A couple of weeks ago we had a series of storms that swept through the Northeast. For days we heard the cracking and crashing of trees succumbing to the weight of snow and ice, unable to withstand the relentless wind. Of course we lost power and as the house got colder, we layered clothing to stay warm. Curled up under robes and blankets, I began to think about how easy it is for us to be knocked out of our comfort zone. How not having power for even just a day or two feels unsettling and disruptive. How dependent we have become on amenities and their availability. On others to set it right.
There’s a Norwegian saying – “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!” which translates to “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes!” – it is the classic Scandinavian “devil may care” attitude borne from the harsh weather of the far north. When storms like these occur it is easy to imagine how much closer the experience would have been to my ancestors living in their sod houses hearing the Gods argue and throw trees about. No central heating or electricity to warm or light up the night. And that part of my brain was well aware of every splitting crack and THUD outside the house with the same primal unease, the nervous sense of being at the mercy of powerful forces well beyond my control. Did storms frighten my ancestors? Or did they instinctively hunker down around the fire and let them pass over, passing the night telling stories to each other?
It also made me think about their resilience and ability to “weather storms” – indeed, if I had a woodstove for example, I would have at least been warm, maybe even able to make some camp coffee. I consider myself quite outdoorsy, resilient and capable – and I have wanted to find a nice little cabin with a woodstove and be more autonomous for a long time. I have joined the ranks of those who are drawn to the ways of life of our ancestors. Some go very far into this life, completely off grid but most of us would just like a simpler but deeper lifestyle – the woodstove, the garden or small working farm, a little sturdy place that can remain cozy and safe. Let the storm come, we’ll be fine.
When I was in college I lived in a circa late 1800’s cabin (which we still have) that was not winterized. There was a lovely fireplace and I would hang thick tapestries across doorways to trap the heat. Bottled water (we drained the pipes in the fall), stove and oven worked fine and there was electricity all year. It was mild roughing it, granted, but I loved it. Winter down at the pond was silent and peaceful, I would curl up by the fireplace on a snowy night and read or study. I felt then that an old world life would suit me just fine and I felt close to my ancestors living that way. They were a daily presence as I split wood or brought water in. There is a lot to be said for living closer to the cycles of nature and connecting past with present. Deeper, not wider.
Perhaps that is why there are now artists and musicians reviving and reinterpreting ancient cultures as a counterpoint to a dissonant, disconnected modern age – and people RESPOND to it – powerfully. I know I did- it just isn’t healthy to be so far removed from our past, ancestry or nature. There is no depth to connections anymore and if you are not deliberate and careful you are continuously swept along the information superhighway until you practically forget who you are. Infinitely wide, virtually no depth.
My sister and I have been researching our ancestry since our parents passed, so far it is a blend of Celtic, Germanic and Nordic. Those breathing new life into the culture and ways of my ancestors has taken my spirituality deeper than I thought possible and also an understanding of myself “in context” that is, learning how my personality aligns so perfectly with my ancestry and how all these generations later my perspectives and attitudes reflect theirs. (My father used to joke that he was “Harold, Last of the Saxons”) My sense of self has expanded to my people and culture, put me in touch with others embracing the same identity and shown me the kind of lifestyle I need to start creating where I can thrive. I will get there and find that little cottage and let the storms come, in a space where I can be thrilled by the howling wind and dancing trees, not uprooted myself.
Imbolic and the Cold Full Moon has come and gone, the birdsongs change and the light gets stronger and lasts a bit longer each day. As it has been for millennia, spring is on its way – I look forward to softer, gentler days as I am sure my ancestors did, another winter behind us.
“Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother,
and my sisters, and my brothers.
Lo, there do I see the line of my people,
Back to the beginning!” – Norse Prayer