Talks

Talk given at the launch of Spirited Ageing, at the Women’s Bookshop, Auckland, in April 2013

Spirited Ageing launch talk

Juliet Batten CELEBRATING THE GREEN SEASON: a talk given at the Unitarian Church, Auckland, October 7, 2012

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INTRODUCTION

It was a Unitarian who started me writing my book, Dancing with the Seasons. One blustery winter’s night about six years ago the phone rang. It was a complete stranger, who was ringing with an unusual request.

‘I’m Derek, the minister of the Christchurch Unitarian Church,’ he said. ‘We’ve started a special event called All Heretics Day and I’d like to ask you to be our guest heretic for the next one.’ He thought that what I was saying about the seasons was extremely heretical.

Well, I was so amused, that I had to say yes. Then I realised I had a problem. They already knew my book Celebrating the Southern Seasons, inside out; they’d rearranged their church calendar to fit the suggestions in that book.’ What could I possibly say to them that was new?

SEASONAL LOG

Over the months that followed I kept a seasonal log, recording in my journal what I observed happening in nature, and in my self – every day, for a whole year. This is an amazing thing to do. After many months I found I was connecting with the seasons at a much deeper level and discovered some things:

  • My attitude towards change was becoming more and more positive (I was developing a sense of trust in the rhythm of life)
  • Nature was becoming my teacher: telling me when to slow down, when to speed up, when to start new projects and when to draw back and consolidate.
  • And so I wrote a whole new book about how we can develop resilience by paying attention to seasonal change.

A SPRING WALK

This week I took a walk to see the spring leaves – unfurling everywhere, fanning out (sprung out of the twigs), frothing from the trees, so bright they are almost yellow. So much life, such a resurgence, such a rising of the sap.

Kowhai almost dripping from the trees, and wisteria from the vines.

And the elements are so active, with rain, wind and sun chasing each other through the skies and over the hills and down the streets.

In the earth seeds are germinating and new shoots popping their heads out and unfurling.

So much life as the sun’s light increases, and it is all rising to a crescendo at the end of October, that point half-way between spring equinox and summer solstice.

And how do we celebrate this surging season? What festivals do we create for our children and communities?

I’m so sorry to deliver bad news: For most people: nothing. Instead, our children run around dressed in black, as witches and goblins, imitating the festival of the dead that is about to take place in the northern hemisphere.

I have no problem with children play-acting, or even pretending to be northern hemisphere children, entering the dark season. But I don’t think they know that they are doing that – or that Halloween is an old seasonal festival of late autumn.

The consequences of dislocating ourselves in time and space are considerable. Something happens inside when we cut our celebrations off from their earth-based, seasonal roots. We weaken our resonance with the earth and with nature.

I must say that it’s important to celebrate Halloween the festival of the dead – but in late autumn where it belongs. April 30 each year, on Ponsonby Rd, I’ve created Kiwi Halloween. I sit on the pavement at Three Lamps with my helpers, and people come to light candles to honour those who have passed over. (If you want to hear about this and other events, subscribe to the Seasons Newsletter)

Why celebrate?

You may be wondering ‘why celebrate at all?’ ‘what does it matter?’

Seasonal celebrations are not just an excuse for a party and a bit of fun (although they may be that too). They have a deeper purpose and always have done. This is why they have taken place in tribal societies from ancient times:

  • To connect us with the changing face of nature. The ancients had to foster this close relationship for survival reasons. Today we have more of a choice, short-term, but long-term we don’t. For our survival, and that of the planet, we need to be even more attentive to every nuance of this changing earth.
  • To help us make transitions. The word derives from Latin transire, which means to go across. It’s the process of changing from the old to the new.

We can easily become disoriented at times of transition. This applies to seasonal change, when we may be susceptible to feeling unwell, and out of kilter. Seasonal festivals help us to let go of the old and welcome in the new, to readjust. They help build resilience because we are aligning our energies with what is happening. They also help us to rejoice in the wonder of the natural world.

In Maori society, in spring, rituals of planting would take place, as people hoed the earth, built up mounds, and placed kumara tubers into the soil. The returning cuckoos would be welcomed, as well as the godwits.

In Celtic Europe, the festival of Beltane was held in high spring. The cattle were let out from their winter quarters, and driven out to fresh green pasture, and the tribes were free to travel, visit neighbouring settlements and hold spring fairs.

In the southern hemisphere the festival of Beltane falls on October 31, on the exact date that the northern hemisphere is entering the dark time of Halloween.

Vision of a spring festival for Aotearoa:

My dream is that October 31 becomes National Green Day: a day to do something for the earth. Donate to an environmental group. Plant trees.

Schools teach children about the old festivals and their roots in the wheel of life.

And celebrate! With a Festival of Spring, a green festival, a festival of hope where we start noticing and celebrating what is good.

We all need our spirits lifting at certain points, especially after winter which brings its ailments and low moments. Spring is time to clear out the mustiness and fustiness and deadness and celebrate the new.

In a festival of hope, everything would be decorated with greenery. The children would wear green, and crowns of leaves, and carry wands of green. The adults would wear green in their lapels. The food would be green: salads and new season’s asparagus, broccoli, bean sprouts, kiwi fruit, green juice . . .

Each child could draw a picture of something they are glad about, and offer it to the altar, which may be as simple as a green cloth and candle placed on a small table. They could plant wheatgrass, mustard or cress seeds on blotting paper, and make a wish. Each person could speak to their gladness, and then sing songs of hope.

Let’s show the younger generation how to celebrate spring. Fill that vacuum with the energy of hope and renewal. We certainly need it.

© Juliet Batten. Please do not reproduce any of this text without permission.

You will find my blog at:

www.seasonalinspiration.blogspot.com