Happy Imbolc to one and all! To those of you unfamiliar with the Wheel of the Year, Imbolc is an old celtic festival that marks the first stirrings of spring. It is dedicated to the Goddess Brigid or Brigit (also known as Bride and a few others) who brings into the world a new feeling of inspiration and change. At this time it is traditional to light three candles and make wishes to Brigid for this new part of the year.
Back home in England we really would be seeing the beginnings of spring in the form of some early spring bulbs. Flowers such as snowdrops and perhaps even a brave crocus would be pushing their way through the earth and into the world. Like Brigid, who brings with her a freshness and sense of energy, these flowers denote the abundance to come.
Here in North America though we are still very much locked in winter. Though my body clock is saying spring is beginning, the weather is saying -25! I’m not sure that I will ever really get over that but I am learning to anticipate the feelings of restlessness that come with this time of year. I don’t think that it is any coincidence that so many cultures have a celebration in February. Imbolc from the old traditions, Candlemas in the Christian calendar, Chinese New Year, Valentines Day, Carnival…the list goes on.
I think there is a feeling within us that the earth is beginning to wake and that spring is not too far away. We want to shake off the gloom of January and rejoice in a new energy and vitality. But outside winter still grips us, putting up that last fight until spring finally wins through. Though we are still very much in the winter season here in Canada, in fact we celebrate Winterfest this month, we can still begin an internal renewal to ready ourselves for the unchartered path ahead.
We will be spending this day with lovely friends sharing good food, wishes and small gifts (more of that later). For now, though, here is a story I told Huwyl to try and give him a sense of what Imbolc is about.
The land was gripped by freezing winter, a cold no one had ever felt before. The people came to know that Old Man Winter had argued with Spring, refusing to let her return to the land. So they sat in the freezing cold with food and wood supplies dwindling.
A brave girl from the village called Brigid, decided to confront Old Man Winter and make him see the error of his ways. Though she was afraid she took up her bow and rode her horse to his icy palace. The castle towered above the land, cold and glacial as it shimmered in the weak sunshine. To her surprise the gate was open and she rode right in to the courtyard.
Brigid had expected to find a powerful force ready to strike her down, instead she found an old man sitting alone in the courtyard. Before him was a game of chess but there was no one to play it with. His long white robes flowed around him but he looked tired and sad. He sighed when he saw her.
“I thought I wanted to be the most powerful force on Earth but I am so tired of gripping the world in snow and ice. Always in the past I returned to Mother Earth for a rest but I have been here so long I am exhausted. I want to go, but I don’t know how.” Brigid nodded, she knew now what had brought her here this day.
“I know what to do,” she said, her voice clear and confident in the cold morning air. “Stand up.” she commanded and Old Man Winter did.
Brigid raised her bow to her shoulder and took aim at the old man’s heart. When he saw what she intended to do he smiled and spread his arms wide to welcome her arrow. The young woman shot true and the arrow flew deep into his robe, suddenly he broke into tiny pieces and became a snow storm, swirling off out of the castle door and onto the land.
As Brigid rode home she began to feel that something had changed, she saw some buds on a tree branch and a white snowdrop peeking above the snow. She knew then that Spring would return and that her people would be saved. There was much celebration when she returned to her village and though full spring would not come for some time the people had hope and so they were happy.
To this day we can still glimpse Brigid among the stars, raising her bow to her shoulder to help bring Spring back into the world.
Wishing you all pleasant thoughts of Spring this day.