26 June, 2015

Celebrating the southern seasons: rituals for Aotearoa, by Juliet Batten

The generation in which I grew up was perhaps the last in New Zealand for whom it was quite normal to receive – and send – Christmas cards featuring snowy landscapes, red-breasted robins and well-covered Santas.

More recent Christmas imagery in the southern hemisphere has shown Santas in swimming togs, and flowering pohutukawa instead of English robins.

But I think many of us have yet to engage fully with our immediate natural environment and its seasonal changes. Only in the last decade has the flowering kowhai become the chief symbol of spring for me. Over the same period I have begun to see how winter scarcity brings more native birds into urban back yards to feed.

My change in perspective stems partly from this book. Celebrating the southern seasons came out in 1995, but when I first read it in 2005 (in the tenth anniversary edition), it still felt fresh and new.

That’s ironic given that it draws on age-old cultural practices. Author Juliet Batten closely examines season-related traditions from both pre-European Aotearoa and Europe (pagan and Christian), footnoting meticulously all the way.

Each chapter looks at a different time of year – be it a solstice or an equinox – and each ends by suggesting related rituals for this country, today. These will resonate with people whose focus is spiritual but they have the potential to interest a much wider readership.

I particularly enjoyed Batten’s information about how the flora and fauna of these islands respond to the seasons, and the response of Maori life and traditions in turn.

An early field of study for this author was English (in which she has a doctorate), and this is quietly evident: she is a good communicator, and draws on a deep well of poetry for suggested readings.

▪ Juliet Batten speaks on “Matariki meets Winter Solstice: a new year for Aotearoa” at Grey Lynn Library, 474 Great North Road, 1.30pm on June 30, 2015.

Title: Celebrating the southern seasons: rituals for Aotearoa
Author: Juliet Batten

Recommended by Claire G, Grey Lynn Library

Claire G reads widely, writes narrowly, pampers her poultry and neglects her garden. She thinks Leonard Cohen was right about there being a crack in everything.

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