Winter is a time for imagination. For reflection. For stories. We bolt the door and huddle around the fire, listening to the voices whispering in the chimney. Ghosts, of the past year, of the family members we’ve lost, of ancient ancestors. Ghosts as metaphor, ghosts as memory, ghosts as the very essence of all we fear, and sometimes all we desire.
Tuesday December 22 is the Winter Solstice, when the sunlight hours are barely there and the night reaches on and on. It’s a time I value. The traditions. Crouching next to the warmth and mulling on things gone, and things yet to come.
Today the last deep coal mine in Britain closed. Soon there will be ghosts of entire industries. King Coal used to rule round these parts. I remember my grandfather telling me of the ghosts of dead miners that haunted the long, lonely tunnels. When they were working alone, sometimes the men would hear these spirits knocking, or calling out, urging the living to join them in the dark. The tales weren’t peculiar to this area. As far as I can tell, they existed all over the country, and in tin mines as well as coal mines. Nobody will hear the dead miners any more. But they will echo on in the stories, as they do in this one I tell you, which will live on in your head, and, perhaps, be passed on by your tongue. The stories never die.
We’ve been thinking about this for a long time. The primary axis of Stonehenge is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, as is the entrance tunnel to the neolithic monument at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland. This moment has always been important to us.
Here in the old Kingdom of Mercia, ghosts flicker in the forest that presses tight around my house. Along the old Roman road that curves around my boundary hedge. I listen to what they say, and I learn.