The Solstices and The Equinoxes are liminal spaces, the thresholds in-between moving from one part of the season into the next. I'm a person of the subarctic, and in both the arctic and the thick belt of forested Taiga below it, seasons traditionally were not four, but eight. Summer, Fall-Summer, Fall, Fall-Winter, Winter, Spring- Winter, Spring, and Spring-Summer. Like the Celtic Calendar, perhaps the most well-known iteration of the idea of The Wheel of The Year, these seasonal Rhythms broke the year into customs and celebrations.
I tend to write a lot about the "holy days", the idea that behind our most watered-down, muddled-up modern celebrations here in the "West", old connections to the rhythms of Nature are very much alive. There are many cultures in the world (and numbers-wise many more folx) for whom those connections were never fully severed, but for many of us living in the Northern Hemisphere that is no longer the case. The "Holidays" are a scattered handful of arbitrary-seeming days, who's customs and meanings we are either not very connected to, or left to make up for ourselves.
So to me, organizing one's life more according to these more ancient, seasonal rhythms feels more natural than anything else I can imagine. And, as a descendant of people who held in esteem other stars, and different constellations than the one's we inherit from just a few thousand years ago, following The Moon has been a practice of meaning for me longer than I can remember. I don’t say this to disregard Astrology, as it can be powerful and ancient as well, but I think it’s important to remember that the astrology of now, wasn’t always the astrology of the sky, or everyone under it. The Moon however, has been with us since before were single-celled organisms. (Just my two cents.)
This why my newsletters often come out during a particular Moon phase within a season or in connection to a Holy Day, and that is of course, and why they often contain a small practice or a spell. I create these spells myself, based on my own practices, and the practices I've learned about, been taught, unearthed and studied. They are rooted in my people's folk traditions, but to be fair, many other folk traditions, which is how in English we say The People's Traditions, carry similar traits; not just in regional proximity as we see it now, but in unexpected and connecting ways.
In no way do I think like the anthropologists of yore that all cultures share some common core, to universally swap out their traditions, but in these times of increased separation, from ourselves, from what we call "nature", and from each other, I'm always delighted by the places where many of my own cultures overlap. As I continue to study my own ancestral ways, those places become more and more abundant.
The commonalities don’t show up just in the obvious places, spanning Old "Europe" the lands that we now associate with Scandinavians, Slavs, Finno-Ugric folk, all most closely related to my people, they show up in synchronicity, remnant and real connection, all over the place. Most often I see them in the circumpolar lore connected by the curve of the Earth, but lately, with my study of my other ancestral lineage, I have been delighted and moved to discover the connective threads between my far Northern and Southern ancestry.
Those places where traditions meet, are like The Solstices and The Equinoxes: a threshold, a transition, full of meaning and information.
Just the other day, as I was researching different Egg dyeing techniques for The Vernal Equinox and the weeks following it, I came across beautifully dyed eggs from The Armenian tradition, that so reminded me of the Slavic ones that have become part of Finnish ways over time. Though my own “Arab” ancestry is Palestinian, this connection between practices made me feel like preparing to dye eggs, wove that connection between both my lineages.
Bringing Old Ways into our modern lives is not always something we can neatly package or explain. It is an ongoing, often intuitive, sometimes fumbling process, but I think a necessary one. Sometimes people ask me why I’m so concerned with all these traditions “outside” of what we consider herbalism, but to me it seems more and more that there is no difference; that I can’t work try to rediscover old Finnish plant medicine and leave the rest. Because the rest, the stories , the Folklore, the other healing modalities, the spirits, the practices, are part of the same, once complete system of medicine. They are intrinsically interwoven and feed each other.
So, having just returned from Finland at this time, researching different ways to dye eggs, I think of today, The Spring Equinox, the moment when we transition from Spring-Winter to SPRING. While I was there, I saw the Swans return to the far North, and as soon as I came home to The Salish Sea, they were flying up ahead here as well, heading North from wintering in the marsh-y valleys and lowlands. There they will make nests, lay eggs, and rear their young.
Like many water birds, swans are a holy bird to Finno-Ugric people, so much so that some of our scholars self-refer to our paleolithic ancestors as “The People of Water Fowls”, and our national bird is Cygnus cygnus, whom we call Laulujoutsen, “The Song Swan”. In folklore they are thought of as both a bird that travels between this world and The Otherworld effortlessly, and also one of the animals that we are related to, because once, as young woman of our relation was turned into a swan, and that is why it has always been taboo to eat or harm swans, who continue to be protected. They are divine, and though they can come and go from the underworld, they’re considered good luck as well.
I keep chickens, and having just moved them to our new home, feels particularly fortuitous since this is the season that my ancestors would have anxiously awaited for the return of the waterbirds, who were not just holy for some obscure belief, or a mythical reason, but for a very real one: their return signaled the beginning of much needed seasonal abundance. Soon, the mallards, the loons, the gulls would lay their eggs, long before the snow even melted, and my ancestors would have carefully sought out some nests, made proper offerings, and fed themselves and their families with those eggs.
That the practical and “the magical” exist together everywhere in old, wise, land-based culture so seamlessly is because those “myths” were a way to make collective meaning of the world. They were to teach, share, and to tell the story of ourselves as people, but also, the story of everything and everyone.
“Myth” in modern language has the connotation of something made up, a false belief, a tall-tale, its origin in English as “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings or events”. Myths are only “untrue”, or “symbolic” because we pride ourselves in not believing in those stories. Because as a culture we separate what’s “real” and what’s not with a clear line. We have come to believe that the connection to the natural world that was the bread and butter (or the egg and duck if you will) of all of our ancestors until very recently, was somehow superstitious, because they believed in what we think of as “supernatural”, extrasensory, intuitive, invisible, connected by hidden logic.
I think about that, as I gather the eggs from my chicken coop, in ever-increasing numbers. A Raven lands in the yard to capture a few chicken feathers for the nest it’s building. Venus twinkles out of the twilight before the Full Moon, the star of Aphrodite, who’s bird is a Swan, and who once was Inanna the goddess of my ancestors, who returns now, again from the Underworld.
Into the nesting box, I put a few sprigs of fresh herbs, nestled into hay and leaves and conifer boughs as a thank you. I sit on the stoop and comb out my hair, leaving it for the little birds for their own nests. I plant some things: split roots, water seeds, separate starts.
I continue to make my own nest, in the physical world yes, from tending chickens and gardens, dyeing eggs, poorly nailing things together, but also, in the spiritual, medicinal, ancestral world; from stories, and knowledge, offerings, and connected myth-makings.
Happy Full Moon & Vernal Equinox! What’s in your own nest?