There is something about the all-too-fleeting days between Samhain and Winter Solstice. Something about the sudden sharp shock of early-morning air, about the mists rising from the surface of a thousand scattered Connemara lochs. The bog grasses have transformed themselves from a tired green to a rich russet red, and the great black clouds pile in from the mountains to the north, smothering skies that are all shot through with rainbows.
Our village hedgerows are on fire with holly berries, and that Old Crane Woman shrieks her sorrows and joys each evening to the wise old fish lurking at the edges of the fast-flowing, rock-tumbling stream which borders our garden.
These are the most magical days of the year: they’re pregnant with possibility. The dark is still growing – a living, flourishing, palpable presence – seeking out fledgling seeds to nurture in its lush, loamy depths. The dark makes anything possible, feeds the creative imagination, dissolves the veils which seem to separate us from the world or worlds we are in and of. The dark days teach us all that we ever need to know about enchantment – about that deep, embodied belongingness to a world in whose ebbs and flows of becoming we are helplessly, passionately entangled.
These are the days when I can find my own centre again, remind myself what matters. It’s been a crazy year. It wasn’t helped by a big house move and major renovation, right in the thick of completing another big book to a contracted deadline. But The Enchanted Life is done now, off to its two fine publishers, the physical book forming and gestating in these dark days, all ready for a February birth. And I have recovered from the exhaustion which always sets in on completion of a nonfiction manuscript – and The Enchanted Life has required a great deal of research, of thought, of finding the ways to shut the builders out and create the intellectual and creative space to bring its complex ideas coherently and imaginatively onto the page. So I find myself, after a longer than usual haitus, ready to inhabit this blog again, and to offer up more regular fragments of enchantment, as well as the longer and more thoughtful articles which form its backbone.
These are the days when I remember what nurtures me. Nonfiction is a wonderful thing, but what nurtures me most is fiction. Fiction with more than a hint of magic and mystery; fiction with unique characters and surprising, subversive plot lines. What will nurture me above all in this thin season is opening myself to the many vivid voices that are gathering now in my head, crying out to have their own stories told. And so I find myself, after two major nonfiction assignments, turning back to what has always sustained me. The first of several projects will be a collection of original stories about shapeshifting bird-women, featuring – yes, you’ve guessed it – Old Crane Woman as the framing character who brings the stories together, to gather and cohere. The voices are there already: swan-maidens, owl-women, raven queens and so many more, slipping softly through the thin veil of this thinnest of all seasons. These are the days when our ancestors told their tales: the autumn and winter days, the mythic half of the year, when they’d gather together in their houses and the stories would gather there with them, pushing their way out into a cold and hard world, easing the way, showing the path, telling the true wisdom. These are the days when the stories gather: gather them in, and use them well.
These are the days when I can sit, still and open by a winter-bare stream, where the hawthorn berries slowly shrivel on the oldest of trees, where the too-bright rays of winter sunshine might blind your outer eyes but will shoot their cold-fired inspiration into the heart of your creative imagination. Badger passes along this stream, and fox, and otter; heron haunts its edges and shiny silver trout swim in it. These are the thin days, the storied days, the long, slow, gestating days. I plan to use them well.