It is a wild, wintery day here in north Lancashire, and not a great deal is happening out in nature. The animals are hunkering down, and none of the spring flowers have shown their faces yet.
Through the harshness there is a beauty about this time of year, but it is not one of drive and abundance. It is one of retreat and reflection.
With this in mind, this isn’t a great time to be throwing ourselves into dreaming up big ideas and setting them in motion. Yet, culturally there is an expectation to set new year’s resolutions and set forth with gusto in achieving them.
In this blog, I explain why it is good to just rest this month and put to one side any significant efforts to set plans for the coming year. You don't need to wait too long, just a few weeks or so. Come the beginning of February, spring will start to stir herself into being and everything changes. The ancient festival of Imbolc marks this transition. At Imbolc, may the planning commence.
I came across the Celtic Wheel of the Year almost twenty years ago. Since then, I have been celebrating these ancient festivals and aligning myself with the natural cycles of nature. I am a huge fan of this practice, a core aspect we teach in our Mystery School. We have run countless celebrations and retreats over the years, bringing like-minded travellers together both out in the wilds and online to immerse in the different energies and set out intentions for the coming months.
This year is no exception. In fact, it might be the biggest year yet in terms of events we are holding around the Wheel. We begin with our online retreat, Ignite the Spark, which we are holding around Imbolc in a few weeks. I will share more about our plans in a moment, but first, I want to describe the energy of this special time of year that is fast approaching.
Imbolc is a Gaelic word meaning 'in the belly of the Mother'. Our ancestors would celebrate this as the first lambs were born and the sheep began to lactate, providing much-welcomed nourishment and the first food of the new year.
Imbolc falls between the evening of 31st January and 2nd February and marks the point between the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, and the Spring Equinox, when the sun rises and sets exactly twelve hours apart. This festival is a transition point, the first day of spring. It might seem like winter is set in for months yet, but there are stirrings. It is subtle, but significant changes are happening in nature at this time. At Imbolc, the early spring flowers are showing their faces.
The snowdrops have pushed their noses up through the earth, and the blackthorn blossoms are just moments away from lighting up the hedgerows. Birds are beginning to explore their nesting sites, and the evenings are getting a little brighter daily. The abundance of spring is a few months off yet, but there are stirrings. We can feel the promise of the warmth returning and new life bursting around us.
With the onset of spring, the festival of Imbolc is the perfect time to begin envisioning and planning the year ahead.
The Wheel of the Year helps us keep focus throughout the year. It is a great practice to help see visions set at Imbolc through to completion. Every six or seven weeks, a new festival comes around, which has been celebrated for thousands of years. We can draw on the essence of these ancient celebrations, bringing a modern-day application into our lives. The Wheel of the Year allows us to focus on the year, create space, take stock and plan. It allows us to align with the energies of nature to give ourselves the best chance of success.
The energy of Imbolc is gentle stirrings. It is the time to breathe life into dreams and bring visions from the unconscious to the conscious. It is too early in the Wheel to give our intentions for the year a lot of energy: just enough to begin to bring them into being. The Spring Equinox is the time to give them more life six weeks later, as the spring flowers are blooming and the birds are building their nests, marking their territory with song.
Come Beltane, the festival that marks the end of winter, it is time to go full steam ahead. Drawing on the power of the sun and abundant growth in nature, these are the best months to throw ourselves into projects. Then, as we approach autumn, we can begin to take stock of progress, celebrate achievements, and consider what to take through into the winter for incubation, ready to emerge again at the start of spring next Imbolc.
One of the great things about the Wheel is that it comes back around again and again. What we don’t manage to achieve this year, we can take to winter and then give it our best shot again the following year. A tree doesn’t grow to its magnificence in one year, it is a slow process, inch by inch, year by year. A tree takes nourishment from the soil, retreating in the winter and then pushing forward with zest in the warmer months.
Planning and being organised are so important when it comes to seeing our goals through and realising our dreams. The Wheel helps with this.
I have been writing about the Honey bee this week as we are in the final throes of creating our animal spirit divination deck. Bees have played an important role in the history of humanity as they pollinate over one-third of our global food supply. Without bees, civilisation would fall. They achieve these great feats by being incredibly organised.
Honey bees live in large communities of between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals, and each bee has a specific role divided into three types. At the head of the colony, there is a single queen bee that can live for up to five years. She is the only bee who lays eggs. As well as producing a strong honey bee colony, she also excretes chemicals that guide the behaviour of the other bees. The second type is the worker bees. These are the female bees, and their role includes foraging for pollen and nectar from flowers, producing wax to build the hive, protecting the hive and feeding the queen bee, drones and larvae. The role of the worker bee changes with age and takes on quite a progression during their six weeks of life. The third type of bee is the male bee, a drone, whose job is to mate with the new queen.
Honey bees depend on this highly organised diversity for survival. Everyone has a specific role, which ensures the whole community's survival. Honey bees teach us the importance of getting organised. When we are organised, our productivity increases: we are more likely to achieve our goals and attain the sweet elixir of life our soul desires.
How do you manage your time? Do you have a systematic way of setting your goals and planning how you will achieve them? Do you ringfence space through the year to focus in on your plans, take stock and look at what needs to happen to move forward? The Wheel of the Year is an excellent process to follow for this.
Walking the Wheel with us
I mentioned earlier that 2023 sees our biggest programme of events around the Wheel ever. Drawing on the nature connection and shamanic toolkit that we teach in our Mystery School, these events are designed to help travellers tune into the energies of nature, create space to focus and receive spiritual guidance. We would love to walk the Wheel with you!
