I have been wanting to write for over a month now but every time I sat to write, there was just silence. As the Winter Solstice approached, I just kept hearing the word ‘wait’. So wait I did. I waited ….and waited. I didn’t know what for. I thought maybe that it was for the light. After all the Winer Solstice and Christmas are all about the light returning, and like most of us on the planet, I am longing for the darkness of this pandemic to be over. But no matter how I tried to grab hold of the bright optimism that seemed to be jumping off the many posts on social media about the next year being better, that the new vaccines would solve our problems and that we would be able to return to normal soon, the feeling was elusive and would slip through my fingers, leaving me with that sense of waiting. So I stopped trying to capture it and settled into the quietness of the season.
It was a doll who began to explain about the waiting. A gift for a friend, she was a Cailleach doll. For those of you not familiar with the Cailleach, let me give you a brief introduction. A very ancient figure, the Cailleach is known in the folklore of both Scotland, Ireland and to a lesser degree the Isle of Mann. The name means old woman or hag and can also mean the veiled one. A giant hag who created the land as she strode across it, dropping huge boulders that created mountains, she was also known as the Queen of winter. In late autumn, around Samhain, the Cailleach would wash her shawl in the whirlpool of Corryvreckan. As she shook out the shawl, the frozen drops of water would scatter over the land, becoming the first frosts of the winter. She is also connected to the storms and winds of winter. Under her shawl, all that needs to die is stripped away, just as the leaves are stripped from the trees. In spring, the Cailleach’s strength wanes as the suns warmth returns and Bridhe returns bringing new life and fresh growth.
The doll is made by needle felting, a time consuming process where a barbed needled is stabbed repeatedly into fleece so that the fibres grab onto each other and gradually you can make a shape. I never know what or who will emerge from the raw fleece and I have to listen to my heart’s whispers and see where my hands take me.
It is a slow process and one that doesn’t fit with a society where time is money and where worth is measured by productivity. Even slower has been the weaving of the dolls shawl. I don’t knit or crochet, my dyslexic ADHD brain finds them impossible to cope with. So I decided to weave her a shawl. The shawl is central to the Cailleach story and so she clearly had to have one. I had some very fine white Shetland wool that seemed ideal as Shetland was where the doll would be going. The only problem was that because it was so fine, it took ages to weave. I wanted to get the doll posted off to the friend who is waiting for her and I started to get frustrated. The rows seemed to take forever to grow. I found myself wondering if I could wet felt one more quickly. It was at that point I had the realisation that I was engaging in the energy of a culture that demands speed and that the product of the doll had become more important than the process of making her. A process that was really about prayer. Taking a slow breath, I sat looking at the doll with her strange blue skin, wild white hair and a body that contained ancient landscapes. ‘The weaving can’t be hurried’ she seemed to say.
That phrase has been a gift these last days. It has made me think of all that we are going through collectively. This last year has been one where we have seen natural disasters of floods and fires, many have lost loved ones, people suffering from long covid have lost their health. Incomes and homes have disappeared, many of us in the UK mourn the loss of our identity as Europeans and democracy has been under attack in a frightening way. And yet we see a deluge of messages on social media telling us to ‘move forward’, not to focus on the loss, to let it go and welcome in the light, the wealth that awaits us in the 2021.
But my years as both nurse and psychotherapist specialising in trauma, taught me this:
Healing can’t be hurried.
Grieving can’t be hurried.
I’m not suggesting wallowing in self- pity or feeding the fear as some would accuse me of doing. I’m talking about walking through this huge time of transition with awareness and reverence.
Reverence for those who have lost their lives. Reverence for those who are grieving and who have lost everything. Reverence for those with health issues both physical and mental, that mean fear crouches at their doorway, waiting to find a foothold. Reverence for those on the front line in healthcare, working in desperate situations trying to save lives whilst others say it’s all a hoax.
Reverence for this planet ravaged by our greed and consumer mind-set and the climate change that it has caused.
I do believe that light will come in this darkness. The seasons show me that winter will give way to Spring, just as the Cailleach gives way to Bridhe. But we can’t make it happen by ignoring the dark that still remains.
My dear, wise friend Perdita Finn, (co-author with her husband Clark Strand of ‘The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary ’,a book that changed my life), said something just before the solstice that stuck in my mind. She said that the wise men who followed the star travelled at night, they journeyed in the dark. Step by step. And what did they find at the end of the journey? A bright King in a Palace full of wealth and shining lights? No. They found a young mother in a dark cave with a baby.
Some say that the baby is the light of the world. But even that light had to grow.
I truly believe that there is joy to be found by embracing the dark. Maybe not the bright glittery happiness promised by the social media memes. But the joy that comes from being in alignment with this precious earth and the beings that inhabit her. Joy is savouring the intricate beauty of the frost on a path or the warm breath of a treasured pet. Joy that comes from reaching out in kindness to someone who is struggling or in receiving that kindness ourselves when our grieving hearts are battered.
There is much work to be done if we want to see our communities repair from the things that this time of pandemic has exposed. The racism, the injustices of poverty and the selfishness behind consumerism. I don’t believe that that will happen quickly by trying to get ‘back to normal’. My heart says that we need to weave a new normal. My weaving of a tiny doll’s shawl has taken time. It has taken dedication, sitting down every day doing what needed to be done. As I weave, I wonder what my part needs to be in the greater weaving that is going on. I’m sure the dolls will teach me if I listen. But one thing is clear;
The weaving can’t be hurried.