As the snows start to take their first proper hold of England for this winter we reach another great spoke in the Celtic wheel of life. The beginning of February (mid Celtic Month of Anagont ios) brings the festival Imbolc which marks the passing of the darkness visited upon the earth, a period whose arrival is acknowledged at Samhain, or All Hallows eve (Halloween in common parlance).
And with it there is an elemental shift from the Earth to the Air. Life begins to shake off the long darkness, wrestle free from its hibernation – real or constructed – and reach for the light born of lengthening days. The cycle of life begins to raise its head again, the early flowers begin to push their heads from the ground, and the along the base of skeletal hedgerows we start to see a carpeting from the first shoots of nettle and cleavers – Ernie is already seeking those first flowerings when he has the chance.
Traditionally it was a time of birth, not only signalling the earlier days of the lambing season but also for humans; many babies were born at this time, conceived in the heady ritual excesses of the Beltaine bonfires from the preceding summer. In the Celtic divination cycle, Imbolc falls into the time of the Rowen, to the Celts the Rowan was a symbol of the hidden mysteries of nature and the quickening of the life force; a great base for practical tool making as well as it’s more spiritual use in divination or protection (particularly for travellers).
Imbolc is also the celebration of Brigit or the Bride, who parallels with continental pagan goddesses of Brighid or Minerva; a representation of sister of virgin elements of the Great Goddess. Hymns and incantations where chanted, riven with ancient animist symbolism:
Early on Bride’s morn Shall the serpent come from the hole I will not harm the serpent Nor will the serpent harm me
A wonderful reflection of the serpent as an essential part of life’s cycle, at the heart of creation, rather dismissed as crude embodiment of sin.
To the Celts she was the midwife at the birth of the Son of the Light, admitting the blessing of the triple purity to his brow (a story later Christainized in the tale of St Brigit and her presence at the birth of Christ). Prayers and offerings are given in her name at this time for her guidance and support through the “birth” cycles ahead. Often well-heads acting as foci for devotional gifts, processions of young girls dressed in white, and gifts of food to corn-dollies.
Imbolc and everything that it stands for remains valid, we are just disconnected to some degree; we are animals too, so lost without the natural reproductive cycle, even if we our connection is a little fractured; the production of our needs is largely delegated to global scale third parties.
Planting in our gardens or keeping an allotment can return us to that connection with nature’s cycle, and that connection brings us home to the earth and everything that we share this land with. And in an age where we recognise seasonal illnesses, resulting from lack of access to sunshine and vitamin D, what a great idea to once again give thanks for the lengthening of the days.
This is an opportunity. A chance to rediscover ourselves and the world. Start the journey my friends.
© The Mindful Horse
Images from Google