We are beginning with the second of our winter trilogy of online events that we are running to guide us through these months of gestation and conception. Ignite the Spark on the 4th of February is about dreaming the year into being. It is perfect for anyone who wants to get the most out of this year. We will be recording the day and so if you can’t make it, do consider signing up anyway and receiving the replay a few days later.
Then we have our final online winter event, Spring into Life, on Saturday 18th of March, falling around the time of the Spring Equinox. The Equinox is about beginning to tip the balance, moving from stillness into full steam ahead at Beltane. It is the time to begin to put plans into motion and give energy to our dreams.
The next festival, Beltane, at the end of April, is where winter ends and summer begins. This is when we begin our summer in-person retreat programme out in the wilds of the north of England and Wales. We would love to share these experiences our in nature with you.
We start with Space to Emerge, our woodland oasis in amongst the bluebells, rising from Windemere in Cumbria. Then we hide away in the hills of the Peak District around the time of the Summer Solstice and get tribal. We rest under the emerald boughs in Snowdonia for our deep summer retreat in the weeks after Lammas, and then at the Autumn Equinox, we will gather on the Cumbrian coast to seek the messages of England’s Last Wolf. Finally, we arrive at Samhain, marking the end of the Celtic year, and return to the Derbyshire hills in search of our Quest.
Amongst the adventures out in the meadows, woodlands, moorland and coast, we will check in again with our online wheel of the year programme in mid-June, at the time of the Summer Solstice. Around the time of the Equinox, we are off to the woods for our autumn online retreat Woodland Wanderings, for some balance and reflection. This will be an opportunity to focus on the final few weeks of the Celtic year to give a final burst of energy to whatever it is that we are bringing into being this year. Looking ahead to winter once more, we will round off the year with our online retreat Bear Necessities, reflecting on the past year and looking at what to take back into winter again, ready to begin another cycle with the return of the sun.
If any or all of these appeal to you, save the dates shared on this link. We have set the dates for all of our winter online and summer in-person retreats. We will announce our summer-autumn online retreat dates later this spring.
And if you would like to hear more from us about our plans, and the practice of the Wheel of the Year, we are holding a free webinar later this month on Wednesday 25th January, 7pm. Come and learn about the Wheel, and how you can flow through the seasons with us. We will share details next week including the registration link. The event will be recorded and the replay shared with everyone who registers.
Of course, in between all the turns of the Wheel, we will be checking in regularly with our Mystery School. If you aren’t already a member, you might like to come and join us. This resource is here for you if you want to take your practice further and get monthly support through our online community. We have plenty of resources you can draw upon to help move you along on your spiritual path, including themed monthly shamanic journey circles and coaching calls.
This time last year, I read one of the most influential and eye-opening books. It formed the topic of our January shamanic journey circle in the Mystery School, and I wrote a blog the following month.
In short, culturally we are up against something that is quite monumental for mankind. It is getting harder and harder to maintain our focus. I have noticed this myself. Here is an extract from my blog last year, Attention!
'Over recent years I have noticed that my attention span has changed. I find it hard to focus on things without jumping to other things. There is one place where I can get it under control without too much effort, and that’s when I’m out in nature. But if I’m at home, I find I have to dig deep and be very disciplined to stay focused on one task. If I don’t, I find myself switching to check my emails, popping on Facebook or Instagram, carrying out some easy admin tasks that don’t require much thought, or anything that will distract me from the thing that demands unbroken attention.
Reflecting back to ten years ago, I didn’t struggle with paying attention in this way. This problem has crept up on me. I have noticed it for a while now, and have been blaming myself. ‘You need to be more disciplined Nicola. Just turn the internet off. Just tell yourself to stop when you start to feel the urge to jump onto something else.’
But I have recently discovered it is a lot more complicated than that. Reading the book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari, which was published in January 2022, has opened my to eyes to the reasons why I have this challenge. Through his book Johann explains how our attention has been stolen from us. There is a design to take our attention away from us, and he shares twelve different ways on how this has been achieved. Reasons range from the design of technology coming out of Silicon Valley through to our diets, children’s play to pollution, exposure to light before bedtime, and not giving time for the mind to wander.
I know I am not alone in struggling to keep my focus. The book is full of examples of people who feel the same, along with some startling statistics. For example, a study in the US found that the average time an adult stays on one task at work is three minutes. Most office workers never get an hour of uninterrupted work in a typical day. Johann writes: “If this goes on for months and years, it scrambles your ability to figure out who you are and what you want. You become lost in your own life.
This raises these questions in me. If we become lost in our own lives, how can we follow our soul’s calling? How can we find our happiness? How can we lead fulfilling lives?
A year on from writing that blog Attention! I am even more fired up about this challenge many people face collectively. This is the spiritual work, to find ways to maintain our focus and achieve our soul's calling.
The Wheel of the Year is the antidote to our attention being stolen. Nature isn’t losing her focus. We need to find ways to get back into that flow, that natural way of being and thinking. I strongly believe that the only way to get sight of our goals and then achieve them is to give them space. The Wheel allows us to do this: to pause at each turn and take stock. This begins at Imbolc with visioning.
We are so excited about these spaces we are creating this year to reclaim focus, tune into nature, deep inner wisdom, the Otherworlds. We hope to share this wander with you.
Our next free event
Wednesday 25th January, 7pm
Maintain your focus with the Wheel of the Year.
Bookings open via our website the week beginning 16th January. If you aren’t already on our mailing list please sign up via this link.