What to Remember When Waking
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.
Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?
by David Whyte, from The House of Belonging, Many Rivers Press
Today is the approximate celebration of Imbolc, which some celebrate as Candlemas, and some celebrate it in honor of the Saint/Goddess Brighid.
And for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, we wish you a Blessed Lughnasadh today!
This is a cross-quarter Sabbat, meaning that it falls halfway between the astronomical times of Solstice and Equinox, making it between Feb. 1 and 3, depending on your tradition and desire for celestial precision. Another sky marker of Imbolc for those of us above the Equator is that it is celebrated when the Pleiades are at their zenith in the sky at sunset.
When Is Imbolc Exactly?
Yes, there is a little confusion about when, exactly, Imbolc ought to be celebrated.
For many, Imbolc is a fixed-date festival and does not move. Generally, it is Feb. 2, which is why I am posting this today (and not yesterday).
But part of the problem comes from the fact that, as several ancient cultures did, the Celts observed the start of each new day at sunset. So, translating that to our modern times, Imbolc might be thought of as starting at sunset on the 1st, and lasting until sunset on the 2nd.
But for some practices, it’s the 31st to the 1st.
And besides, our ancestors did not adhere to written calendars or smart devices. Many did not use the newfangled solar calendar that the Roman invaders introduced. Most importantly, they reckoned their holy days by their own observations of the Sun, Moon and stars, the behavior of the animals, and the cycles of the living Earth all around them.
Another source of the muddle is that Imbolc became conflated with Candlemas, as so many of the old religion’s celebrations did. Even within Paganism, the name is sometimes seen as interchangeable.
But Imbolc is an old Celtic observance that revolves around the growing sunlight and the strengthening signs of life. It celebrates the return of milk to the flocks, ensuring survival through the remainder of the fallow time. The name is believed to be based on the Old Irish word for ewe’s milk.
Imbolc also has strong ties to the Goddess Brighid, who was so popular, the Catholic Church was obliged to adopt Her as a saint. Her feast day is the 1st of February.
On the other hand, Candlemas is very much a Christian holiday, and honors the presentation of the Christos infant at the temple during his mother’s postpartum purification rites. Over the centuries, it also became incorporated into the annual Christian tradition of blessing church candles. This is probably where it began to overlap with the celebrations of the fire Goddess-turned-Saint Brighid.
Many of the Earth religions view this as the time when the Crone aspect of the Goddess is now transformed into the young Maiden. The Wintry grip of the Cailleach now yields to gentle Spring’s hope and fertility.
And if you’re wondering about Groundhog Day, it is basically a Winter’s End divination date that would have been popular around the time of Imbolc. So that is Imbolc’s tie-in to the modern, secular Groundhog’s Day, and why it falls on the 2nd.
By whichever name or method you like, Imbolc (usually pronounced “IMM’-bulg” or “IMM’-ulg”) is the time when we of the Old Ways dedicate to new studies, renew our spiritual devotions, undergo initiation to a new level of practice, or perhaps simply bless the seeds of our intentions for the coming year.
Those of us who align our lives with Grandmother Earth’s seasons, the rhythms of stars, Moon, and sky, and the moving arc of light and dark across the Wheel of the Year know that regardless of the daily dramas of the crumbling patriarchy and its human-created suffering and chaos, the time of rebirth and renewal has come.
Even though there is still harsh Winter ahead for many more weeks, the dark time of the year is truly ending. With the newly born lambs now coming in, the tender blooms of the snowdrops, and the first callings of mating birds, the signs of Spring grow ever more insistent. Imbolc is Life’s Promise: no matter what craziness and dark fear the human race is conjuring, Nature is bigger, stronger, and will abide.
Attune yourself with Her. Feel the shift, inhale fragrant winds of change. Dawn comes earlier each day. Sap is rising, buds on the trees are swelling. Blossoms are plotting their debut. Roots are feeding the green shoots that will soon burst through snow and cold mud.
Pay attention to this.
