As a druid, I attach a good deal of importance to my attitude toward the seasons. If we are to view life and the natural world as a set of interlocking cycles, ever-repeating, then it behooves us to approach each part of our planet’s orbit with respect at the very least. I hope to eventually reach a state of spiritual development where I can greet each season with unabashed welcome, but at the moment I have lower aims: I’d settle for equanimity. This past weekend, however, I reached the end of my winter rope, and the subsequent days haven’t improved my mood.
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that it could be worse. Central Ohio hasn’t had nearly the winter that, say, Cleveland has had, to say nothing of the immense snowfalls in New England. We’ve simply had a February with somewhat lower temperatures and somewhat higher snowfall — but all very much within the normal range for our climate. Nevertheless, while climbing over a dirty snowdrift downtown on Sunday after yet another snowfall, it occurred to me: I am so over this. Cold, snow, wet boots in the doorway, cars crusted with dried roadsalt, grey mounds of plowed snow blocking every single street crossing: ugh. Even the slightly warmer temps we’ve had in the days following aren’t really a salve to the spirit, since they’re hardly warm: 33 degrees just means that it’s still cold and gross, but instead of sinking to mid-calf in a snowpile you now sink to mid-calf in a snowpile with the extra surprise of a frigid pool of salty snowmelt at the bottom. Over it.
When the snow first began falling in November, I honored the Cailleach Bheur, Celtic goddess of bitter winter storms. First snowfalls often seem so magical and transformative that it’s easy to welcome the change in seasons, especially as they lead into the secular/transreligious winter holiday season, with all of its pageantry and feasting. Even though we know that winter can be harsh and long, in the face of all the merriment it’s easy to forget the affective weight of so many gray, sunless days long after the garlands are taken down. There’s a part of me that’s terribly annoyed with myself for finally reaching my breaking point: I had hoped to spend the winter meditating on the Cailleach and her terrible beauty, and to keep myself centered through that practice. As it turns out I didn’t end up doing that; perhaps my attitude would be different if I had.
I wonder, though, if it wasn’t a fool’s errand to begin with. I recently began reading Page duBois’s A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism (Harvard UP, 2014); from the very introduction duBois points out the ways the dominant religious culture sends us messages about our relationship to deities that may be hard to square with the lived experience of the seasons in all their wonder and their aggravation: “worship in these definitions [of the terms ‘deity’, ‘god’, et sim., in major dictionaries] entails ‘love,’ or veneration of a deity, while in polytheism deities are often believed in but not loved, or worshiped—given offerings or even sacrifices—not because of ‘love,’ but because of fear or the desire for favor” (6). The historical evidence that remains to us treats the Cailleach in a variety of ways (as a wise crone, as a creatrix, as a personification of various natural phenomena), but she is rarely loved. She is wild and dangerous, mighty and fearsome. There’s every chance that my goal of achieving some sort of balance with the Cailleach was doomed to failure all along: how can one hope to be at peace with a deity whose very nature often stands at odds to human comfort, much less survival?
I’m not writing this post because I have answers. I don’t have a grand unifying theory of how to contextualize the struggles of the cold months, neither the catastrophes nor the slow, creeping depression. What I do have is a realization of having, once again, overestimated my human ability to stand tall in the face of global weather systems. There is worth in standing defiant before the gale, but there is also honor in recognizing when you are outmatched. Perhaps next winter I’ll inch closer to making some sort of peace, however tenuous, with Winter’s Queen, but for now I’m resigned to pushing through. The wheel keeps turning, and today’s slush will pass into tomorrow’s snowmelt and the coming days’ first growth. There will always be another winter, but first will come another spring.