The Green Man

Whose tracks are these?

Whose tracks are these?

Sometimes I can feel my pagan ancestors rising up inside me.

Oh, I know.   I am a very modern American, living in the far too overcrowded Northeast.  I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and went to college in that teeming city. What pagan past?

I was raised as a Catholic: how “anti-pagan” can you possibly get? I went to church in a nice modern building.  I learned to pray under bright electric lights.

And yet, sometimes I can feel my ancient pagan past rising up inside of me, speaking of fears and dreams and magic that is a part of my bones.  A pagan past that somehow has never been smoothed away by education or social interaction or modern technology.

I feel it on hot summer nights, when the moon rises over the wetlands behind our house. When I lie awake to hear the sounds of rushing water and hunting owls and cicadas crying in the woods. On those nights, the world of pagan spirits seems benign and gentle, and I am lulled by its pull on my heart.

But in winter, I feel those ancient spirits in a darker and more frightening way.

In winter, the wind and the night conspire to remind me of  how my ancestors once felt about the shortest day, and the onset of the darkness.

I live in a place where there are woods almost all around me.  For three seasons of the year, this is a great gift.  I see deer and fox and raccoons and pheasants wandering under those trees. For three seasons of the year, the woods mean abundant life, and peace and health and comfort.  We listen for the “peepers” in spring, to signal that the great awakening has begun, and that everything is about to burst into bloom.   In summer, we listen for the sound of hunting owls, the calls of coyotes, the singing of night birds.  And in the fall, sometimes we can even hear the smacking sound of antlers as deer and moose turn on the testosterone and fight for the best of the females.

For those three seasons, it feels exhilarating and exciting to be a part of the natural world.

But in winter, everything is so different.

SONY DSCIn winter, I look out my kitchen window and I see the spindly shapes of the leafless branches, the sinister twists of the trees against the glowering sky.  In winter, when I look into the woods from the safety of my deck, I hear the sounds of branches creaking and of wind moving restlessly through the pines.

In the winter, the woods are dark so early, and there are so many shadows.  I look out to find the moon, but when it rises from behind the frozen wetlands, it looks as if it is covered in frost.

When I go outside in the early winter light, I find strange tracks in the snow, and I imagine the dangerous predators who stalk around our house while we sleep.

When I come home after dark, to our quiet, nearly empty neighborhood, and into my quiet, nearly empty house, I feel the ancient winter spirits nipping at my heels and I shiver in fear until I am inside, and the fire is lit and the kitchen is filled with good warm smells.

At those moments, on those dark winter nights, I can understand why the ancients celebrated the beauty and hopefulness of the evergreens.  I know why they honored “The Green Man” with his ever lasting life and his ability to stand up to the darkness.

I am in no hurry to take my Christmas tree out of my living room, or to throw out the baskets of pine boughs on my hutch.

My pagan self is resisting the angry bite of the swirling snow as I light the candles and simmer the soup, and throw another log on the fire.

Happy Winter Solstice.  Happy New Year.  May we all endure until the coming of spring!



13 thoughts on “The Green Man

  1. This made me smile. I love the smells of winter, but not the darkness. But I do love looking at the true shapes of the trees in winter!

    Happy New Year to you, Moms!


  2. You paint a beautiful haunting picture! All so true, so true! We hurry in the door, the wind whipping, the trees creaking! Our Green Man is here til the 13th!


  3. I feel the opposite…the wintery nights mean I can snuggle in, by the fire and close out the world. The snow brightens nature and lets me see into the night. Then, next morning, all the tracks are available to tell me of the previous night’s company.

    Maybe you’ve explained the reason lots of people have tiny white lights in their bushes and trees year round…

    Best of fulfilled wishes, Momshieb – abundantly.


    • Happy New Year, and thanks for your uplifting compliment. Its funny, I have tried, for my whole life, to embrace the winter. When my kids were little, it just scared me, made me feel that they were in danger. Now, it makes me feel like I need to hibernate! Now, I stay by the fire, I put up pictures of the beach, I hold seashells in my pockets. I just can’t get comfortable with all that ice!
      Must be my Sicilian nature coming through.
      Happy New Year to you and to yours!


  4. My last year at college (about a half-century ago), I rented a small place set at the edge of a 40 acre wood. The owner was holding onto the property, waiting for the land price to rise, so the wood was very wild. Although I’d hiked and camped all over the world and enjoyed walking around the acreage in the daytime, I found that I could not bring myself to enter those woods at night. The dark of the wood brought out something primal that took control of my mind and sent delicious shivers down my spine. My caveman instincts would not be denied.

    Or maybe I just read too much Poe when I was a child.


    • No, no! I love the primal something idea! I also see myself as something of a throwback cavewoman, so let’s go with that!
      Thanks for understanding! My woods at night feeling is just so intense in the winter! Like there are wolves out there or something…..!


  5. This is indeed a very special post! I feel inspired to continue my witchy blog. You stirred my pagan juices. You’ve got such a way with words, a definite writer.


    • Thank you! And I so love the idea of “stirring your pagan juices”! My daughter wears a pin that says “Born again pagan”…..
      Nice to meet you! I look forward to more of your posts!


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