The long dark has passed
Light grows stronger
But the land is still held
In the cold grip of Winter.
On the last day of January a bitter-cold wind was blowing and the water had frozen hard, embedding Rosmerta’s Cup in ice. My asking and giving of blessings was done by touching the cup and the ice rather than raising the cup and pouring water in my usual practice. On the altar for Rhiannon the horse still wears the grey shroud I put upon her at Samhain. Each day I go to her and tell her that even though she may be far away, riding in Annwn, yet she remains near to us in our hearts and in those special places we set aside for her.
At Imbolc it has long been my practice to acknowledge Brighid with this verse of many years usage:
For Brighid and the silver streams
Running deep in the Earth
For the kindled fire
And the sacred well
And the hope she guards through the dearth
Find her in the snow-filled dell
Where the old dry leaves lie still,
Look for her in the empty woods
Where the early shoots are bidden
But slowly as the fire grows
For her treasures are yet hidden.
This year I resolved to begin the process of putting Mererid’s well back together while chanting the verses for Brighid as soon after Imbolc as conditions allowed. The pump and the solar panel were removed before the Solstice, both because the sunlight was too weak to power them and to avoid ice damage to the pump. I also removed one of the two water barrel tiers for re-waterproofing, leaving only he smaller one to hold Rosmerta’s Cup which is in Mererid’s keeping. This is now waterproofed and ready to be put back.
Following the lighting of the Imbolc Candle and the Hearth Blessing, I had intended to go out the following morning to see if the water was unfrozen enough to consider re-assembling the two tiers of the water feature and to fill both with fresh water, with the pump and solar panel to follow at the Spring Equinox. The next day was clear and bright but very cold and the water was probably frozen, but I was unable to go out to check as I awoke with a heavy dose of flu and could hardly get out of bed.
So my daily devotions for the last few days have been at my small altar in the house rather than the larger one in the garden, and I have had to postpone the re-assembly of the water feature until I feel well enough. But it will be done soon.
The New Year cold has frozen the water on Mererid’s well. I had already removed the water pump as the solar panel which works it doesn’t get enough sunlight to power it at this time of year and I anticipated the danger of damage if it froze. Today I could not raise the Cup of Rosmerta for a dedication and had to content myself with touching the solid surface of the pool:
Ice locks the waters of this well Mererid Your memory of flow Frozen now in the stillness Of a frosty morning bright With silvered grasses shining
The Sun sits low on the ridge and will not rise much higher before moving behind the distant trees. Last night the clear night sky was alive with stars. I turned from the Plough and the Pole Star in the North to view Orion in the South with the silver-blue light of Sirius low down as it will be for these few months that it remains above the southern horizon. With no Moon these stars and the shapes of constellations are etched sharply in the sky so that the Hunter and his Dog are the watchers of the Night.
Today the sky remains clear, the air still, sharp and bright while the Sun remains high enough in the sky to provide some comfort against the cold. So I turn from the frozen well to Rhiannon’s horse, wreathed in the grey shroud I put about it at Winterfall. I tell her every day when I visit that even as she rides far off across the plains of Annwn, yet she is here in our hearts:
Rhiannon Gu Er rwyt draw yn Annwfn bell Rwyt hefyd yma yn ein calonnau ni
And so she is.
I begin to give some thought to maintenance of the Shrine. For now I will let the fallen leaves from the oak tree remain. A late shrunken rose can stay in it vase. But the rose bush will need pruning. Most of what needs doing at Rhiannon’s altar will be work for the Spring. Before that I need to clean and replace the waterproof seal on Mererid’s pool ready for the re-installation of the pump and the flowing water when conditions are right, and before that for a dedication to the rising springs at Imbolc.
This year, to mark the passing of Rhiannon to Annwfn, I made a grey shroud to put over the white horse on her altar.
A little before the precise time of the Dark Moon, as the light of day began to fade, I went out to the garden altar and made my usual dedication to Mererid as Guardian of the Shrine at her fountain. Then, turning to Rhiannon’s altar, I spoke some familiar words to her. The last of the garden roses were scattered about and I also put some pieces of unburnt incense there. Then I spoke my formal dedication:
By Orion’s light
At the dark of the Moon
Now the hawthorn tree is bare
As the Hunter’s spoor is laid tonight
A shadow passes through the veil
Of Annwfn on a Grey Mare.
Rigantona, roses wither on your altar;
As winter falls across the land
I’ll keep your vigil here.
I stood in silent communion for a while before taking the white horse statuette from the altar and dressing it in the grey shroud. This will stay in place over the winter, a sign both of her absence and the presence that awareness of her absence implies. I placed a small stone of black jet in each of the halves of the geode which is also on the altar. So I marked her passing in the rain, wind and gathering darkness out in the open air.
Back in the house I had prepared a large dark candle together with some smaller ones and these were lit when I came back in with these words:
Winter now is upon us
And the darkness
Around this hearth
Which we keep
For your going
Into the Otherworld Rhiannon gu; Bendithion Llu.
So we pass the night of the Dark Moon to mark the start of the Winter season.
Dark elderberries hang on twisted boughs
Unpicked and shrivelled,
Bare twigs twist to point the way
That turns upon itself a shadow veil
Shielding the world she is leaving behind
As she rides the grey mare
Fading to grey mist for a season
Seeking her fair form far away
Where he expects her, her shadow lord
Conjuring the woven ways
Through mists of his own making
Shaping a path through shapeless drifts
Each one receding through layers of world
Wider to bring her to world’s end:
To not-world’s becoming.
Another watches her go as strewn leaves lie
On sodden forest floors
Bereft of shelter, mysteries
Of dappled green depth emptying.