Honoring Imbolc

 

Imbolc

The celebration of Imbolc is always a bit of a puzzle.   Here in the Midwest, at the beginning of February we are still in winter’s deep freeze, with plenty more snow on the way.

And yet. There has to be some hope of spring.  Enter Imbolc, the cross quarter fire festival that should help motivate us. This festival is often underplayed and really shouldn’t be. We all need a pick me up from winter doldrums. And besides, it is also a help to anyone suffering from post-Christmas depression 🙂

What It Is

The word ‘Imbolc’ (pronounced ‘immolk’ – silent b) literally means ‘Ewe’s milk’.  It also can mean ‘In the belly’.  Thus Imbolc traditionally marks the lambing season, the laying of seed, pregnancies (both physical and metaphysical) and new beginnings.

lamb

Imbolc is like a breath of fresh air, the very first stirrings of spring that help get us through the leftover dark days.  Imbolc marks the midway point between Yule and Ostara, a cross-quarter Sabbat.  It is celebrated on February 1st and 2nd. 

The goddess of Imbolc is Brighde (pronounced ‘Breed’. Also called Brigid or Bride.)  She is a fire goddess of spring and fertility.  The goddess Brighde was apparently so well loved that the Christians adopted her as Saint Bridget.  Bridget of Kildare is a patron saint of Ireland.  Her feast day is  (you guessed it!)  Feb. 1.   Bridget is, interestingly, also the patron saint of milk maids, dairy farmers and midwives.

Brighde

The goddess Brighde rules in unison with the winter crone Cailleach.  (Pronounced  ‘Kay-lek’.)  Cailleach (also called The Blue Hag) rules from Samhain till Beltane.  Brighde and Cailleach are thought to be opposite representations of the same entity.  February 2nd is sort of a stand off – Cailleach is still in power for winter, but Brighde is making her presence known through tiny stirrings, underground bulbs, sap inside trees and pregnant ewes.

Legend has it that on February 2nd Cailleach takes a walk through the forest at sunrise.

cailleach

If Cailleach wants to prolong the winter, she will make a bright sunny day – a teaser of sorts – to remind people that, while she may allow a bit of sun, she is still in control of winter darkness. Thus we are granted one day of reprieve, but watch out – cold days will follow.   Alternately, Cailleach may choose to  make February 2nd gray and sunless.  This (confusingly!) means she will send an early spring.

Cailleach’s method serves to remind us, nothing is as it appears to be. In fact, things are often the opposite of what they seem.

Groundhogs, Candles and Farmers

This story might sound familiar.  You may recall the ground hog.  Punxsutawney Phil. Yeah him!

groundhog

If he sees his shadow on the morning of February 2nd,  indicating a sunny day, we are in for six more weeks of winter.  If he does not see his shadow, spring will come early.

The Christian feast of Candlemas also is celebrated on February 2nd.  Candlemas commemorates the day Jesus was brought into the temple for presentation and purification, according to Jewish tradition.  Some people believe this was the church’s version of Imbolc, Jesus being the Light of the world, and candles representing that light.

Interestingly, farmers seemed to have had their own ideas about the Cailleach/ ground hog prediction:

“If Candlemas day be sunny and bright, winter will have another flight; if Candlemas day be cloudy with rain, winter is gone and won’t come again.”

 — Farmer’s Proverb

Anyone who lives in the Midwestern United States knows that no matter WHAT happens on February 2nd,  we are in for six more weeks of winter.  Maybe more.  Forget Cailleach and Punxsutawney Phil.  Winter is long, snow-covered, devastating and cold.  Period. Nonetheless, we can celebrate Imbolc to help us perk up.

Celebrating

What can we do to honor Imbolc?

Imbolc is a festival of light, and candles should  be included in any altar. White candles are great, as they signify purity.  Some other traditional symbols of Imbolc are:  white feathers, the  swan and snowdrop flowers.

snowdrops

Traditional colors are white, blue and lavender.  For stone circles, use milky quartz, moonstone, lapis, turquoise and amethyst.  Amethyst is the birth stone of February, great for maintaining inner strength and developing intuition.

a amethyst

Imbolc is also a great time to plant an indoor herb garden. Basil, dill and lavender can be started inside in bio-degradable planters.  Later, after the last frost, the planters can be moved outside to begin your spring garden.

On February 2nd  take a walk in nature.  Notice the emerging greenery, even though most of it will be hidden.  Pay homage to Cailleach and Brighde.  Set intentions for personal goals and growth as the new year continues to unfold.

Oh yeah, and you can always watch ‘Groundhog Day.’  In this thought provoking movie, Bill Muray gets stuck in a time warp, reliving the same day over and over.

 

Not only is this movie hilariously funny, but it helps us realize – it’s never too late to change, to begin again, or even to start the day over.  Until we get it right 🙂

Happy Imbolc!

 

 

 

 

Happy Imbolc

 

february-flowers

Although they are still mired in winter snow, the flowers long to speak out. As Imbolc dawns, they tilt their heads forward, eager to spread their scent across the land.  The goddess Brigid blesses all and leads us to the purity of spring.  As winter slowly breaks, Brigid will be reunited with her lover the Sun King.

Imbolc

‘Lara’s Theme’ from the movie ‘Dr. Zhivago’ seems to me the perfect song for Imbolc. Lovers Yuri and Lara are separated in the frigid winter of the Russian revolution. Much like Brigid and the Sun King, they wait for a time they will be reunited. Yuri, who is a poet as well as a doctor, writes this letter to Lara:

“Somewhere. my love, there will be songs to sing. Although the snow covers the hope of spring. Someday, we’ll meet again my love. Someday, whenever the spring breaks through. You’ll come to me, out of the long ago. Warm as the wind, soft as the kiss of snow.”

Based on the 1957 novel by  Boris Pasternak,  ‘Dr. Zhivago’ was made into a movie in 1965. It starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. If you have not yet seen this gem, I highly recommend it! It is the very embodiment of love, longing and political servitude.  (Not to mention waiting for the spring thaw!)

zhivago

The song is performed here by Andre Rieu. Hope you like it!  Have a magical Imbolc.

 

 

 

Imbolc

brighde 4

I hate the end of Yule.  Time to take down the tree, remove the decorations, get rid of all the beautiful red and green.  Those glitzy lights are shut off, no more good cheer.  And it was all sooo pretty!  {Sigh… } To make matters worse we are now facing a cold bleak January.  Still a lot of darkness.  Probably a few snow storms coming up.  Some people have even made impossible New Year’s resolutions, ones they will never keep.

However, it is not all doom and gloom.  Enter Imbolc.

Imbolc, celebrated on February 1st and 2nd is a fire festival to honor the earliest beginnings of spring. It is a time to settle down after the excess of Yule. We celebrate the ever lengthening days and honor the goddess Brigid. It is also a great time to do some spring cleaning.

Coinciding with Candlemas, the purification of Jesus in the temple, Imbolc is a great time to take stock, set goals, purge ourselves of impurity and prepare for all things new.  Light lots of candles!

 

Be kind.  Live in light and love.

Imbolc

 

“Bringing the world closer through peace, harmony and understanding of the wise-craft.”

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