FEBRUARY - CELEBRATING IMBOLC
In the Northern hemisphere, at dusk on January 31 in the pagan calendar according to Celtic tradition fiery torches and bonfires were lit to attract back the sun. A procession around the frozen fields with blazing torches was led it was said in pre-Christian times, by the maiden Goddess herself and in later periods by a huge Grain maiden pulled on a cart made from the last sheaf cut from the previous harvest.
This festival of early spring is celebrated when traditionally the land is still frozen, though now the spring flowers bloom earlier each year and on the Isle of Wight the first daffodils, primroses and crocus are already coming through in late January. Imbolc is a reminder that new life stirs within Mother Earth and within us. This was the all important time when sheep and cattle had their young and so fresh milk and dairy products were available to the community once more.
Though it is the time of the Maiden the other aspects of the Goddess also overshadow her, the newly delivered mother of the Sun King whose milk is mirrored by the milk of the ewes who gave this festival its alternative name of Oimelc or ewes’ milk. The Dark brother who rules the dark part of the year still holds sway but the young God of light is growing in power as he is nursed by the Goddess and according to myth will fight and defeat his brother at the Spring Equinox around March 21 in the ongoing between light and darkness
One of the Celtic names for the pagan festival was Brigantia, after Brighid, the Celtic Triple Goddess, here in her maiden aspect replacing the Old Hag of Winter’s rule. She was Christianised as St Bridget, Brigid or Brigit of Kildare or St Bride in Wales and Scotland and her feast day is February 1. Brigantia was also the name of a Gallic earth goddess.
Right through mediaeval times in folk custom a girl representing the young maiden of spring (the former goddess) arrived at the door of the main house or farmstead of a village on January 31 eve with cows and a cauldron, symbols of abundance. Here a straw bride bed would be created close to the fire, adorned with ribbons and blessed with honey and milk by the women of the household.
The local men would enter the circle of firelight and ask for help with their craft or agriculture and make a wish on the Bride Bed and claim a kiss from the maiden.
Bridget crosses, none of whose three or four arms are parallel, were woven from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection. They are still a feature in Irish homes today.
The Anglo-Saxon Offering of Cakes ceremony to the deities at this time asked for a thaw in the weather so that the first ploughing might take place early. In Scandinavia Disting, the festival of the family ancestors around this period was associated with future prosperity because it was a time the cattle and resources remaining after the winter’s forced inactivity were counted. In Iceland, Thorrablót was dedicated to Thor the thunder deity as god of winter. He was asked to drive back the Jotuns, the frost giants so that spring would come.
In the Christian tradition, on Candlemas Day, February 2 or the Sunday between January 28 and February 3, all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year were blessed at High Mass. Blessed candles were also distributed to the congregation. Each person was given a blessed candle that acted as protector of the home against storms, fire and flood and protected cattle and crops against evil.
Traditionally a lighted candle was placed at each window of houses on January 31 (dating from Celtic times) or on Candlemas Eve, February 1 and left to burn through.
On the following day, the feast of St Blaise, the newly sanctified church candles were used by priests to bless the throats of parishioners, so that they would be free from all respiratory illness in the coming months.
In the Christian calendar the anniversary of the Purification of the Virgin Mary occurred forty days after the birth of Jesus, the occasion also when he was taken to the Temple on February 2 and was hailed as the light of the world.
Candlemas was also the day for predicting the weather for the coming weeks and the arrival of spring weather. The US Groundhog Day, February 2 follows this tradition.
In Ancient Rome, at the rites of Juno Februa, animals were brought out of their winter hibernation, candles were lit in homes to drive away evil spirits and blazing torches cast into the River Tiber.
In Rome, February 15, the love and fertility festival that gave rise to modern Valentine’s Day customs, Lupercalia, was dedicated to Lupa, the Goddess she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome. Love and sex rites by young unmarried girls and men were performed in the Grotto of the She-Wolf to bring fertility to animals, land and people.
However in the Southern hemisphere at the beginning of February pagans and witches will be celebrating Lughnassadh, the old first grain harvest when the grain king sacrificed himself to be cut down as the last sheaf of corn so that the people might be fed.
When my son Bill was in New Zealand for three months, I became acutely aware that the Wheel of the Year truly is a wheel and we in the northern climes have our seats directly opposite those in the southern hemisphere who are starting to descend towards autumn as we rise slowly towards spring. This first became real to me when in early November 2007 on the cold rainy Isle of Wight, Bill and I grumpily tramped from shop to shop trying to buy a pair of summer shorts and open toe sandals because it was approaching high summer in Auckland where he was going. A week later I saw Bill on the web cam in the sunshine in his shorts and sandals as I huddled by the radiator drinking hot chocolate.
When I was walking by the sea one afternoon, looking due south at a vast expanse of water I realised that things are not as we always assume in theory. Just as in the southern hemisphere, the four elemental directions can vary from region to region according to the location of land and water masses, maybe wherever we practice magick even folk spells we should rethink the elemental directions to relate to the actual terrain. It would seem more in accord with nature if we assign the elements according to the immediate locality in which we live and work magically, regardless of which hemisphere of the world we currently inhabit.
Imbolc is a good festival to melt away any obstacles, opposition, inertia or coldness in your life. Though traditionally celebrated at the end of January and beginning of February, you can of course create your personal Imbolc rituals any time in February, perhaps with family and friends or alone as a private gesture of faith for a better tomorrow and to mend any quarrels and overcome indifference in others.
or maybe try this
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