In my last blog I discussed the passing of the Winter Solstice and its impact on the gardening calendar. In times gone by – this was an important date and one which was celebrated widely. Over the past years though – it seems to receive little more than a passing news article concerning the rather idiosyncratic gathering at Stonehenge.
Delving a little deeper into the history of this event – I stumbled across a number of websites concerning the Pagan wheel of the year which follows an annual cycle of key dates at eight equal intervals known as Sabbats. The Winter Solstice sits at the top of the wheel and is known as the Yule Sabbat and essentially marks the return of the Sun. On a divine level – the passing of this cosmological event is symbolised by the birth of the Sun God and the start of a new year. The affinity with Christmas and the birth of christ is clearly not coincidental. The church essentially hijacked the festival during the 3rd and 4th centuries in order to assimilate the many cultures which observed this date. In roman times – the 25th December was known as Sol Invictus ‘the unconquered sun’.
In Iranian culture – the celebrated deity was known as Mithras; in greek – it was Helios. The Egyptians also celebrated the Sun god Ra – although this was not linked to the winter solstice.
Christmas is therefore, simply a ‘modern’ interpretation of the Yule Sabbat and many of the customs associated with this time of year are attributed to the Pagan festival. The focus of bringing greenery into our homes such as holly and ivy as well as the traditional christmas tree all derive from a more ancient time. By gathering in the green growth of winter – it reminds us that life is eternal and that even in the darkest days of the year – nature continues to fight back against the forces of chaos.
I find this interpretation of the Winter Solstice very fitting. Through the lighting of the yule log – ancient people would have sought to mark the return of the warmth of the sun and the renewal of the earth. In anglo-saxon England – the event was known as ‘Modraniht’ which in old english translates to the Night of the Mothers. The worship focused on that of ‘Divine Mothers’ as collective beings, in which the Mother goddess gave birth to a child. The link between this and the christian observance of the birth of Christ is reciprocal. However – the religions differ – in the way in which this birth is interpreted. Rather than focusing on the singular life of one child in the personification of Jesus; the paganism celebration is more symbolic and attests to the birth of new life generally. Yule marks the darkest point of the year but also gives hope and promise for the return of light and warmth.
The wheel of the year is a revelation for me. It aligns perfectly with the key dates one would associate with the gardening calendar, whilst marking the passing of the seasons. It is also clear to see how the ancient agricultural (and to some extent the modern) year would have been linked to these eight sabbats.
As we progress into 2019 I aim to blog around each of the dates marked above – and I will look closely at how this connects with the crops I am growing as well as the main jobs and rituals I am undertaking.
The period between Samhain (31st October) and Imbolc (1st February) is a time of rest. We would associate this with the renewal of the soil and the harvesting and storage of winter crops. Very few crops would be sown during this period and growth of any crops still in the ground would be slow if negligible. It is a useful time to plan for the year ahead – to order seeds and draw up plans for the garden arrangement as a whole.
On the allotment over the past weeks I have continued to mulch the beds and make preparations for the growing season to come.
The garden at home continues to provide regular sustenance. On Christmas morning – I harvested four of my parsnips for the family dinner and I was not disappointed with the taste. They were cooked to perfection and drizzled with a little honey to roast in the tin.
As well as this – I have also made a start with taking the soil from my compost heap and spreading it on the garden. This is the first full year in which I have been able to generate my own compost and the results have been amazing. It was a fantastic crumbly texture full of worms which I suppose indicates a healthy tilth!
Last week – I also planted out two rows of over wintering peas. This is very experimental – and it will be interesting to see if the autumn sowing has advanced the crop come springtime. If it works I would expect to be harvesting pods around the third or fourth week of May. This is also true of the broad beans – which are growing at pace with all of the mild weather of late. In the expectation of colder days to come – I intend to erect a small bamboo frame in which I can then drape fleece over – if the nights are forecast to get below -3C. The crops should be relatively hardy and have so far survived a few light frosts however we have not yet experienced any significant chills.
At this juncture I will take the opportunity to wish you all a very Happy and prosperous New Year and look forward to reading many of your blogs through 2019.