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Happy Imbolc to all my Northern hemisphere friends and Happy Lughnassadh to all my Southern hemisphere friends

Imbolc means ‘In the belly of the Mother ‘and refers to the potential for growth in whatever way is most relevant in your life.

The first festival of spring often when the land is still frozen is a reminder that new life stirs within the Earth and within people long before the effects are seen or felt externally. 

This was the all important time when sheep and cattle give birth to their young and so fresh milk and dairy products were first available to the community after the long winter in early agricultural societies.

This was in a number of pre Christian traditions the festival of the young maiden goddess. But it is also linked with the story of the newly delivered mother of the sun king whose milk is mirrored by the milk of the ewes who gave this festival its name of Oimelc or Ewe’s milk. 

The Dark twin is still powerful as reflected in the cold weather and dark days but the young God of light is growing in power as he is nursed by the Goddess

The Christian Candlemas, the festival of candles, took place on February 2, the day of the Purification of the Virgin Mary on which she took baby Jesus to the temple for the first time. 

Ways of marking the festival in the modern world

• Personal and home purification, by burning smudge sticks in sagebrush or cedar and spiralling the , smudge around your home, your possession and yourself before taking the smoke stick outdoors to burn away or go out.
• Personal detoxing and the beginning of a fitness and healthy eating regime to maximise your energy and increases your resistance to winter ills and chills
• Candle meditations or just quiet times sitting by candlelight talking to your family or friends. If you are alone hold a clear crystal between your hands and ask your guardian angel and spirit guides if they have any messages for you. These may be expressed through words that come into your mind or images and sudden good ideas. 
• Create a candle web with friends or relatives for healing or peace. Choose an evening when you are all at home and pre agree a time when you can light a white or beeswax candle and all focus on the same person, animal or place and send healing through the candle. You can adapt the web for people who live in nearby time zones. Leave the candle to burn through.
• Unless you live in a warm land, plant seeds indoors or under glass, naming for each handful of seeds what you wish to bring into your life in the months ahead. You can plant the germinated seeds outdoors on the Spring Equinox if it is warm enough
• In age old tradition, pour a little fresh milk on to the earth as a tribute to the Earth Mother and as you do so, ask for fertility in any aspect of your life you need it. Drink the rest or use it in cooking
• On the night of February 1, place nightlights safely at every window of your home to welcome the new energies into your home. Once candles were lit to welcome Brighid the maiden goddess on her day February 1 and later St Bridget on the Christian festival of Candlemas, February 2 , the blessing of the candles for the year ahead in a special church service
• Take a ceramic heat proof bowl of milk and in it drop ice cubes to represent the cold of winter; gently melt the ice with a small candle or burner beneath the bowl, stirring it and naming the energies you wish to move in or through your life or any quarrels or coldness you wish to resolve or melt 
• A time for career renewal. In the old tradition a local girl dressed in white as the maiden goddess and later to saint would appear at the door of important houses and farms. Indoors would be a straw bed by the fire where she would be given milk, seed bread and honey and would bless the local workers.
• To focus on the way you wish your career to develop, on the evening of January 31 make a tiny straw bed or one of dried rose petals and in it place a small doll dressed in white. Surround it with the first greenery or buds of spring. Place in the straw symbols of the blessings you would like in your life, whether tiny charms related to your craft or job applications of ideal careers .Drink a little milk sweetened with honey and put three drops on the head of the doll. Keep the doll and bed in position until dusk on February 2 and then scatter the straw or petals to the wind, give the doll to a child and carry any charms in a small drawstring bag to bring you luck. Send off an application, start learning some new skill that will further your career or apply for a course or extra training
• Give packets of seeds to friends or friends’ children to plant indoors and take along a green plant or two to refresh the workplace and as a reminder of the coming spring. 
• Write some poetry or a story or start your novel whether for pleasure of publication.

Happy Lughnassadh to my Southern hemisphere friends

This is traditionally the festival of the first grain harvest but can be used for any harvest of any produce and a personal harvest. 

The God promises to defend and die for the land. The Sun/Grain god is willingly cut down in the form of the last sheaf of grain to be harvested and his spirit descends into the earth, back into the mother’s womb, to be reborn on the Midwinter celebration as the infant Sun King. The decisive battle of the Light and Dark twin cannot take place till the Autumn Equinox six weeks later and so the myths divide again. 
Some versions say the fatal blow to the Light twin is delivered at Lughnassadh but the Light twin lingers wounded for another six weeks until the Autumn Equinox

In both the pre Christian and Christian tradition called Lammas or Loaf mass a loaf baked from the first harvested sheaf was offered on the altar. 

On August 15, at the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, in Celtic influenced lands a bannock was made from bread and milk to be broken by the father of the household and given to the family to ensure sufficient bread throughout the year on the family table(and his willingness to work to provide it).Obviously these days the mother can equally assume the role of provider .

Ways of Marking the Festival in the Modern world 

• Bake your own bread during this three day period ending officially on February 2 at sundown but in fact any time during this week, either with yeast or from a mix in the shape of a figure who can either represent the Grain\Corn Spirit or the Grain Mother. Add milk to the mix and as you stir the mix in turn with friends and family or alone, make wishes for abundance and the harvest you wish to reap during the coming months. Ask also if appropriate for suitable employment. 

• When your bread is cooked, eat or share it and name the transformations you seek in your life/the world. At dawn put out any remaining crumbs for the wild birds.

• Bake extra bread or fruit pies to give to neighbours and colleagues who maybe live alone and may not cook for themselves often.

• Cut down an area of weeds or overgrown grass in your garden or tidy up indoor plants. Alternatively spend a day on an organised project clearing local wilderness, to symbolically generate the energies to clear your way ahead in your life and relationships

• Light an orange candle every evening if possible for a week around the festival. Sprinkle a pinch of salt in the flame to let go of any injustice that cannot be put right but which needs to be released from your mind to set you free.

• Then add a small pinch of dried sage to the flame and name a blessing however small or an unexpected kindness you have received in the previous few months. At the end of the week, make a practical gesture or spoken small blessing to someone who does not merit it

• Alternatively if you feel you have been unjustly treated and cannot put matters right, knot dried grasses or pluck the petals of a dying flower, one for each injustice and cast them into running water or bury them, planting late flowering seeds or autumn flowers.

• Use corn or dried grasses to create corn knots and corn mother figures (with featureless head, arms, body and legs) tied with red and blue threads. Hang them in the home through the winter to bring protection and burn them on the first Monday after Twelfth Night (January 6) or on next year’s Spring Equinox fires.

• If you want to make a Corn spirit, make an abstract shape using ears of corn tied together. Burn him on the last day of Lughnassadh; just before dusk on August 2 and scatter some of the ashes in your garden or on indoor plants to bring abundance to the home during the winter.

• Arrange journeys to see friends and relations or write or telephone making definite plans to meet, as this is a time when tribes would get together before the long winter. Try to take an impromptu weekend away to fill you with energy for the coming months, 

• Make a final effort to resolve an unfair official or neighbourhood dispute or a disagreement over an inheritance or property matter, if necessary by changing tactic or the person representing you