Humbled by the Darkness of Winter

I started out this December with a nose dive into Christmas cheer. Then, I spent some time exploring what parts of the Christian holiday were still resonant with me, and what I’d happily left behind. Now, the introspection of the Dark Days has set in.

It hit me unexpectedly. One moment I was working my craft, focussing on the task at hand, and the next I was on the verge of tears. Something someone said or some passing action spurred a memory of a younger me, and in that moment I was given insight into just how much time has passed. I didn’t feel old, but I was aware that I was no longer young in the same way that I used to be.

And this didn’t just happen once. It’s as though the entire climate and ecosystem of my personal and professional life has been infused with greater meaning, deeper symbolism, and a heavier tone. There’s been no escaping it. Nothing stills my mind but the repetitious act of knitting, and even in that there are moments where great pause and reflection interrupt the rhythm of the stitches.

What I’m feeling has nothing to with Jesus being or not being the “Reason for the Season” — all of that talk seems like trivial bickering right now. Nor does this state seem to stem from anything related to a recently assumed Pagan tradition that I’ve picked up over the past few years. This feeling doesn’t seem to originate from within me at all. It’s like the entire world is working a stillness into me, and I have little control in the matter.

Perhaps the reason that some of us bicker with each other around this time of year, be that over family dramas or to debate the legitimacy or illegitimacy of one another’s traditions, is that in doing so we experience a kind of spark; an artificial fire that allows us to deny the darkness that is actually setting in all around us, and inside of us. We remain in our heads, formulated better arguments, forging more effective defenses, and all the while the darkness grows deeper. The darkness grows in spite of our best efforts to hold on to the light.

We don’t need to pay attention in order for winter to happen. We don’t create the darkness. The darkness of winter simply arrives, and it transforms us, and we are left to decide whether we will surrender to it, or resist. In the darkness of winter, we are given the opportunity to see our lives from a still position, reflecting on who we’ve become and from where we’ve traveled. We can take that opportunity, or we can argue with one another. To choose the latter is to miss what the Holy Cycle of the World is offering to us.

It may seem that I have no choice in the matter; my emotions are a full cup, with the water just about to crest. But there must be some choice to be made, and I think I made it long ago when I committed myself to a deeper level of engagement with my life, with my beliefs and with the world around me. That’s what Druidry is for me; that is my Paganism. This commitment to my life has led me to — among other things — to a more acute sensitivity to the changes of the earth.

With just a few days left before Yule, before the calling back of the light, I experience a still darkness inside my soul, and through this darkness passes the images of a younger me, a me who was filled with many hopes and aspirations, naive to the challenges I would inevitably face, and unaware of little else besides my own desires and dreams. The darkness shows me who I was, and then without judgement, shows me who I am now.



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12 responses to “Humbled by the Darkness of Winter”

  1. Jeffrey Keefer Avatar

    I have read this post a few times now since you posted it, and I can’t help feeling it is really very sad, almost like being lost in the darkness of time. Did you mean it in this way, Teo? If so, how are things since Yule has now passed?

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for your comment, Jeffrey. I appreciate your concern.

      I’m not sure it was quite that dismal, but I was experiencing a certain kind of sadness when I wrote the post. This has been a very interesting, somewhat confusing December for me, filled with many unexpected revelations about the meaning of the season. Perhaps uncertain leads me to a kind of melancholy. I don’t know.

      I’m doing well, now. I just posted about an experience I had last night at a Yule ritual, and I’m very much looking forward to spending the next couple of days seeing my family for our annual Christmas rituals (as crazy as that may sound).

      Again, thank you for your comment. It’s nice to know that I have such supportive readers!

  2. Kilmrnock Avatar

    fey, farie folk     sorry kilm

  3. Kilmrnock Avatar

    There is another reason alot of us , myself included feel blue after the holidays and during winter . Many of us have a connection to the fay , after yule/solstice the fay go underground  aren’t very active over the winter when the earth itself sleeps .I personaly can feel their absence . Many of us can , this is another cause of the winter blues.   Also happy Solstice/ Yule to everyone .   Kilm

  4. WhitebBirch Avatar

    I recently reread Ethan Frome (a weird lead in, I know, but bear with me) and one of the major themes is the heaviness with which a northern winter can rest on people, and even on places. That rang very true for me, in a similar way as this post did, which made me immediately connect them.

    Part of my personal background is moderate to severe seasonal affective disorder, so for me the winter time has a very distinct, even palpable feel. Sometimes it’s lighter and other times heavier, but it is always tangible, I’m shrouded, or sometimes even pressed. I feel sealed away from life, or frozen. The struggle for me is to recognize when it’s time to thaw. I don’t have a choice about the muffling, the dampening of my personality in the winter time.  I do what I can to mitigate the effect, but I know I’ll never be entirely without the sensation.

