I'm fortunate to have some of those things. I'll manage without the rest somehow, while perusing a few of my favourite seed purveyors and contemplating how long it will take the snowplough to find my rural street. I have had a beast causing havoc with my lungs for the past week. It's left me weary and frustrated, but my daily application of a poultice has been a lifesaver, and I'm finally sleeping through the night without waking up in frantic fits of coughing. I take each day as it comes. Another mustard plaster. Another towel, warm from the dryer, slipped onto my chest when the mustard cloth comes off. Another cup of mullein tea.
Christmas tide a minute wide,
Twelfth tide a cock's stride,
Candlemas tide an hour wide.
(old saying that speaks to the increase of light after the solstice)
We've had a full ten minutes more daylight today than we did when the year turned over. That is no small miracle when you live in the thin portion of an hourglass-shaped valley that routinely gets socked in with low cloud. We greedily welcome every small measure of increase we can get, when it comes to light. I spent the twelve days following Christmas filling my journal with daily observances and insights. Some folks mark these days leading up to twelfth night or old Christmas (January 6th) as omen days for the coming year (and just to be particular, some folks start on old Christmas and count forward eleven days for what the next twelve months will bring). Each day might have a hint to give, as far as weather, health, or fortune. I found that I witnessed a large amount of wildlife this year. Hawks and eagles, a lynx, and several giant crows all crossed my path in late December and the first week of this month.
Now that all the modern and old holidays are tied up with bows and put away for another year and plough Monday has come and gone, marking a return to work, there is little to keep a distracted creature like myself from my daily duties and chores. I am a bear at heart, and am so content to hibernate in January (and much of February if truth be told) but this year I seem to be stirring - almost pacing in my eagerness to get out. The weather here in southern British Columbia has been bitter and the wind unceasing, and so there hasn't been much in the way of walks by the river or trips out to my fire bowl. We are at that strange still time of mid-January, post winter celebrations and yet not quite reaching the time for the observances of chasing away the cold season. Even the Wild Hunt, in some tellings of the tale, is said to have lost its ferocity after Twelfth Night (yet other tales speak of the Hunt riding racously into early February before it rests).
The times betwixt, when the division between the worlds of man and spirit loses what little solidity it may have , are in the West Country the 'wisht' or 'hood' times; moments bewitched or empowered.
~ Gemma Gary, The Black Toad: West Country Witchcraft and Magic
What is to be done in the betwixt time, when we are still in the dark, cold caress of winter's hands, yet the buds of the magnolia are fat and furry and the local vineyards are pruning in preparation for the waking of the grape? What do we do when we cannot rest as we might have once during wintertide, because the old guard has stepped down and the keys are about to be handed to those who are incapable of being good stewards? When what was hangs so precariously, like the last ice-bitten apple on the tree. What then?
We make magic. We call back the Old Ones - the ones that never left this land. We ride with The Hunt or form our own band of misfits, and we make beautiful trouble. If you can stand and fight, you do that. If you can heal or protect, then you do that. If you can curse...you know where I'm going with this. My work may be quieter than yours, but it is happening. I've picked up my feather robe again (I've been haunted of late by dreams of people in flight like wild swans) for there is work to be done in the air as well as on the ground.
Stir. Wake. Make magic. The Wolf Moon of January is here. The light creeps in. The earth is not dead, nor is her slumber as deep as it was yesterday. Find reasons to celebrate, because even in the time of ice and cold and darkness and in the face of an incoming tyrant, we live. Gather your forces. Your ancestors. Your spirits. Doreen Valiente said "Once a person has had even one of these experiences of contacting the forces behind the world of form he or she is no longer in mental bondage to that world." Shake free of your bonds.
I want to sit in front of a window and watch the snow fall, and kiss. I want to sleep. I want to wake and find the world as exquisite as it was on my very best days. It's okay to want those things. It's just fine to take a breath. To ask for someone to hold you for a moment. But then we get up. We move. We howl and keen, and call down the stars or call up the dead, or do whatever we need to, to make sure there is a world to awaken to in the spring.
We aren't just here to turn the wheel, and to be polite placeholders for the seasons. We are here to stir the pot. Paint grease on our broomsticks and fly. Cause mischief. I intend to resist. Stir. Create. Burn.
I'll meet you at the fire.
Witch Notes ~ bits of this and that:
~ My friend's mother introduced me to a mustard plaster/poultice. Mix dry mustard with the smallest bit of water until you form a paste. Spread on a clean rag (you won't be keeping this cloth) and place over your chest, being sure not to let the mustard seep through onto your skin (it will burn, baby). Leave on for ten minutes or more if you can handle the smell and tingling, and then remove and replace with a nice hot towel from the dryer (or hot water bottle). It's a lovely, stimulating treatment for heavy lungs. Kiva Rose also recommends an onion poultice which I've used a few times and found quite nice (perhaps give your spouse a head's up if you are going to slather yourself in onions - just to be fair).
~ A 'cock's stride' or 'cockstride' is said to be a small measure, primarily one of distance or length (in regards to time). Interestingly, there is a good bit of lore that speaks of how ghosts who were banished or 'laid down' by a priest might be allowed to return to their home by a cockstride a year (generally after first performing some almost-unending task - you can imagine how long it might take a waylaid ghost to return to its preferred haunt at that rate). Folklorist Mark Norman speaks more of those tales here.
~ Briana Saussy speaks of omen days here.
~ There are many stories and cross-cultural takes on the Wild Hunt. I rather enjoy the book Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead, by Claude Lecouteux. Another fair source is The Esoteric Codex: German Folklore by Delbert Geitzen (chapter 59, specifically).
~ Do check out a mid-winter festival near you. There are many ice festivals, winter sports-themed celebrations, and assorted pre-lenten revelries to take part in.
A Dictionary of English Folklore, Jacqueline Simpson, Stephen Roud (see: cocks)
The New England Farmer, Volume 2, Thomas Greene Fessenden, pg 271
Ozark Superstitions, Vance Randolph, Chapter 2 - Weather Signs
Where Witchcraft Lives, Doreen Valiente, pg 89
Where Witchcraft Lives, Doreen Valiente, pg 89