The Solar Festivals - Putting the Sacred into Permaculture

Mandy Pullen
Tuesday, 8th April 2014

Mandy Pullen, a shamanic practitioner, explores how the solar festivals connect us with the land.

The Permaculture Design course I attended (over 20 years ago) had a heavy emphasis on inner work, that is Zone 00 or our subjective approach to permaculture. For those of you who haven't come across the term Zone 00, it is the zone inside us - the zone that suggests our inner space and is vital to our spiritual connection with the land.

We are intrinsically bound to the land and as permaculturists we honour it as sacred. It has its own sensitivities and soul which in turn permeates our own soul, or spirit and vice versa. When we connect the two we begin to flow, naturally with our environment. It is a place of balance, a synthesis. 

We have worked our land for centuries and hold the land’s DNA in our cells. We were all, originally, a culture whose direct link to the land was far more physical than it is today. So much so that we held the cycles of the sun and moon in great reverence and marked them with festivities and rituals. We breathed these cycles into ourselves and also into the land and that is where our souls are connected, at one with the land we work with or upon.

So how do we practice permaculture with this in mind?

Firstly we need to accept a fundamental aspect of ourselves - that we all have a soul, or spirit.

When I explain the practice of shamanism I start with a question. Do you believe you have a soul, or a spirit? I have yet to find someone who answers in the negative. And when I ask how this soul/spirit is fed I often get a blank look. Yet we feed our physical, intellectual and emotional bodies constantly with all manner of activities without batting an eyelid. So why not feed our spiritual bodies too, after all, our spirit or soul is our driving force, our get up and go, our joie de vivre.

The word spiritual comes from the latin word spiritus which means to breath. When working with the spirit of the land we use rituals, as in spi-ritual. Most of us agree, following the work of James Lovelock, that the earth is a living, breathing organism so it makes sense that we honour it’s breath, it’s spirit with ritual.

Ceremony, ritual and celebration are ways to strike up a conversation, or co-create with the land. One of the reasons our spirit/soul is often neglected is because it’s difficult to see how it can be used to ‘practice’ permaculture, it can feel ‘in the way’ when you know you’ve got to go and prune the fruit trees. Yet you take it with you when you go out, you can’t leave it in the kitchen, by the fire. You keep it warm as you work outside, it is part and parcel of your practical actions. Perhaps all you really need to do is bring it closer to the surface.

The simple act of ritual brought in alongside the physical practice of pruning will do just that. A ritual can be as simple as using one of the prunings as votive offerings, maybe on a fire, or woven into simple structures to be placed about the orchard as spirit catchers or tiny figures, their purpose being to have a piece of us always on the land, if not in physical form, then in spiritual form. And remember a ritual is nothing fancy, some people go to the pub as a ritual.

The lessons of observation are intrinsic to practicing permaculture and we can practice observing how we relate to the land with our spirit by having our ‘fingers on the pulse’ of the land and our senses attuned to the energetic cycles of the year. The practice of observation usually refers to the way our environment changes in a physical way and as permaculture practitioners we will design our living patterns according to those changes. What if observation is also about how we ‘walk or feel’ the land with our souls, paying attention to the directions of North, South, East, West and NE, SE, SW and NW as holding different energies of the whole, going beyond our personal boundaries and connecting to the outer zones (i.e. beyond zone 5).

As an example, the North is the place of the Winter Solstice in December, a time of dark and inward reflection: the void or still place where our dreams, visions and ideas reside. A ritual held on the land honouring that space both in ourselves and the universe allows us to connect with our land in a much more profound and rewarding way. We may simply chose to hold silence for a few minutes on the day to acknowledge the void, with no intent or meaning. Or we may be more elaborate and spend the whole day feasting and celebrating.

Activities carried out at these points of the year whether big or small, connect us to the echoes of people and communities who have done this for many generations. Some of us still are.

Within the next six weeks everything changes and those dreams and visions are ready to germinate at Imbolc (North East) in early February, when the light begins to regrow as the sun climbs higher in the sky.

The lighting of candles in our windows to welcome the sun back and honour the start of our visions is a simple act mirrored outside in the arrival of snowdrops and the first new born lambs. By the Spring Equinox (East) in March, the light of night and day is equal and the land energies are beginning to quicken - birds are nesting, hares are boxing, the yellow of daffodils flood the environment. A simple ritual could be to balance an egg on it’s end - it really is possible, try it! Or have a picnic and make a beautiful spring Mandala.

With the spring rush we often forget our intentions yet now is a time to make them solid and Beltane (South East), in early May, heralds a sudden greening as the warmth of the sun and the spring rain push growth more quickly - a simple ritual is to make small posies or garlands of May flowers - or stay up all night with friends and roll naked in the May morning dew! Suddenly we are at Midsummer (South), in June, and there is a short lull in the year before the first harvests get into full swing. With this window of opportunity, a ceremony may involve staying up all night and merrymaking round a fire, or perhaps quietly we may dip into the wonders of Shakespeare and read a little from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. For this is the start of the sun's descent and is a bitter sweet moment.

Lammas, (South West) in early August, is the time of first fruits and the land is filling with bounty from our winter visions. Time to make some ceremonial bread to honour the first grains and the first jams to colour the darker days approaching. The Autumn Equinox (West) in September is a time of balance as the days and nights become equal again. The energies of the land are at a tipping point, about to pull in and rest so now is a time to make ready for the coming darkness. We restock our stores with nuts, grains and fruits. We pickle, preserve and brew the energies from the summer growth to help remind us of those times bursting with colour.

Offering a little of your efforts to the land, or a feast Harvest Festival is something that many communities still do around this time, and was one known as Harvest home. Samhain, or Hallowe’en, (North West) sees the land energies drawing in the last strings of the earth’s purse. This is the traditional time of the ancestors when the veils between the worlds thin. We can honour our ancestors, and our forecestors, at this time with bonfires and fireworks or simply take some time to remember those who brought us into this world and all of those before them. And as this is a time of descent, it is helpful to see the lines of those that we give birth too, in human and visionary form, extending forwards to the future, continuing our dreams and visions.

And so the cycle is complete and as we dive towards the Winter Solstice the cycle begins again. The Celts started their Wheel of the Year at the time of Samhain although the Winter Solstice in December and Imbolc in February are good times to begin the cycle too. When we breath with the earth through conscious ritual, our environment begins to speak to us on another level. Signs and recognitions from nature begin to abound and these feed our souls and spirits, giving us a conscious link between us as living creatures and the earth as living planet.

Our daily lives around our land begin to take on much more significance - we’ve designed our lives practically speaking and now we honour our designs, our selves, our land and our greater environment with ritual. This is a way of (re)connecting that satisfies all our zones both in our environment and in ourselves. So take a moment to breath from your soul and imagine that breath joining with the breath of the land and then out into the earth and towards the sun and beyond. When you breath out you are connecting beyond and into the void, when you breath in you are connecting inwardly ... and to the void ... whilst also having a bit of fun!

Mandy Pullen is a shamanic practitioner and workshop leader based in the Forest of Dean. She is well known for starting the original garden and box scheme at Ragmans Lane Farm. Together with Jane Embleton (land energy worker and geomancer) they run workshops that help people connect with, and heal, their land using the solar festivals and moon phases. They will be starting a new cycle of solar festival weekend workshops entitled Balancing the Flame at Ragmans Lane Farm in Gloucestershire at Samhain, or Hallowe'en, 24-26 October 2014.

For more details of the workshops go to 

Further resources

Letting in the Wild Edges by Glennie Kindred 

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

Watch: Understanding patterns in nature with permaculture

Coming soon: Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glennie Kindred

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