Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Path to Spring

February 2nd is Imbolc (also Imbolg), or St Brigid's Day, an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Here is a meditation for that day.

The Path to Spring
The snow was coming down more heavily, a white blizzard that I struggled through; I was wrapped up with a thick coat and scarf, yet still was felt the chill of the wind, and the cold seeping up from the ground below as my feet crunched the powered snow.
I had been on straightforward path, well mapped out to my destination, a home where I could expect a warm welcome from friends. At some point, I must have taken a wrong turning. As the snow settled on the stone walls and the thin skeletal branches of trees, the whole landscape became different, and the track beneath my feet disappeared from my sight.
The winter had been a time of dark overcast skies, and short days, and I was tired, worn out, and in need of rest. And now it was starting to get dark once more, a purple hue creeping over the land. Whatever track I was now on was climbing uphill, and I was in need of a place to rest.
The birds had long ceased to sing, and the land around was silent except for the soft sound of falling snow. I felt that I was completely alone; it was as if I had crossed into a strange twilight region, another world with no people, no birds or animals. It felt like a silent land, that seemed to be on the threshold of some momentous change.
As the path twisted through fir trees, I happened to look up the hill, and there I saw a dwelling, a lodge house of some kind, with light shining from its window, and smoke drifting from its chimney. There was some kind of shelter, and the promise of warmth and hospitality, a relief for any weary traveller. My pace quickened.
I rang the bell, and an old man answered the door, and invited me in. He welcomed me, and took me down a short corridor into a large living room. Gas light burned brightly from mantles fixed to the walls, bookcases filled with ancient books lined one wall; at its centre was a large granite fireplace, with a blazing fire, and sparks cascading up the chimney. There were three comfortable if old fashioned looking arm chairs beside the fireplace, with a large harp beside one.
He bade me sit by the fireside to warm myself, and dry my damp clothes, while he went off. Presently he returned with a mug of warm rich vegetable broth, which I sipped hungrily, while he sat quietly, puffing away on a pipe, and sending smoke rings towards the fire.
After I had eaten my fill, a young girl entered the room, and he introduced her as his daughter, Brigid. She sat, and began to play the harp, and this is the song she sang:
Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain,
East brings the cold winds, and the freezing rain
Love lives again, with feathered touch unseen
Opening the east, comes time to spring up green.
In funeral pyre now burning, and beyond all pain
South brings the fires, ends where death has slain
Ashes scatter on the wind, incense sweet and clean
Opening the south, after firestorm, spring up green
Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain,
West brings the snowfall, and then thaws to rain
Love lives again, with pure water bubbling clean
Opening the west, herbs now spring up green.
When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
North brings forth rich soil, winter's gods are slain
Salt brings its flavour, light of the world now seen
Opening the north, like wheat that springs up green.
The last notes played on the harp faded away, and the old man rose and showed me to a bedroom where I could sleep. It was warm and cosy, snuggled beneath blankets, and listening to the friendly creaking of the house around me. There was a candle on the bedside beside me, and I blew it out, settling down in the darkness. Then a deep sleep fell upon me, and in my sleep, I had a dream.
In my dream, I was standing in a forest clearing, with a bright full moon in a clear sky above. In the dark shade around its edges, I saw rippling moonlight on the ground as the cool breeze blew the branches. In the centre of the forest clearing, I saw a stone well, and a handle to crank to get water from the well.
There was a stone beside the well, and there I saw a young woman, seated, with a green shawl wrapped around her, and a red dress. I saw that she was holding a child in her arms. She had a pole with a lantern on it beside her, its candle burning strongly and her face shone brightly in its yellow light.
I approached her, and she spoke:
Take this candle to light the way
To take away the darkness of the past
May it be a light to enlighten you
To guide you through difficult times
And shine on the path you seek
Take this candle to light the way
To take away the darkness of the past
May it be a fire within you
To burn out the pride and selfishness
And shine on the path you seek
Take this candle to light the way
To take away the darkness of the past
May it be a flame to bring warmth
To your neighbours and family
And shine on the path you seek
Take this candle to light the way
I cannot stay long with you
In leaving this candle
I give something of myself
To shine on the path you seek
And she hands me the lantern, and tells me to let love and compassion burn within ny heart, for then I will find the path to eternal spring.
I take the candle and bow to her, and as I do so, I hear a cock crow; it is dawn, and the dream is gone in an instant. I awake in my bed in the lodge. I got up and dressed, and went to the living room, but the fire was out, just grey ashes, and no sign of anyone. On the table beside a chair, there was a note. I picked it up and read it, and it said "Go with joy and hope.".
I stepped outside, and headed down the path. The snow had stopped falling, and the ice was beginning to thaw. Further down, I heard the sound of water, and came across a stream running over a rocky bed. I bent down to cup some of the water in my hand. It was ice cold, but so fresh and pure to drink.
When I looked up the hillside, the lodge had gone, and in its place, only the ruined shell of a building, bricks covered with moss and ivy; it looked as if it must have that crumbled away over a hundred years ago. Yet I was sure it had been there, a place for the weary traveller, that perhaps came when need called forth the past.
I carried on walking. The signs were there that Winter was slowly ending. The woods rang with the cries of starlings, serenading their potential mates; I saw the sun break out from behind the clouds, catching the starlings in flight, green whirls of plumage in a blue sky.
A time of transition was in progress, and the music of the birds sang of new life, of seeking nesting for the Spring to come. Snowdrops were rising from the ground. There might be more cold days, and some bitter, but I knew that the reach of Winter was slipping.
Then all at once, I saw where I had turned off the main track, and took once more the path to spring. I did not have the lantern from my dream, but the memories of the night, remained, and the candle light burned deeply within me.

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