It's late January and we're in Maine, so it's cold. This year we have a decent amount of snow also, so it's white, icy and cold. In years past I would have been having a terrible time keeping my energy and feelings of well-being high just about now. I used to want to cancel February and dreaded turning the calendar page to that month. When I was eleven, I was critically ill in February and for years I associated pain and illness and increasing panic with late winter. By the time I was in college, I coped by seeking out films that radiated heat and sun to warm my cold bones, to cheer my gray countenance with Greek vistas or desert landscapes. I know, too, that many friends and sister bloggers are feeling this cold bleakness of winter right now, and are trying to find their own ways to cope and I empathize with them. I used to feel the same way. I hope to never again.
The catalyst that changed things for me was probably having my children. Maybe it was being busy, constantly tending to their needs that I had no time to get lost in the gray. Keeping a home for my family gave me new outlets for creativity and I began enjoying the clear, blue sunlight of winter as it streamed in through the windows. I began to see the world through my children's eyes, too--the beauty and taste of snow, the wonder of ice, the thrill of sledding down a steep hill. As a new family we sought to bring new traditions, rituals and a deeper spirituality to our lives. I found myself paying more attention to the seasons and I realized that this was part of my nature-based spirituality. When we bought our home and began refurbishing it and growing a garden, the turning of the Wheel was ever more apparent and my pagan beliefs strengthened. As I did more reading and exploring, seeking ritual to support my new awareness, I came to love the Imbolc sabbat.
Imbolc (pronounced Imbolg or Im'olk), occurs in early February, midway between Yule, the winter solstice (December 21) and Easter, the spring equinox (March 21). February 2 is often set aside for Imbolc, or more accurately, it is marked on the first full moon at the mid-way point (Feb. 9 this year). For my ancient Celtic ancestors, Imbolc would have marked the arrival of spring lambs, the ewe's milk coming in and the celebration of the hearth and home and the goddess Brigid (Breed)who guarded the cauldron fires, creativity, fertility and maidens. The Christians would later incorporate the rituals of Imbolc into Candlemas and most of us are familiar with it as Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is a retelling of a goddess story, where the Gaelic crone goddess of winter would ensure Imbolc was a clear and bright day so that she could gather her firewood to survive the last months of winter. If the day was gray and snowy, then the goddess slept and the ancient Celts knew winter would be over soon. There are several mythologies associated with Imbolc and many attributes given to the goddess(es), however. Regardless, the most meaningful aspects of Imbolc for me (and my family) have to do with Quickening.
As we weave a new wheel or cross for Brigid and make her bed of straw and place it by the fire, light our candles and leave oats and milk and bread out for her, we are mindful that as the Sun begins his return, the cauldron fires burn within the earth, warming the ground, often beneath layers of snow and ice. In the bulb, in the seed, there is a quickening. Life begins to stir. The energy that was gathered and stored away before the darkness of Samhain, now becomes fuel for growth. And like the bulb and seed, our own caudlron fires burn. We stored our light, our fuel and tucked it deep inside us and now it too, begins to quicken, to stir inside us. It's our creativity, our dreams and wishes our goals and ambitions. This time, midway between winter solstice and the vernal equinox, is our time. It's a gift. The light increases, our inner fires burn and I find myself able to claim my fertility and create. I expand, I birth. I awaken, like the bulb and the seed.
Now that I hear and feel the quickening deep inside the earth and I see the increasing sunlight each evening, I do not dread this midpoint of winter. If winter stretches on, I know I have more time to gather fuel to feed my inner fires so I can burn with my own power--so I can give birth to a new awareness or creation. I know that the Wheel turns and soon Easter will be here with her green and thawing of the cold. If you are struggling and feeling the bitter chill, listen. Listen for the twitching, the creaking the rustling, the unfolding. Feel the vibration of the earth, this music, as the seeds and bulbs and animals begin to awaken. The cauldron burns deep within the earth, warming the soil, meeting the coming Sun. It's all there, happening around and in you. You only have to listen.