blacker sky than can ever be seen in the summer. It is a season full of contradictions, life hidden below apparent death, cleansing white covering a darker despair that lies below.

It should not be surprising that so many cultures around the world celebrate these short days and long nights like no other time of the year. Oldest of holidays, the Solstice is celebrated under many names and guises; yet the name is not so important as the direction, the path of giving, of loving, of generosity. If at no other time of year, we are led to be more forgiving, more willing to work together, more tolerant and warm towards one another during this magical season. What sway does the season hold over the human psyche that can exact this change, that can allow spirit to suddenly take a forefront?

Some might believe it the very root of their religion, the teachings of elders, that leads them on this quest to taste the milk of human kindness for a short season. Personally, I think that for this brief period the spirituality of the masses drives the religion instead of the other way around. Too many ignore the teachings of their own faiths throughout the rest of the year to believe that they suddenly have a change of heart in the season of Winter.

More likely it is the season itself, a deeper, more ancient yearning . At this time we become more isolated, more separated from the rest of our kind, and we find ourselves craving human contact more than ever. People once gathered for warmth and the sharing of provisions; whether in cave, longhouse, or castle. Today, even in our isolated homes, that need persists.

In the end, we are all members of one large tribe. Is this what drives us to be more charitable, to give more freely of our time and money, to help out those less fortunate? Selfishness fades for an all-too-brief period; ask people what they really want at this time of year, and you’re likely to hear about things like peace, love, understanding, healing; things that benefit us all.

Nonetheless, this season of contradictions shines through. Coupled with warmth, good wishes, and friendly behavior is a mean streak. People complain about the weather from the time the temperature drops below freezing until it rises once again a few months later. Tempers run short, and there is no place with less holiday cheer than a shopping mall right before the holiday. Cars drive by, spraying slush on passers-by, and people literally run into one another as everyone seems to be rushing more than usual. How is this inner conflict resolved?

The answer lies in the nature of the problem. See, it’s the rushing around that causes the problem; and this can be proven by example. It takes little more than getting the car stuck in a snowbank to prove the point. For the first few moments, panic sets in. I’m in a hurry! This is going to affect my busy schedule!

Something magical happens at this point. Someone stops to help. And in that simple act, attitudes shift, and the good feeling returns.

The person stopping t help suddenly realizes that their immediate purpose, that thing that seemed so important as to drive them beyond the level of reasonable stress, is no longer so critical. There’s a fellow human in need, a stranger perhaps, but a fellow nonetheless. The world is forced to slow down, as no one ever gets out of a snowbank by speeding. The only result is spinning wheels, another reminder that things are being approached too quickly. With the assistance of people who are able to reach past their contrived needs and get to something more important, along with a slower, more careful attitude, the car gets liberated from the snowbank. At least for the duration of that exercise, we are strangers no more.

Is it accidental that Winter produces such things as snowbanks to stick into, slippery streets that toss us off the road, and blinding snowstorms that drive us to seek shelter wherever we can? Or is it Her way of bringing us out of our self-imposed isolation and stress, to return to the deeper needs within us, to be among others of our kind?

Winter people, those of us who revel in the season, have an innate understanding of this. The camaraderie at a ski lodge, at a meeting of snowmobilers, at the skating rink and the ice sculpture contest, reflects a special warmth in being cold, in sharing with others the joy of this season of strange and contrary things.

Be Fruitful and Multiply?

(Originally published in PanGaia magazine)

Pagans seem to have a greater tolerance of non-traditional lifestyles than society as a whole. Yet when it comes to the topic of child-rearing, that tolerance often slips away.

“Oh, you don’t have any children? I’m so sorry.”
“You know, you really would make a great father.”
“You’ll change your mind. Everyone does eventually.”
“How can you truly appreciate the Goddess unless you’re a mother yourself?”

Our little subculture seems at times to be drowning in fertility rites both ancient and new, as well as Earth mothers and fathers who define themselves and their spirituality in terms of their children.

From an aspect of wide-ranging, social consciousness, my path brings me to be deeply conscientious about how my actions impact the Earth. I try to avoid wasteful packaging, recycle whatever possible, and drive efficiently. I’m also aware that by choosing not to bring one additional child into the world, specifically in this country, I’m choosing to cut the potential for an additional 200,000 pounds of accumulated trash and the burning of 20,000 gallons of gasoline.

On a more personal note, I simply prefer not to have children around me all of the time. That doesn’t mean I despise all young people, but that I recognize that my personality is not well suited for fatherhood. I don’t believe that parenting is some innate talent that everyone is born with. Like most everything, there is a combination of innate talent and learned skills that contribute toward good parenting, and whether or not I possess the former is irrelevant in that I have no desire to learn the latter.

I’ve met far too many people who, before becoming parents, had very mixed feeling about children–then went ahead and had them anyway. Is it good practice to accept the responsibility of parenthood, only to shirk that duty after a short period of time in order to further one’s other goals? Or to enter into that responsibility, knowing full well that the time and effort of maintaining a source of income will preclude the sort of quality parenting required?

Childbirth is an act of the highest magic. And, like all forms of magic, it should not be entered into without carefully considering the consequences, both on a personal and societal level. For my wife and me, it was a working that we chose to forego; and I believe we are better and stronger for it. We do not consider ourselves somehow distanced from the Goddess; we simply express our gratitude and respect in other ways. Fertility does not have to mean reproduction.

By choosing to remain child-free, we have given ourselves the time and freedom to pursue other aspects of life that would not have been possible had we chosen the role of parents. Our “fertility” takes the form of the help and compassion that we offer to our community, it reveals itself in our more creative pursuits, it manifests in the love and warmth returned from our adopted four-legged children. I don’t believe that we’ve missed out on anything by remaining child-free. If anything, we’ve had the capability to do and learn more than if we’d ever been encumbered by little ones.

I don’t hope to convince anyone that it is wrong to bring children into the world. Instead, realize that, while the decision to become a parent should be the most well-thought-out decision of your life, in the end the choice is yours.