Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Monday 13 January 2014

Plough Monday

Plough Monday is the first Monday after Epiphany, traditionally the day that agricultural labourers returned to the land after the festivities of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  They knew that unless you sought a blessing on the beginning of your working year, that you not doing yourself any favour.  In Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, the Straw Bear goes around the streets with the ploughwitch teams. Before the Reformation, the plough teams collected money to maintain the 'plough lights' or votive candles in the local church where the work was blessed by their patron saint.

We all need a helpful spirit to bless our work, which is why I am not getting on so well today,  perhaps?  I have set lights in front of my Black Virgin and on my Epona shrine for a  better beginning tomorrow.

This is a poem I wrote for Plough Tuesday, the day after Plough Monday, a few years ago.  It was colder then than it is now, but some parts of the world are still pretty cold and in other parts, many of us are having difficulty getting back to work in a concerted way. It ends with a little charm for the year that is born but not out of swaddling bands yet. The image is from my trip to Northern Iceland in 2012 and shows the Svarfadalur range with some empty play frames in front of it: we are also from our play and back to work, but westill need the blessing to start us back up.

                       by Caitlín Matthews

It is the bird-quiet hour,
The midday contemplation of the sun.
On this bleak day, when no sun shines,
What wraps the birds in silence,
What power blankets their song?

They neither sing nor eat,
The shrouded blackbirds.
Crows cluster on chimney-tops
In sad communion.
Wrens roost, gulls wheel,
Even the starling tribe
Have ceased their stuttering.

For what purpose are they still?
Clutched by a grief or memory
Too potent to be borne?
Is it a mourning for the absent sun,
Too long circling from its zenith?

The unkind kiss of ice
Weakens their wings.
The pin-wheeling prick of snow
Steals their song.
They shelter in death's shadow
This new-born year
As the plough turns a fresh and icy furrow.

So it is for them I sing
This tight-folded Tuesday,
When the earth's iron-hard
To my heart's coultar,
When the white and unremitting page
Echoes the ice-sheets
Clamping the green world grey.

Out of need,
From heart's glead,
Kindle the gladness,
Banish this sadness.
Turn back the glebe-land,
Plough of my screed-hand.
Make glad their feathers,
In bright, warmer weathers;
From midwinter's burrow
Send light down the furrow;
Come forth, hidden sun,
For the year's work's begun!

Whittlesey Straw Bear on Plough Monday

May your year begin with a blessing and continue with a song!