    But I do find that following a natural path, a path that recognizes and celebrates the movement of the sun (or the earth around the sun if you’re being literal) has brought me more in tune with the yearly cycle of my body and my brain chemistry. That mindfulness gives me an extra sensitivity to when the light begins to return. I live in Maine where winter can feel very long and the cold season lasts much longer than the dark season. It’s easy for me to get carried away with the winter and fail to recognize the returning light, to dampen my body’s receptivity by my mind’s expectations and not surface from my SAD as early as I might. Recognizing the lengthening days does a lot to counteract that effect. And since I feel the dying and rising year so keenly, I am finding the Winter Solstice to be an incredibly meaningful observance.

    Very thoughtful, Teo. I so appreciate your insights.

    1. WhiteBirch Avatar

      Oh I do love typos. ><

  5.  Avatar

    Hello darkness, my old friend,
    I’ve come to talk with you again,
    Because a vision softly creeping in,
    Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
    And the vision that was planted in my brain
    Still remains
    Within the sound of silence. 

    -Simon & Garfunkel, Sound of Silence

    this is the music I use in my Winter Solstice ritual – this stanza alone to me encapsules everything about the Darkest Day.

  6.  Avatar

    A beautiful rumination on the true spirit of the season. Thank you, Teo!

    I have a suggestion and a request.We are now inching toward the Longest Night, and the sunset creeps back a moment or two each evening, while sunrise tarries. But the advance of night is slowing to a crawl. The vast pendulum of light and dark is reaching the apex of its swing, for a brief moment, all things will come to complete stillness. And then… and then… the light begins to return.

    It has been my fleeting experience that if you listen, really listen, you can hear the trees begin to awaken. Smell them. Feel them. It is much sooner that I would have thought — I would have expected it to take until March, or April, or May, when the leaves reappear. But something magical happens within a few hands of days after Solstice.

    My request is that you all listen, and report here on what you hear, and smell, and sense — and when….

  7. Natalie Reed Avatar
    Natalie Reed

    Thank you Teo, for this beautiful post – and thank you to those who have so eloquently commented as well. It is wonderful to share a path with such an intelligent, articulate group of people!

  8. kenneth Avatar

    Experiencing the dark time for all it’s worth, and putting it to good use, and even sometimes enduring it, to me is a metaphor for the journey that is paganism.  Paganism in its various paths is much about conscious and deliberate living and a journey of self-discovery and inventory. It can require academic study and various forms of technical training, but really it boils down to a willingness to confront ourselves and then to cultivate the ability to be still and listen and feel the wisdom that nature’s own cycles can impart. This is what sets us apart from monotheistic faiths where they depend on intermediaries and written instruction (most often).

     It is radically different from the habits of mind and being that popular culture offers.  Most Americans these days would rather be fed to wild dogs than to spend time alone with only their own thoughts.  The idea of a dark time and introspection is terrifying to modern man.  Many can’t survive five minutes without the constant stimulus of their iphones and video games and reality shows and Tweets about nothing.  Having lowered our attention span to that of a fruit fly, a few months of darkness and relative solitude become a thousand eternities in Hell. 

  9. Kilmrnock Avatar

       Aye , the darkness and calm of winter and the solstice can and will make you introspective . But i have found , with age and alot of crap along the way , there comes a point in  ones life when a person becomes comfortable in your own skin . Happy with where you are on your journey , and with what you are and have become . I am at that piont in my life . I had a life changing event in my life this past year. At the end of april i had a heart attack .Along with a few new meds, a new diet and exercise routine , i have a renewed out look on life .Such an event make you realise how tenuous your grasp on life really is . how important the little things , the intangables  really are .i have rededicated myself to my path , my wife , and my grove . i will continue to grow and learn , but for the most part i am happy with where i am. this time of year soon the hustle and bustle , craziness of the holiday will be done , then we all can rest and recharge . the outdoor/gardening etc is done . we can now truely relax . tis a good time for personal growth work , things we’ve been meaning to do, but never had the time . this year upcoming , i am going to work on my language studies and my druid studies .seems that after the holidays we have more free time for such things  and quiet introspection , tis good for the soul   Kilm

  10. Tara "Masery" Miller Avatar

    What I miss about myself before age seven or so, is how I didn’t over think what I wanted. I was happy to swing. I was content to play or eat what I wanted. Now it seems that as an adult I will think twice about anything. I understand responsibilities and caring for my health. What I’m referring to is the extra doubt and thoughts that impede on my true enjoyment of each moment. This is what brings me sorrow when I see that I have aged and I want to recapture enjoying all five senses in each moment with childlike wonder of my youth with the right amount of wisdom of middle age.