Sunday, January 22, 2012

Imbolc - the Quickening

Well, we are nearing the end of January… today I am thinking about Imbolc.

As I shifted my viewpoint from monotheism to a polytheistic perspective of deity,  I began reading about, and eventually observing, the sabbats.  Some of the holidays were easy to identify with; others were not.  Initially, I was following observances from books or online sources.  While I always found it worthwhile to take the time to do this, some things did not resonate very strongly, or tie directly into my life.

Imbolc was one I found difficult to connect with personally for quite some time, largely because the original contructs of the observance seem to tie in with a particular location, or specific occurrence of particular events.  Imbolc, celebrated on February 2, is originally a Celtic holiday; the word “Imbolc” literally translates to lamb’s milk.  In the British Isles, at this time of year, this is when ewes begin to bear their young, and so, new life returns to the land.  I don’t know about you, but where I live, there aren’t many lambs being born around this time.  (That may be, because there aren’t many sheep raised in this area!)  Snowdrops and crocuses won’t be seen for a good two months, if not more.  Some of our worst snow storms are yet to come, and temperatures are at their bitterest. (Even my rambunctious pups aren’t so eager to go out, and lift and shake their paws pitifully from the iced over snow.)  So, the organic connection, the tie that comes from a local characteristic of the land or its pastoral traditions, is missing.

What about the tradition’s Deity?  Would there be a connection there?

That would be Brighid,

That first year, Brighid was mostly a name.  I did not know her.  Relationships don’t just happen because your mind says one needs to be in place.  I strongly felt the presence of the Goddess at that time, but She did not have a face, I could not call Her by name.  I remember reading and researching various pantheons, and feeling a bit like that lost baby bird in the Dr. Seuss book:  “Are you my mother?  Are you my mother?”  Eventually I would find Her, both because I was looking, but also because She came to me.  But it wasn’t Brighid, and although I have gained experience with working with aspects of Deity I do not know well, it’s not the same as having a more direct connection.

Something that I really like to spend time reading and writing about, is the inter-relatedness of different holidays that are celebrated at the same time of the year.  My perspective is not colored by the “who came first” issue, I just like knowing the history and origin of the different traditions.  I had originally intended to go into bits about Ground Hog’s Day and Candlemas, but this info has been described in many places on the ‘net, and this post is getting long enough.  Perhaps another day.

But I love the corny tradition of Punxsutawney Phil and Ground Hog’s Day.  Which, by the way, is one of my favorite movies:  Bill Murray waking up over and over to that nauseating Sonny and Cher song, to be faced with the same day, again and again, no matter what he does to change his fate.  It’s a perfect metaphor for how I feel this time of year:  I’m stuck in perpetual winter, whether that means suffering from chronic snow shoveling and car scraping, or slogging through that wonderful combination of slush, salt, and sand.  It’s never gonna end…..

Until you find something.  Bill Murray found love.  (Hmm, isn’t Valentine’s Day just around the corner?)  What can I do to break the spell of Old Man Winter?

A few years ago a younger colleague became pregnant after Christmas.  Poor thing, she was surrounded by all these older moms who regaled her with all their pregnancy and childbirth stories.  (Those memories run deep, no matter how long the years.)  Those memories helped me find my personal metaphor for Imbolc.

My first pregnancy was not unplanned, but even so, when the test came back positive, I was a little unnerved.  Was I really ready to be a mother, to be so responsible for another being’s life and happiness?  And as I went through the very early stages of pregnancy, the idea of a real, live baby remained oddly abstract.  Then around the sixteenth week, not quite halfway through, I felt something.  A flutter in my abdomen, so slight I wasn’t even sure it had really happened.  And then it happened again.  This was the first tangible evidence there really was a new life within me.  Although my due date was still a few months away I knew now that a baby – my baby – was really coming, and my heart smiled.

Likewise, Imbolc is a cross quarter day:  halfway between Yule – the return of the sun – and Ostara, the vernal equinox, the true arrival of spring in my part of the world.  At Yule, we were given the promise of the return of light.  And although the sun has turned back toward us, the cold and the dark still seem to rule.  But at Imbolc, if I pay attention, I can see and feel those first stirrings of life.  A subtle difference in the way the sun shines.  An extra ounce of warmth felt at noon time.  A difference in the way the birds sing…and if I take the time to check my calendar, since the Solstice, we will have gained 58 minutes of daylight!

And so, to me, Imbolc is the quickening, the first faint stirrings of life in the belly of the earth.  It will be some time before that new life is realized, but the stirrings are enough to help me keep faith.  I still carry with me the tenet of faith from my former path, because I feel it is a true concept for all paths: simply a belief in things that are not yet realized.  It is still deep dark winter, but I have been given a sign that new life will come.

I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to celebrate Imbolc 2012, aside from lighting lots of candles, and checking CNN to see if Phil saw his shadow or not.  But I am going to honor Brighid this year, and I have a few other ideas.  I’ve got some time, no worries.  Now that I know what it really means to me, how to give it form will come to me in due time. 

In the Darkness of Winter, may you find the Blessing of Light.


  1. great post! I have a hard time with Imbolc myself - for all the same reasons. I too, felt it was a seasonal holiday based in a particular part of the world. And I am not one that honors every single god/goddess out there, so my Sabbats are more seasonally/nature based. But, yes, I do see this time as a confirmation that Spring is coming, but it may take a while. So many traditions and folk lore (such as the groundhog) are about predicting how much longer the winter will last.

    This has been a tough winter for me, so very UN-Springlike weather on Imbolc will be a very good sign!

  2. Confession: I have skipped Imbolc more than I have celebrated it -- for all your reasons & more.

    But the quickening. That brought a tear to my eye. I like that. It's a reinterpretation I get.

    I feel our observances, celebrations, holidays should be about what moves us, not about our academic knowledge of the past. (Unless of course, one is a strict recon., but I'm not speaking of recons. here.) Sometimes, folks get all caught up in what was, what we suppose our ancestors or others did, but if it does not *move* us, or even have bearing on our present day lives, is it going to be truly fulfilling?

  3. Aine and Moma, thank you for your deep felt comments. Aine, I hope you get through the tough times this winter represents. It is hard times for every body. This time of year represents going within, searching, working to rework. But it is a season that is not without death. I always worry about the local deer herd at this time of year. We are not immune to the essence of the natural cycle; I wish us all strength to make it through.

    Moma, I knew you would connect with my memories of quickening. Even tho my youngest is now 20, these are things that are indelible on a mother's memory.

    I think, observing the Sabbats is important. Even though I responded to your most recent post as liking to live without a label - because I really do believe, in the end, the journey and the search are more important than any label - taking the time to observe the elements of each sabbat and esbat, in whatever we figure out how to do that, strengthens our connection to deity, Whomever She or He is to us.

    and isn't that the purpose of our seeking?

    Any hoo, thanks for stopping by!

  4. Wonderful post. I was the same way with Imoblc, still sort of am. Its one of those that didn't really translate from my previous spiritual life so I didn't know what to do with it or how to celebrate it. This post was a wonderful look from your perspective and very inspiring! Thank you!

    Thanks for linking up to PPBH!


  5. thanks Kourtney. This being a tough year for my family, I am anticipating Imbolc with fresh significance, new meaning. I will be posting more. Thanks for your encouragement!