Brighid of the mantle, encompass us;
Lady of the lambs, protect us;
Keeper of the hearth, kindle us;
Beneath your mantle, gather us;
And restore us to memory.
~ Caitlín Matthews, A Blessing for Hearth Keepers
Today we celebrate the great Sabbat called Imbolc, Oimelc, or Brigid, or the more Christianized name of Candlemas. By whichever name you like, it is the time when we renew our vows, dedicate ourselves to our spirituality in deeper ways, and bless the seeds of our intentions for the coming year. This is the time we can feel the stirrings of life’s return to the barren Winter lands.
The celebration of Brighid and Imbolc is an ancient Fire Festival, when the dying of the year is clearly being overcome by the first glimmers of Spring’s return; when the Goddess as ancient Crone is reborn as the young Maiden.
Now is the time when we discover, as if for the first time, that the creative energy of the life force is strong within us.
What is this life force, exactly? By what name do you understand it? It has many names, including Qi (or “chi) that I’ve mentioned in past posts about the ancient art of feng shui, and the kundalini that spirals through our body’s chakras. We may also experience it as flow, creative energy, and our life-line to God, Goddess, Soul, Source, or Higher Power, or as author Julia Cameron’s names the unnameable – Good Orderly Direction.
She describes it as a form of spiritual electricity that animates us and, even more, drives us to be creators. Thus, on this magical day, our creative dreams stir, like the tiny green shoots of crocus and daffodils that are emerging now from the frozen ground.
One of my favorite ways to observe this holy time is to bless some seeds that I will be planting once the ground is warm and the danger of frost has passed. They may represent a creative dream I have for the coming growing season, or fondest wishes and hopes about my cherished relationships.
Other rites you might consider would be to celebrate the return of the Sun’s light. In many Pagan homes at sunset, it is a tradition to light every lamp in the home, for at least a few moments. Or you might like to light a special candle in every room. Even just lighting a red candle and placing it in a prominent window is a beacon of joy and hope for this happy holiday.
If you have snow on the ground where you live, walk in it for a while, and draw a magical symbol of the Sun, as your message to the slumbering Earth to awaken. Whether you have snow or not, skip, stroll, dance upon the earth at your home. I love to do this in the style of Morris-dancers, wearing jingle bells on my ankles. Recall how things looked and felt last Summer, reminding yourself and the spirit of the land that those days are coming again, for Winter’s grip is already changing.
Try singing or chanting a waking-up song, or make a song of gratitude. Let your self-made music align you with the awakening of the living land. Through our poetry, song, and mirth, we enchant and are enchanted, coming into harmony with the sacred Earth.
As most gardeners know, there is wisdom in turning over the soil while it is still too cold to plant, thus exposing burrowed-in, non-beneficial insects and weeds to the killing cold. Similarly, this is the perfect time to clear away what no longer supports or delights you. Imbolc is the perfect holiday for cleansing and re-consecrating your altars and magical tools.
As has been pointed out, the word Imbolc refers to “ewe’s milk” as this is the time when sheep begin to lactate in preparation for birthing their lambs. So traditional dishes for Imbolc include any type of dairy foods. This is reinforced by the fact that cows are sacred to Brigid, and many of Her stories feature them in magical ways.
The Celtic people depended heavily on milk products, known as “white meats” during the Spring and Summer months. Milk was often soured and processed into different forms of curds and soft cheeses, as hard cheeses were uncommon.
So you might want to prepare something rich and comforting with sour cream or cottage cheese. In addition, spicy, full-bodied foods in honor of the Sun are equally magical at this time. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, or chives would also be lovely. Brigid is also a Goddess of brewing, so spiced wines and mead are appropriate libations.
As the light so clearly grows stronger now, may we lighten up our own hearts, knowing we are always enfolded in the safekeeping mantle of the Lady.
May your rites be merry, for merry we meet, and merry we part, and merry we shall meet again.