A wise man seeks wisdom; a madman thinks that he has found it. — Persian proverb (from Tolstoy's Calendar of Wisdom for 24 January)
The wolf month is underway. Soon it will be Imbolg, then Lupercalia, and then we’re marching into March. But for now, it is winter and the Wolf Moon is waxing. The name for February in many languages is derived from the wolves. Old Scottish Faoilleach, Wolf Month, is an example. Others call it the dead month or the month of hunger. However, the Romans and the ancient Irish both seemed to settle on purification, the time of clearing away the old to prepare for the new. “Februa” means “the tools for cleansing”, an odd name for a moon cycle. However, I think any denning animal — like wolves, like humans — has an instinctual need to clean out the house after weeks of confinement within its walls. We recognize that it is time to prepare for the new life of spring. Though we’re not quite ready to face it.
This is a time of disjunction. The days are perceptibly lengthening. We return from wage work and there is still a bit of twilight to guide us home. We read the morning news without the need of lamps. Yet it is cold, much colder than the “in the deep midwinter”. The mercury refuses to rise despite the increasing hours of daylight. Or it seems that way, anyway. I am often surprised to record the weather from the day prior. It feels colder than it actually is. I know it is not as cold as January — because there is mud in the afternoon and there are more brown days than white — but my skin finds February 20s just as intolerable as January days of single digits. I know it is getting warmer, but I don’t feel it. Yet.
Similarly, the days might be stretching out and there may be signs of renewed energy — including that need to clean out the house — but we still feel the lethargy of winter pulling us back to the cozy hearthside and the comfy chair. We want to be doing more. We want to have more to do. But at the same time, we don’t want to be doing much of anything at all. We are restless and pick up projects one day only to put them aside the next. The garden calls to us, amplified by the torrent of seed and plant catalogs. But we don’t do very much, and, really, the thought of doing is about the extent of capacity. It may be time to start work, but we just haven’t worked up the energy yet. Disjunction…
The weather is also out of joint in the Wolf Moon. Many days are cold and clear and bright blue, followed by crystalline stars winking in sable skies. But by morning, there might be freezing rain or heavy snow or a steady drizzle that drains all the color out of the world and melts everything — including our will — into muddy grey slush. It is neither winter nor spring, but a long period of longing in which not even the skies can decide what they want.
But there is longing. And hunger. And anticipation. The wolves are calling to each other, and we hear the desire for new life in their love-lorn howls. We feel it too. Maybe this should be called the time of stirring. It is not yet time for doing, but neither are we completely content to just hunker down and hibernate. We are waking up, just like the Earth, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, stretching our limbs, getting the blood moving again. Almost ready to throw off the bedcovers. We don’t want to hurry. That comes later in the morning of the spring. But we are seriously considering shedding the restful stasis of winter.
There is certainly an urge to take stock. I find myself looking into pantry bins and gauging the fullness of the freezer. This year that involves counting apples — without bruising them, a subtle skill — and trying to determine how long the frozen chile supply will last. I make new garden plans every other day, it seems, based on what I’m seeing or not in my winter stores. This is typically when people who did not have supermarkets hoped to have half of the harvest left in barn and larder. Truly, this is more the middle of winter dearth than Midwinter. If you’ve eaten more than half before the Wolf Moon is full, you’re going to be hungry before the first harvests of spring. Best be tightening your belt now so that you don’t run out altogether.
While peering into storage bins and closets, I also discover things I am ready to discard. That shirt that I haven’t worn in years because it really is just too loud for my current temperament. The sweater that I’ve been meaning to alter so that I don’t look like a woodchuck on stilts. The bedsheets that fit no bed in this current household. The gifts that did not come close to hitting the mark but that I kept anyway out of deference or kindness. Or sheer embarrassment. I’m not fond of generating trash, so I don’t jettison things that nobody wants. But I’m also not inclined to hold on to things I find useless. Cleaning out the closet is walking a fine line, especially since I don’t want to discover some day down the road that I actually need that thing and have to somehow acquire it again.
My birthday falls within the Wolf Moon. So I tend to take stock of my life at this time of year also. What have I done? What do I want to do yet? Are there things in my bucket list that need to be pulled out? Do it now or don’t bother at all. How is my relationship to this world going? Am I pulling my weight or could I stand to shed a bit? Where do I find meaning? Or joy? Or fulfillment? Or healthy wholeness? What does not bring me any of that, or worse, what brings me pain? And how can I extricate myself from it without causing harm to others?
My journal gets filled with such soul-searching in these liminal weeks between winter and spring. I don’t know that I’ve adequately answered any of those questions. I don’t think anyone does, no matter how many books are written on the subject of personal transformation and enlightenment. If you have no more changes to make, then you’re sort of done with life, no? And I am not done. There’s still quite a lot to do…
But maybe I’ll just sit here in my comfy chair and have a hot cuppa for now… it’s cold out there, you know. And I wouldn’t want to rush Spring.
©Elizabeth Anker 2023