January 28th 2018
Imbolc gives us a moment to pause and reflect on the winter just passing, and the season yet to come. It is not yet spring, but it brings the promise of spring.
New light and new life is returning to the land. Everywhere we go, we start to see our furred and feathered companions in the world beginning to make signs of nesting and coming out of hibernation. Trees may not yet be in bud, but the earliest of snowdrops are out , and daffodils and crocuses are starting to push their green spears up through the cold ground, and through the light layer of snow (if it lingers) but they do not yet reveal the full beauty of their hidden colours. They are still young, green shoots, for now. The lambing will begin any day now, with the first early lambs waiting just around the corner. The ewes are growing fat with their young, and with birth there must be the balance of death, giving us time to pause and reflect on the loved ones who did not survive this winter. Whether it was loved ones we personally knew or the cultural icons that passed on leaving society reeling with shock. How could they die when we thought they would live forever?
In circle we meditate on the Moon card of the tarot, the intuitive power that releases the wild part of our nature, revealing the hidden depths and truths that we may not be consciously aware of. We also look to the willow tree for inspiration, which Culpepper notes as being ‘owned by the Moon’ in his Complete Herbal. The willow is also sacred to Hecate, and, like Bride, is the bringer of intuition and inspiration, growing, as it does, so close to the water. I can be drawn away in my imagination, to my old mother Willow tree on Dartmoor, draped over the banks of the Wallabrook, waiting for more dream time with me when I return later in the spring.
We also ponder the act of weaving in circle, either of willow withies or of yarn, and we are led back to the association with the new born lambs or their mothers. Milk becomes a theme, nourishment of the newborn, and traditionally a relief after the hardships of winter. And also the newborn spark of creation. With the passing of the old year, our harvests were reaped, and we are left fruitless once more. Now we must contemplate what gifts we will wish to harvest in the year ahead. What will we create? What will the work of this year be? If the seeds are not sown now at Imbolc, there will be little to gather in the harvests to come later in the year.
The Celtic Origins of Imbolc & Brigid
Imbolc has its roots in Celtic traditions, the church may celebrate it as Candlemas, and indeed, in my line of Wicca it is still sometimes called that. My grandmother High Priestess was not a fan of lightly affixing Celtic names with a view to making something sound more authentic. Under her tutelage, this was still Candlemas, and Halloween was still Halloween. In Christian traditions celebrating their version of Candlemas, new mothers and their babies might be presented in church, commemorating the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and it is still marked as the feast of Saint Brigid. But just who was Brigit?
BRIGIT / BRIDE
In the UK, our other name Britain is thought to be a derivation of Brigit, or the tribe of the Brigantes who worshiped her, and she leaves a trail of different place names in her wake, all across the UK and Europe – Brittany, Bridewell, Brent, Britannia, to name but a few. But just who was Brigit?
In Scotland she is Bride, to the Irish she is Brid, to the Welsh, Ffraid. In the Celtic languages, her name translates as the fiery one, or the bright one, and she is a solar Goddess of many faces. The daughter of the Morrigan, and the sister of Ogma, who invented the Ogham alphabet, Bride is the Goddess of Blacksmiths, a patroness of healers and of poets and of seers. In other words, her bright spark is the creative one, inspiring creators to make their arts. While my own pantheon of choice tends to be the Egyptian or Greek gods rather than the Celts, I can at least relate to this aspect of her. And by inspiring smith craft, poetry and healing, she also becomes a threefold goddess. She rules the element of water, and specifically of sacred springs, which then inspire healing, and poetry and psychic ability. She is, then, the lady that colours our associations of Imbolc, the bright spark that lights our circle once more, as we return from the dark half of the year.