Imbolc, awakening, Brigid, and an altar

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Midway between winter and spring, Imbolc is a celebration of potential.

This year, it’s marked tomorrow, 2nd February. It’s still cold, it’s still winter, but there are signs everywhere of the earth’s renewal, the return of the light, the return of the green. Sap is rising. Where for months there have been the dead and broken sticks of last year’s flowers, new shoots are appearing. There are new buds on trees, snowdrops, bright green chives and the beginnings of daffodils. It’s time to plot the garden and sow some early seeds, to clear away nature’s blanket of litter and let the earth breathe.

February is a good time for looking ahead, for visioning and dreaming, planning what you want to do once the growing season returns. While it is still fresh in your mind do a review of your gardening, foraging and guerrilla gardening year. What worked and why? What changes would you like to make both in yourself as a gardener, but also as a carer for the Earth, a protector of the native plants, a restorer of wild life, a helper of the bees?
Glennie Kindred

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Not that I’ve ever been much of a gardener – I don’t seem to have very green fingers – but now I’m here, volunteering on an organic woodland garden, I can’t help but be involved in what’s changing. Sandra and I are talking about ordering seeds, digging through brittle envelopes saved from the summer, chatting about our favourite plants, vegetables and herbs.

Meaning ‘in the belly’, Imbolc is a time of birth and rebirth – or at least, it’s the very start of it. The pregnancy of ewes, the promise of new life to come.

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This is the quickening of the year. Days are lengthening. I chart time by the twice-daily arrival of the ferry into this small port. Two weeks ago, the afternoon boat arrived in the dark – by now, though, there’s still a useable outdoor hour after it’s departure. Dawn comes sooner – I have less and less each day of those wonderful pre-light moments, collecting my self, my thoughts, my feelings and my cards. I can feel something building, getting faster, as the sap rises in the bodies of trees.

In Celtic and Pagan tradition, this is the time to honour Brigid – goddess of fire and light, inspiration and healing.

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From the Dark Goddess Tarot by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince

Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit), so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is a Goddess of Fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. She is the Triple Goddess, but at Imbolc she is in her Maiden aspect.
The Goddess and the Green Man

I wrote recently about the Ceilleach – the hag queen of winter, bringer of ice and storms. At Imbolc, it’s said that the crone Ceilleach becomes – or sets free – the young goddess Brigid, allowing spring to come and the year’s cycle to begin once again.

Of course, this earth energy is also reflected within ourselves. Can you feel yourself coming to back to life after a long winter? Of the plans you made at new year, which have stuck? What is already growing in your belly? What seeds is it time to sow, what wishes will you commit to?

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Something I’ve been committing to with growing intent in recent years has been exactly this. Honouring the changing seasons and actively observing how the cycles of the earth are reflected within myself. Imbolc is a good time to make a dedication or a commitment, and tomorrow, I will make a dedication to this personal practice. I want to see more and understand more, and write more here about the wheel of the year and its seasons and elements.

I’ve never had an altar, but now, finally, I am creating one. Yesterday, as Storm Gertrude – the icy Atlantic storm that’s been battering Scotland for three days – blew out her last hurrah, I went for a walk with a camera and a basket, gathering ideas and small pieces of nature. I will add to my altar over the next few days.

The four elements, to begin: a quartz rock for earth, a shell for water, a wand-like twig for fire, a feather for air – bits and pieces found all over this beautiful Skye peninsula.

Then objects to celebrate this moment, this season: Brigid, from my Dark Goddess Tarot. The Ancestor, from the Wildwood Tarot. Seeds of St John’s Wort and Camomile potted in moist earth. Willow branches.

I wrote some simple intentions on a folded note – ideas that have been in incubation but that are beginning to stir inside me.

Finally, a candle, for dedication, self-belief, to represent my connection to this huge big world and my devotion to playing a conscious part in it.

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If you’d like to celebrate Imbolc tomorrow, these resources may give you some ideas:

The Goddess and the Green Man | A simple overview of what Imbolc is all about, with loads of ideas for craft and ritual.

A Quickening Tarot Spread | Alexis J Cunningfolk’s lovely Imbolc tarot spread. “Our Quickening tarot spread for Imbolc is about paying attention to those seed dreams we discovered within ourselves in the dark of the year, focusing on how we can nurture our dream into reality.”

Tarot Spread for Imbolc – Declutter and get organised | Another tarot spread from Mindy at The Pure Ritual.

An Imbolc Meditation – Brigid and the Light and Shadow of Soul Work

Earth Pathways Diary | A collaboration between old friends, the Earth Pathways Diary charts the seasons from a UK perspective. Scroll down to read an excerpt from Glennie Kindred’s Sacred Earth Celebrations on Imbolc tradition. This also discusses the co-opting of ancient ideas of virginity by Christianity, bringing an important feminist perspective to the festival.

The White Goddess | A Pagan Imbolc ritual and information.

Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glennie Kindred | Glennie Kindred is my favourite writer on the wheel of the year and earth-based spirituality, rooted firmly in the traditions of my own UK ancestry. This book is an excellent guide to the changing seasons in nature and in life. (A shorter guide is The Earth’s Cycle of Celebration, also great!)

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5 comments

  1. Heh. We must have different definition of so very cold; I’d say that it’s almost warm here, but it’s too cold for any sap to be flowing, and the earliest buds are at best a month or six weeks away.
    I appreciate this post, though. It’s allowed me to see why these traditions, despite being my maternal heritage (my dad’s is entirely different) have no resonance for me. I’m not in the right climate for them to make sense. Here it’s barely past midwinter.

    • Beth says:

      Yes – following these seasonal changes works well for me and helps me feel connected to the seasons, specifically because they are so tangible in the world around me.

      At the time of writing, Skye was being bashed by a storm bringing snow, sleet and freezing temperatures…yet overall the climate here is relatively mild. (Although to be honest this winter has been so ridiculously mild I saw blossom and daffodils in the UK midlands before Christmas – everyone was commenting on it.)

  2. I love this. I am going to try a few of those spreads and go buy myself a new candle. 😀

    I so wish that Texas actually had four seasons. I find it difficult to connect to the seasons down here. This ENTIRE weekend was in the 70s…that’s our early spring weather. *Sighs*.

  3. Twice-a-day ferry! So fancy. ;] The ferries that run here in Southeast are once a week at most..and there’s none where I currently live.

    I just ordered Sacred Earth Celebrations and I’m pumped! Thanks for the recommendation.

    I can certainly feel the quickening where I live as well. The sun gets up before 8am and stays up past 4pm now. Whoo! Although, I’m okay when it’s dark too, because the stars here are incredible.

  4. ellen says:

    I love this time of the year so much. I’ve discovered some early spring flowers in my garden. Where you live now must make you feel so connected to the turning of the year and working in that garden is almost like midwifery: so many baby plants 🙂
    Enjoy this experience my dear Beth

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