Limit your news diet to only what you need, in order to act on behalf of what you value. More is toxic to the spirit and runs quite counter to the Divine Promise of this time. Indeed, the dying system and its hateful, desperate machinations would love to trick us into doubting our power, and the power of our grandmother, Gaia.
Trust this Turning. It is far older and more potent than the foul little persons currently mugging on the world’s stage.
The dawning of the time of healing, growing, and life’s vigor is inevitable and assured. The curtain is rising on the bright new year, and the changing of the age, too.
Courage, my darlings! Be of good cheer.
Holy Water, Sacred Flame
Now the light has assuredly grown longer and stronger since Solstice, and we feel the stirrings of life’s renewal in the land. We harmonize with this energy by choosing new ways to nurture our spiritual growth and service.
One of my favorite ways to observe this holiday is to bless some actual 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. Or they may simply be seeds chosen to help our wild neighbors in our woods.
Here at Laurel Hill Cottage in northern Durham County, North Carolina, we are blessed with fresh, good water that gushes from a well dug deep in our sacred land.
So at this time, especially mindful of recent droughts and other threats to plentiful drinking water, we humbly ask dearest Brighid to bless and protect our well and, indeed, all the waters of the world.
Even if you use city tap water, learn where it comes from and give thanks to that source. Blessing your spigots, sinks, and pipes with thanksgiving, song, and other devotional practices would be appropriate at this time.
It’s easy to take it for granted that most of us can turn on the faucet and unlimited clean water comes out. But as tragic events around our nation and the world continue to remind us, we are extremely fortunate for this life-giving gift, and it is one that can vanish or be poisoned, with little warning, and, evidently, little to no remediation.
The Light of Awakening
Other rites you might consider at this time include celebrating 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. Alternately, light a red candle and place this (safely!) in a prominent window.
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 sleeping Earth, encouraging Her to awaken.
Whether you have snow or not, if the weather is not too dire today, take a mindful walk around the areas near your home. Recall how those places feel during High Summer. How are the sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings now different?
As you remember the Summertime, send that memory out to the trees, plants, creatures, devas, and other beings with whom you share your neighborhood. I personally like to do this by singing, humming, or chanting.
You, too, can call to Gaia’s slumbering children, reminding them that Winter’s grip is loosening, and soon you will be welcoming their presence. Or, like the traditional Morris Dancers, you can dance upon the sleeping Earth, ring jingle bells, and smack magical sticks together to awaken Her creatures.
With your songs and words, you are engaging in the original sense of the word en-chantment: to chant or sing with intention, to achieve a desired result. By doing so, you bless and bring to life all within the sound of your voice.
You can also do this to invoke the protectors of the Land — the ancient Underworld beings who are the guardians of Gaia’s well-being. I believe we are in great need of their assistance, so as you celebrate the strengthening of the Sun’s fire, take this opportunity to establish or deepen your cooperation with them.
And speaking of the magic of words, be mindful that Brighid is a Goddess of Poetry. This is why I began this post with the gorgeous poem from David Whyte as an offering to Her. Refresh your spirit by sharing Her most blessed gift of poetry.
For those of you (a diminishing number, I hope!) who think you are not fond of poetry, let me invite you to erase all the tedium you may associate with it, tainted by drab, repressed school-teachers with no soul.
Poetry is the oldest form of spellcraft, and is always more vibrant and alive when spoken aloud, for that is how it is written to be. And much of it is far sexier and more inspiring than the sanitized bits we were made to plow through in school.
I could go on and on, of course, but the day is moving on, and I have enchantments to attend to.
So I will close for now, simply asking that you hold to and feed the Light we ignited together at Solstice.
May we never forget: we were invited from another and greater night than the one from which we have just emerged. What you can plan is too small for you to live.
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
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so many beautiful ideas for celebrating here. thank you! and wishing you and your loved ones a very happy imbolc this year.
Thank you! May your hearth warm you body and soul.
May the seedlings of your dreams thrive and grow.
May your path of devotion now deepen and bless all in your sphere.
May goodness and wisdom surround you now and always.