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FEBRUARY - CELEBRATING IMBOLC

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CELEBRATING IMBOLC   

Welcome to February the month of Rowan, the tree of protection, magical power and creativity. Welcome to Imbolc which means in the belly of the Mother, the first festival of spring traditionally held at the beginning of February, when the Celtic Brighid as the maiden goddess melts with her wand of fire the winter snows (if global warming has left any!)

Associations with Imbolc and the whole of February

Animal: Serpent, black cat

Tree: Willow

Incenses, flowers and herbs: Angelica, basil, benzoin, celandine, crocus, heather, myrrh, snowdrops and violets.

Candle colours:  Pale pink, green, blue and white.

Crystals: Dark gemstones such as garnet and bloodstone/heliotrope, also amethyst, rose quartz and moonstone.

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.

Riding the Wheel of the year from different viewpoints

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.

Celebrating Imbolc

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.  

  • On January 31 after dark, make a tiny straw bed (you can use a small pack of animals’ straw from a pet store). Place a small doll wrapped in white to represent Brighid. Next to the doll set a small jug of milk in which you have stirred three drops of honey, making a wish for abundance for yourself or someone else.

  • Surround the bed and jug with the first greenery or buds of spring. Place round it symbols of the blessings you would like in your life, whether tiny charms related to your craft (a pen, a small piece of wood or a computer jump drive) or connected with health and happiness in the home or for love. Add a coin asking that your home and those you love will not be short of money. Leave these until February 2 at sunset or three days after you start the ritual, near the family hearth or a source of warmth and each evening add another coin.

also try

  • On either January 31 after dark or early the next morning or whenever you choose to celebrate, walk three times around your external boundaries which might be indoors if you live in an apartment with a small lighted smudge stick or a lighted sage or lavender incense stick Spiral the smoke in all directions.

  • Waken the energies of the returning spring with a simple chant spoken three times one after the other on each circuit such as:’ ‘Light return. Maiden melt the winter snows and in my life. Bless me, melt away any coldness or opposition and allow me to make the new beginnings I desire.’

  • Finish by setting the incense in a deep pot to burn away and pour a little fresh milk on to the Earth or indoors in a pot of earth in which there are seeds planted, repeating the chant once more.

also try

  • After dusk on the night of February 1 or your chosen Imbolc date, place nightlights safely at every window of your home to welcome the goddess Brighid /St Bridget into your home. Light first a single white candle in the centre of your home from which you will light the window night lights and ask each family member or friend coming to light another small candle from the central flame and place it in a circle round the central flame.

  • As they do so they should name someone who needs healing or strength. If alone light a small candle each hour or half hour till bedtime, naming someone for each and creating a complete circle of candles round the central flame. Burn them as long as possible and when you extinguish them at bedtime let go an old grievance as each flame goes out. If possible leave one still burning in a safe place.

  • Following the old tradition you can invite friends or family round for a candle making session and they can take the results home. Candlemas candles traditionally protect against fire, storm and accidents and to protect against sore throats. It is very easy to make beeswax candles by rolling a sheet of beeswax round a wick and sealing the edges with a flame.

  • Unless you live in a warm land, plant seeds indoors or under glass, naming for each handful what you wish to bring into your life in the months ahead. You can plant the seedlings on the Spring Equinox.

or maybe try this

  • Place a ring of unlighted candles one for each person present in the centre of your home around a magick circle

  • Put a little ice into a small bowl and fill a jug with fresh milk. Each person present should sit in a circle round the candles.

  • Each should sit facing a candle looking into the centre of the circle and light their candle in turn in silence, lighting one from the other.

  • Then when the candle circle is alight in turn each person passes the ice bowl around, stirs it with a spoon and names a personal or global situation where cold feelings or indifference need to melt or a seemingly immovable obstacle to progress must be removed. You can alternatively name anyone from whom you are estranged you wish to be reconciled with.

  • Set the bowl of ice and the jug of milk carefully in the centre of the circle.

  • If you are working alone light a circle of eight candles to represent the Wheel of the Year and stir the bowl of ice eight times, making the same wish or different ones.

  • While the ice is melting sing, chant or softly drum and give one another Tarot readings or if alone gaze into a crystal ball or lay out cards in answer to any questions you have.

  • When the ice has melted tip it on the ground or if indoors into the soil round a plant.

  • Afterwards drink the milk and eat seed bread and honey, traditional foods of the festival.

  • The next day try to contact the estranged person or take a step to moving matters that have been blocked forwards.

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