Solstice Musings

As I write this, the solstice is almost upon us. I always think that this time of year takes on an almost dreamlike quality, and time seems to warp into something else so that the New Year and Imbolc seem like distant memories and like yesterday all at the same time.

From Emma Kathryn


Your skin like dawn

Mine like musk

One paints the beginning

Of a certain end

The other, the end of a

Sure beginning

~ Passing Time by Maya Angelo

I think it was Stephen King who once compared writing to time travel or being psychic, perhaps both. I can’t remember where I read it, but it certainly stuck with me because he’s right (of course he’s right, it’s Stephen King!). But consider the idea for a moment. Here I am in my present, the day before the solstice talking to you in the future; as you read this, you’ll be in a form of communication with my past self. See, psychic time travel indeed!

In all seriousness though, time is a funny old thing really, when you think about it. We think of it in terms of minutes and hours, days and weeks, something that is quantified and measured, and so it is in a way. It helps keep the machine going, to measure the hours of work right down to the second, but also because we now live linear lives, moving from one stage to the next: school, college, work, family, more work, retirement (though for many there is little prospect of a comfortable retirement if, that is they even get one at all. My generation probably have to work ’til we drop).

But time is not just linear. Sometimes its a spiral, and sometimes its slick and slippery and slides by too fast for us to notice, and when we do, it’s too late and we can only reminisce and look back on memories we didn’t even know were memories yet. Sometimes though, time can seem heavy and thick and moves like glue, slowly, agonizingly slowly, flowing by. And sometimes it gathers in the shadows, shimmering like a hidden cave pool,  and in these places time seems to gather and stand still, if only for a moment.

For me, the summer solstice, or Litha if you follow the wheel of the year is like that.

As I write this, the solstice is almost upon us. I always think that this time of year takes on an almost dreamlike quality, and time seems to warp into something else so that the New Year and Imbolc seem  like distant memories and like yesterday all at the same time.

I like being outside at this time of year and so last night I went to the woods with some witch friends of mine. It was still light, the sun still had heat, though beneath the trees it was comfortably cool and smelt of the woods, you know that smell; earth and mulch, soft smell of old decay, the smell of new green.

We found our place, a small clearing and tidied away the rubbish that had been left there, drink bottles and crisp packets. Part of me is glad that still others come to the woods, but it saddens me that they have so little respect for it that they would toss their rubbish upon this sacred ground. The trees here are elder, hawthorn and birch, and they’ve grown so that they look like they are dancing, entwined together as they reach towards the light. Sitting beneath these trees so close to midsummer, time takes on that feeling of nostalgia, all sepia tones and line dried linen scent. It becomes thick and flows  like treacle. When Shakespeare wrote A Mid-Summers Night Dream, he really did capture the essence of this time.

The woods felt alive, and even the constant throb of the industrial estate that borders it becomes nothing more than a drone, a background noise you soon learn to ignore. The woods will not be quieted, and they still cling on, despite the increasing encroachment from both sides, on one houses, the other factories.

Litha is generally seen as a time of fun. Traditionally the hard work of preparing the land and sowing would be over and the harvest still some weeks away. The dog days of summer have arrived and soon schools will finish for the summer break. It’s time to ease off. If only. Now, for so many, they have lost their closeness to the land, and so have fallen out of sync with the natural cycles of the land. You can feel a hint of it though, can’t you, especially when on a beautiful morning in the height of summer, instead of being able to enjoy this time, instead we must head into our air conditioned offices, windowless factories and spend the most glorious of days doing meaningless work. And that’s if you’re lucky. All you have to do is take a look at the world to see just how much worse we could have it.

This time of year always reminds me of the summers of my youth, when all of the kids from the estate would walk the mile or so to an old  abandoned concrete barge that sat at the edge of a lake connected to the river by a small stream. All of our parents worked, and in those days it was perfectly acceptable for older brothers and sisters to babysit. Only  older brother and sisters don’t want to stay cooped up inside, and so us younger ones were taken along too, much to our delight. Anyway, we would go there and swim in the lake.  Some of the older ones would jump off the concrete barge in to the deeper parts of the lake, though I never dared. On the way back, we’d stop at a church and drink from its outside tap and pinch plums from trees that overhung from the edges of gardens.

