What are Hibernacula?

From the Latin meaning 'Winter Quarters', Hibernacula is a zoological term referring to the nests and burrows where creatures shelter during their seasonal hibernation, or during any period in which the outside world becomes inhospitable. They are hidden everywhere in the natural world: Hibernacula are sacred spaces and vital to survival.

Imagine the hidden worlds that surround you: Cauldrons of bats hanging in the hollows of trees, in caves, in attics and ruins. Snakes nesting in writhing masses, snake-pit palaces secreted beneath a fall of stony rubble or a collapsed wall. Amphibians dreaming beneath the ice, mired deep in the sub-aquatic mud. Bears, squirrels, and other warm fuzzy mammals are nestled in their dens and burrows, snuggled up with their kin. And, though it is less wholesome to imagine, insects are sleeping in every dark place imaginable, beneath the frosted mulch, deep in the earth, or in rotted tree stumps.

Our house is a thriving ladybug Hibernaculum, and this time of year, we see them waking up, a mass of red beads clustering around our windows. They keep the garden clean of aphids but we are gently shooing them away all day long. It's good luck, they say, when a ladybug lands on you, and if this is the case we are very much blessed to the point of annoyance!

cicada emerges

There are also Hibernacula in myth, folklore, and fairy tales. Sleeping beauty, in her spellbound kingdom, dreaming in her nest of thorns. The brave sailor Jonas, swallowed by the whale, or naughty little Red Riding hood in the belly of the wolf. Every autumn, Persephone, the Goddess of Flowers and Spring-time, makes her seasonal descent into the dark realms beneath the earth, reclaiming her throne as Queen of the Underworld. There, she lives in subterranean luxury with her husband-king, Hades, the God of Death.

When you seek your Hibernacula, remember: The earth, like the ocean, does not freeze. You are digging in deep, you are returning to the body that gave birth to you. You are confronting darkness and finding comfort there. You are claiming a safe place to rest, to heal, to wait, and to dream. Maybe you need to take some time, maybe you just need a moment to yourself, either way, your Hibernaculum is there to welcome you.

Remember this, most importantly, Hibernacula is not a grave. There must be a return, an awakening. That is the promise. And we will emerge, hungry, eyes stung by the sun, stretching out our cramped but well-rested limbs. We will greet the world and rejoice in our fresh freedom. We will share our dreams and plans. We go forth into a new season of wakefulness. I hope to meet you there.