24 December 2016


Sunrise: 8.43am

Sundown: 3.42pm

Moon: 25th day

Tide (for Leith):

Low tide – 4.52am (1.9m)

High tide – 11.07am (4.6m)

Low tide – 5.04pm (2.1m)

High tide – 11.39pm (4.6m)

Saturn Trine Uranus

My grandmother’s presence is felt strongest each year on this day.

Given the operational speed of contemporary society – especially with all of the manic last minute shopping going on outside – and the seemingly forever itinerant Modernity of us – myself included – it is no surprise that many people have become somewhat disassociated with what weather and seasonal variations are and what they mean, compared to people living in the past. There is no doubt they are still significant but we seem to be retiscent to its meaning today even though we are centrally located in a world that is fundamentally being shaped by us – the Anthropocene.

Perhaps it is the time of the year. Perhaps not. But it is hard not to notice these variations in weather and acute seasonal effects and affects at places with different latitudes, say between Reykjavik (a place I used to live), Edinburgh (where I currently live) and Saffron Walden (near Cambridge – where I am currently writing this piece for The human seasons).

If one examines local folklore knowledge, it is clear that knowledge of the weather and seasons helped to organize the timings of work and life across a given year. But it was also used more than this. It was essential knowledge for survival. The past was not just slower than today, but through an understanding of the seasons we are able to envisage a different kind of speed; less frenetic, more earnest, and certainly more in tune with the so-called natural world.

It is still possible to experience this though. In places, such as Iceland, where the degree of seasonal variation is far more extreme and greater than in Scotland, and much more than it is in England. There is virtually no spring or autumn, just summer and winter. There, one still slips into a hazy winter intoxication, rocking slowly in harmony to the ebb and flow of seasonal contraction and what it affords us before the mind and body expansion of the bright lights of summer.


Old Moores Almanc – Dec 1816 – (https://archive.org/details/voxstellarumorlo00andr_2)

Recently, my partner and I – the poet and theatre-maker Hannah Jane Walker – talked about our shared fascination with so-called ‘natural lore’, and in particular the materialised form of it in almanacs, such as Old Moores. I’ve long been fascinated with them. But somewhat more recently I’ve been struck by the degree of structure inherent in the timings of the year characterised by Bourdieu’s so called ‘conductorless orchestration’ of seasonal rhythms and fluctuations. What continues to fascinate me is the intersections that occur in the shared space of particular personal memories alongside the general affective character of the seasons and how people lived seasonally and expressed themselves through material culture.

My grandmother was a woman who knew things. Some used to say she was a witch, who was able to heal, but her abilities came about from a kind of practical magic and knowledge of plants that were intimately linked with the seasons. For me, at least, there is a clear link between her and the seasons, the way she tended her garden, softly encouraging me to help, alongside the differential growth of plants, the weather, and the way that the light infiltrates the same open space through the year.

Beyond the personal, another kind of more general response to seasonality – besides SAD – is the production of almanacs. These are another kind of practical magic that acted also as a system for regulating the seasonal time keeping, alongside predicting the year ahead (astrological, as well as weather). Our relation to these kind of systems has not changed so much, but the terms of our survival and dependency that it once was is now lost, replaced by those ‘little gods in our pockets’. And with them we track rain clouds, call up the tides, match the sun rise and its setting with sleep, while reading our horoscope and predicting the day ahead. But what about our connections to place with this ‘old’ knowledge? How are we materially influenced by it today?


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