A new year

I have been looking at the dates of New Years in different parts of the world and in different faiths. New Year here is January 1st although centuries ago it was at the beginning of April or end of March. The Inland Revenue still uses April 5th as the start of the financial year.

Many other countries have a different date for the new year. Chinese New Year is between January 21st and February 21st, for example. A quick look at Wikipedia will give you lots more examples.

Many pagan faiths take Samhain as their New Year. The Samhain festival is celebrated on 1st November. Others take the Winter Solstice as the start of their New Year. I used to feel that that date was quite appropriate as it is when the days begin to get longer again. But then I started to look at how I felt during those months after the Winter Solstice, the months of January and February for example. January is still cold, after all it is winter time here in the UK but there is a glimmer of Spring on the horizon. We are now getting towards the end of January and I feel that I am now starting my New Year. I see bulbs sprouting through the earth, There is generally more sunshine and everything seems brighter.

February 1st is the festival of Imbolc. It is also known as St. Brighids Day. For me Brighid symbolises the advent of Spring so I am going to claim February 1st as the start of my New Year. I am feeling more awake and ready to do things. I have started to create more music and art work and am getting ready to work on other projects. So yes, I am starting my New Year soon. How do you feel about this? Do you have different dates for your New Year?

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The Air around us

As a druid I love the element of Air. I love to be outside breathing deeply of the air around me. Of course that air needs to be clean not polluted and that brings me to my blog today. I am continuing the theme of life before pollution. Or was there no pollution in the air when I was young? Actually the air was more polluted then where I lived in my childhood than it is today but a lot of the pollution was different. I lived on the edge of a very industrial area, potteries, mines, steel and brick making plus many other types of manufacturing. The smoke was horrendous and you did not put your washing out on the line when the wind was blowing the wrong way bringing the smoke into your garden. Bronchitis was common as was asthma. Then the Clean Air Act came into force and things changed.

Now we have different kinds of air pollution. Farmers spray chemicals on their fields and a lot of it stays in the atmosphere. Even liquid manure gives off ammonia, a poisonous gas. But what about the silent polluters, the radio waves and other electromagnetic waves of our mobile phones, their masts and the electricity pylons. I am sensitive to such things in the air. I can’t walk by an electricity pylon as it makes me ill. The same with mobile phone masts and there are many of them now. They seem to spread like wildfire.

Many years ago Rachel Carson wrote the book ‘Silent Spring’ mainly about the effects of the insecticide DDT. A recent book has been written about the electronic silent spring, the pollution of our technology. But there is also air pollution in our homes caused by things like scented candles, not all of which are natural, and those air fresheners which many people love but which cause me to cough and splutter for a long time. Many of the fumes from these are toxic and affect our nervous system. We need to think about the items we use in the home and outside in the garden and be aware of what happens to our bodies when we breathe in these toxic fumes.

There are many more ways of polluting the air but I am sure you know most of them. So let’s think about how to make our air cleaner as well as our seas, rivers and streets. A big job but if we all did our bit then it would improve. One last thought, many of us have central heating. What is in the steam that is emitted when the boiler is on? That steam goes out into the air we breathe. What effect does it have on that air?

Before cling film, aluminium foil and most plastics

There is so much in the news nowadays about our overuse of plastics and similar items. So today I am going back in time to my childhood and early adulthood to see how I lived without cling film, foil and plastic.

First of all I’ll look at the way my mother and I shopped for food. We had a shopping bag that was only for the use of vegetables and when we visited the greengrocers each item was placed directly into the bag. Potatoes went first as they were generally dirty, followed by carrots, parsnips and then other veggies and fruit. At the butchers, meat was wrapped in greaseproof paper and then other paper. This applied to such things as cheese and butter as well. There was no margarine around at that time! Sweets were weighed out and then put in a paper bag as were many other things.

I remember the large brown stewpot we had for stews. There were no casserole dishes around then, no slow cookers or microwaves either. There was no foil for cooking so any roasted items made a mess in the oven which was my job to clean as a teenager. But we were never ill! Sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper and then perhaps placed in a tin. Cakes and pies were cooked and saved in large tins. I do remember the days before refrigerators. We had a larder, a small walk in cupboard which had a marble slab in it for keeping food cold. We also had a smaller cupboard with a mesh door in which we kept meat, covered with a dish or plate and other items. In hot weather, milk stood in a bucket of cold water in the larder.

We bought soap in bars and had one kind for the kitchen and another for the bathroom. The bathroom soap came wrapped in a thin roll of cardboard and some paper. Soap powder for laundry purposes was just that, soap powder and it came in a cardboard box. Milk was brought by the milkman with his ‘float’ or cart and horse (in my childhood) and the milk bottles were washed and returned to the milkman. Bottles of beer and lemonade could be purchased from the local pub outside sales and the empty washed bottles returned. We often had to pay a deposit on the bottle but got it back when we returned it.

Recently I have seen some large supermarkets start to use paper bags to put veggies and fruit in instead of using plastic bags. This is a good start. In the UK too much packaging is used. I know of a cake manufacture who places two slices of cake in a plastic tray, covers the tray with more plastic then puts three of these, covered in more plastic inside a cardboard box. This is far too much packaging.

So what can we do about all of this. We can start by refusing to buy products with too much packaging, work on persuading more companies to protect their products with reusable or recyclable packaging. I have been told that some larger supermarkets will also take from you items such as bread wrappers, plastic potato and other vegetable bags and recycle them. I am sure you will have plenty of other ideas but I find that as a druid I must protect our planet as much as I can. It’s not easy but we can all do our bit and then maybe others will follow and we will get rid of all the pollution we have.

Death and Loss

I wrote about dealing with loss in August last year but loss has been uppermost in my mind for several months now as people I know have passed over. Losing someone close to you is hard to deal with and I feel that we don’t talk enough as a nation about death and how it affects us all.

Death is something that happens to us all. After all, we are born, grow up if we are lucky and then die. The natural world around us shows us death on a regular basis as plants grow and bloom and then die. Birds and other small animals are often killed on the road or as prey so death is part of our natural way of living.

I am not afraid of dying although I am not ready to go yet. As a druid I know that there is life after death but somewhere else and on a different level. So my approach will be different from that of many others. I also have that feeling of when it is time to go I won’t have any other option. I remember my mother saying during the war, that if the bomb had her name on it then there was nothing she could do about it.

But how do we deal with it? Grief has many forms and my feelings are that we never get over a death of someone close but that we learn to manage it whatever we believe. I know from experience that each time someone I know dies, then the feelings of grief also bring back the feelings from my first experience of death. When my father died suddenly I had to deal with everything as my mother was unable to cope and this did not give me time to grieve. Time to grieve is important but you know that the spirit of the one who died will always be with you. The time between the bad days and the good days get longer as you learn to live with the loss and eventually you look back on the good memories that you have not the bad ones.

The words of Kahlil Gibran always come to mind when death appears and I will finish this blog with those words: ( you can replace the word ‘God’ with whatever word you wish such as ‘Spirit’)

‘For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.’