Those were the days! Those summer days! How long ago they seem and yet I can still feel the cold water on my skin.

And now, the solstice is almost here, feeling like that again, and it is time to face the fact that half the year has gone already. Time to pull ourselves from the past, and as you do, it dawns on you how lucky you are, or it does me anyway. Here I am writing about midsummer and the land and the good times, and yet the world is going to the dogs. You only have to take a quick glance at the news to see that. It would almost be funny, like some sort of joke if it wasn’t actually happening.

And what can we do against the face of empire? What can we, the poor and the powerless do in the face of such a colossus? It’s easy to feel helpless. And when we feel helpless, we can do only what we can to try an alleviate it. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to work on your connection to where you live.

Let the solstice be the time when you connect to the land and those around you. Build those relationships for those things can often be the bedrock of solidarity. Don’t waste time, because, as we have already discussed, time is a tricksy thing indeed, and before you know it will be gone.

Go out if you can and delight in the beauty of a new day and feel that connection to land and to others, even if it’s the only thing you can do, everything starts with the land. Enjoy it while there’s still time.

Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook

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Summer Here and Winter There

Summer here and winter there
My longest day your darkest night’

From Lorna Smithers


I. Gwyn’s Hall

It’s midsummer 2013. I’ve just got home from my packing job. It’s not a particularly hot solstice, but the noise of the sun-stand-still and my conflicts with my life and the world are burning in my brain.

I haven’t been one for festivals, dancing all night until the sun comes up, since my madder years. I want silence, solace, darkness. I plan to go the Leaning Yew where I met Gwyn ap Nudd, my Winter God, make an offering of mead to him in his frozen castle in the depths of Annwn.

I open the mead. Several sips later I’m composing a poem. One of those poems that writes itself. Inspired contrarily by bees and sunshine and the ice of a demand from another world:

Summer here and winter there
My longest day your darkest night
Hoar frost drapes your haunted fortress
Whilst swallows ride my glowing sunlight.

Summer here and winter there
My brightest day your longest night
Whilst blackbirds sing my endless fanfare
Crazy owl streaks across your vaunted midnight.

Winter there and summer here
And I between them like the song
That lies unsung between the years
Between your hall and my brief home.

II. Contraries

‘Without Contraries is no progression’ wrote William Blake in ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (1790).

‘Summer here and winter there,’ I’m mouthing those words again, thinking of the contrasts between the Global North and the Global South, Thisworld and the Otherworld. Of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, Ice Ages and Interglacials, Snowball Earth and her molten beginnings.


It was the hottest May on record here in the UK and the first two weeks in June have been scorching. It’s clear we’re experiencing global warming, but scientists are unsure what the outcome will be. Will the earth continue to warm or will her adjustive measures flip instead to global cooling? It’s said our computer-generated models are flawed and cannot predict the future.

Science has its limits. One of our oldest myths from northern Britain tells that Gwyn and Gwythyr, Summer and Winter, will battle until the Day of Doom, the end of the world. Of course, the apocalypse, the day of uncovering and revelation, gyrates eternally between the poles of always and never.

Our drive toward progress has led to devastation, the rubble piling up at the feet of the Angel of History, our seasonal gods being blown on the winds of our folly into an unpredictable future.

III. Uncertainty

“Will you walk with me through mist, darkness, and uncertainty?”

This was the question Gwyn posed the day before I got the tattoo of his hounds, a pair of Cwn Annwn, on my right shoulder as a symbol of my devotion to him last year for my thirty-sixth birthday.

Certainty is, perhaps, the reason people join a religion. We like to have answers about the ends and beginnings of the world, the existence of God/the gods, what will happen in the future, when we die.

Religions answer these questions. Science, our new religion, provides the answers, but for how long?

Gwyn, the Gatherer of Souls, makes no promises. Perhaps he does not know when someone will lose everything – their mind, their life, their soul, and he’ll be called to convey them to the Otherworld.

