Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blessings of Imbolc

With this winter having been an especially brutal one in some areas, I think it is safe to say we all could use a festival to remind us that spring is, if not just around the corner, at least not too far in the distant future. Cue Imbolc.

Some pagans refer to this as the Feast of Februa, or the Feast of Brigid, or Candlemas, or Imbolc, Imbolg or Oimelc. For some history and folklore related to this festiva, see my classic Witches' Voice article "You Call it Groundhog Day, We Call it Imbolc".

I have never quite understood why so many pagans want to associate this holiday with Brigid; I have nothing against her, she's a lovely goddess, inspiring and calming. My own coven celebrates Candlemas, or the Feast of Februa, and the ritual is focused on Pan, including ritualized scourging (shades of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival celebrated closer to Valentine's Day). For those who refer to the holiday as Imbolc or Oimelc (literally "in the belly" or "ewe's milk" depending on your source), it makes perfect sense to forge (no pun intended) a connection to the female goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. But I like the idea of a focus on a male god figure, especially one associated with sexuality and the forest.

The former is more of an indoor archetype, the latter outdoors, if that makes sense. The threshold, the door allowing us to shut the cold out or brave the biting winds, is a liminal place. This feeling of being on the brink is a powerful catalyst for many of us, urging engagement with new projects, or a return to old ones that haven't been fleshed out yet. Mercury's retrograde periods in winter allow a perfect opportunity to return to unfinished work. We dig in, hibernate, reflect, craft, repair. Brigid approves, this stoking of fires as intellectual as it is visceral. But so does Pan, his jollity a balm on grey days, wafting Arcadian breezes into our winter dreams.

So, too is the groundhog myth a liminal one. He is lifted from his burrow to divine the weather, blinking and wriggling, perhaps squinting in the sun or indifferently sniffing at the cloud cover. Then he is returned to his cozy winter abode. We accept his pronouncement, and return ourselves to wait out winter, industrious or lazy in our habits, hopeful or stymied in our daydreaming, brazen or apathetic in our socializing, chipper or aggravated while doing our outdoor errands. Now is the time for crockpot meals, novels, television reruns, hot toddies, and maybe some snowshoeing.

The snowdrops are imminent, the daffodils will shadow the snow with gold sooner than we may think possible. Time now for planning, plodding, pot roast, and making the best of it.

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