Since moving out to the country and living a life closer to nature, I’m finding that a lot of these old celebrations are actually making sense to me now. For instance, decorating doors and windows with ever-greens at the solstice makes perfect sense when there’s a winter’s draft blowing in and ever-greens are the only things that still have leaves to block out the cold. I’m finding most of our traditions started with very practical origins.
Imbolc in particular was a holiday that was difficult for me to wrap my head around before moving out here. People will often tell you that Imbolc is a sort of celebration of Spring, but for most places this is also the dead of winter. But again, if you are living closely to the land, the holiday starts to make much more sense.
If you look at the image of the Wheel of the Year above, you can see that the year is divided into 8 even sections. We have the solstices and the equinoxes, and then we have a holiday placed in-between each solstice and the equinox. Imbolc falls at the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
If you live off of the land, one thing that you will need to do is to periodically clear more land for planting. Prior to heavy machinery, this wasn’t something that you could do all in one year. You would periodically clear a little more land every winter. This is done in the winter because when brush is dormant, it is much much easier to remove. When plants are dormant, you can pop them out of the ground pretty easily, roots and all!
Although it’s still very much winter here, the sap should start flowing again soon later in the month of February. After that it’s going to be a lost cause to try to keep clearing out brush. This “awakening process” happens much sooner than you would think in nature. Animals start breeding again this time of year. Life is returning, even if we can’t see it yet.
As you can see, I amassed a huge pile of brush. It’s too much to compost, so I’m going to have to burn it into bio-char. This is where we get the Imbolc tradition of the bon fire. I also have a bunch of food in storage in my root cellar that I need to eat up because it’s not going to last much longer. Since not everyone is going to need to clear land each and every year, it’s an excuse to invite a bunch of people over and have a party!
Imbolc begins February 1st after sundown and continues into February 2nd. Corn dollies and Brigid crosses made of corn husks in mid-summer (the festival of Lughnasadh) would be tossed into the fire as a sacrificial offering for good luck. This sacred day is dedicated to the Goddess Brigid. She is the “maiden aspect” of the Mainden/Mother/Crone Triple Goddess.
Brigid rules over inspiration, healing, and poetry. An excellent way to celebrate this day is to write an intention for the coming Spring in poetry form. This poem is then burned both as a sacrifice and to release the wish. If you are not prone to poetry, I recommend doing a haiku.
Haikus are very easy to do and miraculously turn out very poem-like without too much effort. A haiku is only three lines. The first line is 5 syllables. The second line is 7. And then the third line is 5 syllables again. So, 5-7-5. Here is an example of a Imbolc-themed manifestation haiku:
The garden is full
A bounty we all enjoy
Joy never ends here
Story-telling also features heavily in the old ways. Reading the Tuatha De Danaan is an excellent way to celebrate Imbolc. These tales of the ancient Celts later became inspiration for the Arthurian Legends and Lord of the Rings novels. Reading any of these tales or books of poetry would very much be in the spirit of Brigid and Imbolc.
Lastly, planning out your garden, ordering seeds for the spring, or organizing all of you seed packets is another activity that we all tend to feel inclined to do this time of year. We reflect back on last year’s garden and think “How can I do it better this year?”
As life returns to the land, we may find ourselves reflecting on our own lives and questioning the same. What are the lessons learned from the previous year and how can I make it better this year?