The debris of Thisworld keeps piling up in Annwn, the living keep dying, and it makes no sense at all.

IV. Too Many Souls

Fire and ice. The sun on my skin. The knowing that one day my flesh will be cold. Summer and Winter. Life and Death. Too many moths are gone, too many butterflies, too many souls.

Elk, aurochs, lynx, bear, wolf, great auk, white stork, agile frog, blue stag beetle, horned dung beetle, apple bumblebee, mason wasp, large copper, flame brocade, mazarine blue, frosted yellow.


Young men sent to fight in ceaseless wars. Revolutionaries gunned down by the law. Old women hung and burned for magic they may or may not have practiced. Those dead on the streets whose names we’ll never know, poets whose words we’ll never hear, children who never had the chance to live.

I try to catch the flies, the bees, the wasps, when they come in through my window, with a piece of cardboard and plastic cup, release them back to life, but still they pile up on my windowsill. I can’t help it.

Is that how Gwyn feels? Does he feel anything on a midsummer night asleep in the Castle of Cold Stone?

V. The Wintry Hag

In ‘In Parenthesis’ (1937) David Jones compares a ‘starving night’ on the Western Front to ‘Pen Nant Govid, on the confines of hell’ and notes the passage ‘has to do with the frozen regions of the Celtic underworld’ where ‘sits that wintry hag, the black sorceress, the daughter of the white sorceress.’

He’s talking about Orddu, ‘Very Black’, daughter of Orwen, ‘Very White’, the last of a lineage of ‘witches’: wise women, warriors, prophets, practitioners of underworld magic associated with Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn who held a powerful position in northern Britain until the sixth century.

On a cold winter’s night Orddu was slaughtered by Arthur and her blood was drained and bottled. What would the world be like if our Annuvian traditions had not been destroyed? If Arthur had not claimed dominance over Gwythyr and Gwyn, Summer and Winter? Would we have a better understanding of the wild unpredictability of the seasons and deeper awareness of the effects of our actions?

If Arthur had not succeeded in his raid on Annwn, his oppression of the old gods, the ancestral animals, the giants, the witches, would we have this Empire to which after his long sleep beneath the hollow hills he has returned as the Once and Future King, all guns blazing, with his hawkish knights?

VI. Dig Deep

I go to seek advice, not from Orddu or Orwen, but from Eira, ‘Snow’, the first of that lineage of inspired ones to return to Pennant Gofid, ‘The Valley of Grief’, which I believe was earlier known as Pennant Gaeaf, ‘The Valley of Winter’, after sojourning further south, at the end of the Ice Age.

She and her descendants also lived through a time of unprecedented global warming – as the glaciers melted herds and people moving further north, new trees and plants marching in, sea levels rising.

Snow is dark-skinned. Her hair is black and flecked with snow-like spots. She’s wrapped in wolf’s furs, her eyes are wolfish, and wolfish dogs are her only companions in the ‘hag’s cave’ where her lineage lived, passing on their wisdom and prophecies from the depths of Annwn for thousands of years.

She advises me to “dig deep.” As she knew the trees, plants, birds, and animals, the river of her valley, its weather patterns, its spirits and all the routes to the Otherworld, to get to know my own. To learn from them, from the ancestors who too have seen great change, to seek the perspectives of Others.

The next evening I’m deeply impressed by the resilience of the little brook who flows through Greencroft Valley and allows us to use her waters for the wildflowers and apple trees. Whilst the Ribble runs low she seems no lower, flowing from an underground source like the awen from Annwn, the cold breath of my god with which I’m blessed to write this essay in the summer’s heat.

Fish House Brook June 2018

Lorna Smithers

Lorna Smithers profile pic II

is a poet, author, awenydd, and Brythonic polytheist. She is currently exploring how our ancient British myths relate to our environmental and political crises and dreaming new stories. As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, she seeks to reweave the ways between the worlds. She has published two books: Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance. She blogs at ‘Signposts in the Mist‘.

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