This time of year in the United States marks the beginning of Spring. New life emerges from the previously frozen ground, and all around, flowers pop their heads out in search of sunlight while birds return to build their nests. However, this year there has been a prolonged winter, and many people are still waiting for those first sights of rebirth. It’s on the way, as there are warm days that provide a glimpse of the changing seasons, but it may take a bit longer to fully arrive.
Personally, I prefer the warm days of Spring and Summer to the cold misty ones that envelop us during the winter months. But to all things, there is a season. This got me thinking recently about renewal and rebirth and the importance of journeying with perseverance through the seasons of our own lives. Winter has its place and was not only recognized but celebrated by the Northern people. The Norse calendar traditionally followed the solar cycle that was divided into Summer (beginning with the Spring solstice) and Winter (marked by the beginning of Jul). During the colder months, it was important to use resources carefully and remain mindful of caring for the individual self and family. All that had been stored away in preparation for the coming cold was done so that in the harsh winter months there would be enough stores to live on.
While we now have quick access to grocery stores, markets, and insulated homes, we still are charged with the responsibility of mindful living that acts in accord to our values, ensuring that we can weather the tough times in our lives. Without the reality of honest and sometimes hard lessons that we necessarily encounter, we would not be able to appreciate the wisdom needed to walk a complete path. In other words, there cannot always be flowers and warmth. So with this realization, we also prepare ourselves spiritually, physically and emotionally to attain the personal tools that will be required during an emotional or spiritual winter storm.
The rune of the Elder Futhark known as “Ing” personifies this very concept. In fact, it’s no coincidence that it belongs to the word “Spring”. Ing is represented by a figure resembling a joining of two ties, or perhaps human DNA, depending on how it’s drawn. This rune personifies balance and the combining of male and female energies that bring balance, new concepts, and self-realization. Its energies are active. Even in today’s English language, we can see the active nature of Ing in the way we give direct intention to certain words: “Do-ing”, “See-ing”, “Be-ing”, etc. which are all active processes. So too are the changing seasons as they pass from one to the next.
The Norse had a deep respect for the changing of time, and we strive to embrace their understanding and apply it to our lives. It is reasonable to expect that they understood this changing on a spiritual level as well as a physical one, as evidenced by the agricultural aspects assigned to the Norse gods along with their emotionally caring, protective and nurturing attributes. The gods were given balance to reflect who they are and what they represent, another example of Ing in action. Just as Odin personifies the war chieftain and fervent traveler, so too does Frigg balance that as mothering nurturer and overseer of domestic affairs, centering the focus at home as opposed to afar. In the relationships that the gods maintain with one another, we can see this active balance in many areas.
Keeping perspective as we go through ups and downs can make a difference in how we handle the toughest times. The consolation is that there is indeed a natural balance and order to all living things, and we are part of that process. There will be times when we are in the middle of hard lessons and difficulties that appear overwhelming. While it’s important to recognize that circumstances will inevitably change with time, we can play an active role in creating a more positive place for ourselves in the meantime. There also may be good reason for a prolonged personal “winter,” due to additional lessons that need to be learned and applied. Those moments of learning are crucial to the development we all need to experience, and they is part of fully living.
In very tough periods, consider the strong oak tree. It may appear barren in the winter, but does it not have renewed green growth in the spring? Do its leaves not provide a brilliant display of color in the Fall? It lives, grows and thrives through every season – not just the pleasant ones that bring sunlight and warmth. It is wiser for all that it has endured and stood witness to, just like the majestic mountains and vast oceans that the ancient Norse would have no doubt reflected on. The wheel of time and changing of seasons continue to bring us all full circle.