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Imbolc: First Light in the Dark of Winter

(3 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Although you’d never know it if you looked out your window here in the Northeast and throughout a good part of the northern hemisphere, we are nearing the midpoint between winter solstice and the vernal equinox. The Sun is noticeably rising earlier and setting later. It is a pleasure to take my early morning shower in daylight and start dinner preparation with daylight still illuminating the kitchen. There are seed catalogs arriving in the mail which has me contemplating the flower beds, the herb garden and maybe this year some vegetables.

In the traditions of Pagan and Wiccan religions, we celebrate this changing season as Imbolc, or Candlemas, which begins on January 31st, February Eve, and ends on February 2nd, a time of rebirth and healing. Imbolc is one of the eight Wiccan Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, one of the four cross-quarter fire festivals. Brighid, the patroness of poetry and healing, is the Pagan Goddess associated with Imbolc.

Some of the traditions are the lighting of fires, decorating with red and white symbolizing the snow and the rising sun and green for new growth. Candles are lit in all the rooms of the house. Fires places and hearths are cleaned out of ashes and fires are lit. Since there is still snow drifts in my backyard, the fireplace will be just fine.

The symbols are ewes and lambs since Imbolc is derived from a Celtic word, “oimelc”, meaning ewe’s milk. Many of the foods that are serves are lamb, cheese, poppyseed muffins, cakes and breads. Dishes are seasoned with bay leaves and dried basil.

In rural places where farming is still a way of life, ploughs are decorated with flowers and then doused with whiskey. I know most of us have better things to do with whiskey. Sometimes the plough is dragged from door to door by costumed children asking for food and money, a kind of wintry “trick or treat”. Some traditional gifts, if your going to a friends house to celebrate, are garden tools, seeds and bulbs.

The Maiden is also honored as the “Bride” on this Sabbat. Straw corn dollies are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. The older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold. The wands are sometimes burned in the fireplace and in the morning, the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. A new corn broom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new.

Non-Pagans celebrate February 2nd as Ground Hog’s Day, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be ‘six more weeks’ of bad weather. It actually has ancient roots, weather divination was common to Imbolc, and the weather of early February was long held to be a harbinger of spring. On Imbolc, the crone Cailleach‘s grip of winter begins to loosen. She goes forth in search of kindling so that she may keep her fires burning and extend the winter a little longer. If Imbolc is rainy and cloudy, she will find nothing but twigs unsuitable for burning and will be unable to prolong the winter. If the day is dry and kindling is abundant, she will have plenty of fuel to feed her fire and prolong the cold of winter. Spring will be very far away. As an old British rhyme tells us that, “If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

Whatever you celebrate or believe, let us all hope that that the local groundhog doesn’t see his shadow and there is only one winter this year. I have nowhere else to pile the snow.

Blessed Be.

18 comments

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  1. TMC
  2. RUKind

    But the seed catalogs tell me it’s so. Here in Plymouth we have about 18-20″ snow cover with maybe 8-10″ more on the way. Imbolc here will be a supposedly massive storm.

    I’m trying to finish a bathroom downstairs so I can get to setting up a bubbleponic starter system. Oh shit. I promised an essay on my organic gardening year.

    It will start with Imbolc – the early Spring. The time for seeds and planning and indoor starts. Somewhere under all that snow I still have three stalks of Brussel Sprouts to be picked, cut in half and sauteed with some butter and garlic.

    Somewhere in the ground edging the garden is a crop of shallots and garlic just waiting for the snowmelt and thaw. And way down in  the garden there’s the asparagus. I think I’ll put a hoop house over the bed this year to bring it up earlier. Nothing fancy, just some half inch PVC and special IRAC plastic that lasts 3 – 4 years.

    The Wheel of the Year is turning and it can’t slow down. You can’t let go and you can’t hold on. You can’t go back and you can’t stand still. If the thunder doesn’t get you then the lightning will.

    A big  thanks to Robert Hunter and Jerry for the lyrics and song.

    Small wheel turn by the fire and rod, Big Wheel turns by the Grace of God. Every time that wheel turns ’round it’s bound to cover just a little more ground.

  3. davidseth

    On Imbolc, the crone Cailleach’s grip of winter begins to loosen. She goes forth in search of kindling so that she may keep her fires burning and extend the winter a little longer. If Imbolc is rainy and cloudy, she will find nothing but twigs unsuitable for burning and will be unable to prolong the winter. If the day is dry and kindling is abundant, she will have plenty of fuel to feed her fire and prolong the cold of winter. Spring will be very far away

    I would add that the crone has a temper.  So wet and rainy and cloudy (can you expect something else in Ireland?) might bring spring sooner, but it also makes her angry.  That is why you also offer whiskey and oats and milk.  And make fires.  To warm and mellow her.  Nobody wants to watch the season end in ire.

  4. Lasthorseman

    In my 55 years I have never seen my area with higher snowpiles.  It snowed but then it melted some before it snowed again.  That was before we had 100 year floods every five years.  It was before Dennis Kucinich’s

    Space Preservation Acts one and the watered down second version two.  It was before the open literature on geo-engineering to alleviate Maurice Strong’s decades long carbon taxation scam for global government and it was before the Air Force thought of weather as a force mulitplier.  People were content with Walter Cronkite, having no other option of internet.

    http://aircrap.org/

  5. RiaD

    i can hardly wait!

    in just a few more days we’ll be planting peas & onions, putting in broc, cauli, br sprts sets as soon as i can get them.

    i wish i’d seen this earlier. would love to have it at firefly.

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