John Conlin February, 2010
Imbolc and the Snow Moon
At first glance, this month might seem to present a contrast between the two rituals I will do. February begins with Imbolc and ends with what is commonly called the Snow Moon. When I take some time to walk through Nature, to breathe deeply the Winter air and allow my eyes to see past the obvious, I find a more magickal understanding. Throughout my walk around the Wheel each year, I seek to find the wonder that lies within the moments I celebrate as a pagan man. For in that wonder, whether it is shouting brightly in Spring flowers or whispering darkly, hidden in the shadows of the Fall, I find an awe and respect that fill my spirit, connecting me more deeply to my path.
My own celebration of Imbolc is born of my interpretation of the dance between the Goddess and the God. I try to recognize and then acknowledge through ritual, the most prevalent aspect of each of their energies present in Nature. Imbolc is the moment on the Wheel between Yule, (the Winter Solstice), and Ostara, (the Vernal Equinox). It is the place where we can truly start to believe in the turn, away from the dark and the cold, toward the warmer light of Spring. It is the Maiden’s initial dance of the New Year. It is the beginning of the great dance that will grow ever more passionate, from now until the fires of Beltaine burn. Her dance begins softly, a faint whisper of a dream as she moves through forest and field. With each gentle step she melts through the snow. Her beauty and charm sing out against the stark contrast of Winter’s pallor, a fancy that catches the eye of Nature and wakes the Earth from slumber. At Imbolc the Maiden’s presence is often fleeting at best. This is a mid-point, a place of balance, where the scales have not yet measurably tipped to favor Spring’s coming. Winter is often reluctant to wane and does not give up its hold without a fight. It is a fight that She will eventually win, no matter the storms Winter may try to conjure, no matter the grasp it seeks to maintain, She will prevail. And so it is here, on Imbolc, when I set upon my altar three candles to represent the transforming energies. In the west I set a red candle for the Mother, in the south a yellow candle for the youthful God and in the center stands a white candle for the Maiden. I place two chalices in the west, one filled with a deep red wine for the Mother and one with something light and bubbly,( I usually opt for champagne), to acknowledge the Maiden. I know that many choose to use milk for Imbolc but I feel that something effervescent more strongly captures the hopes and promise this point upon the Wheel signifies. I cast Circle, cleanse and purify, seal the Circle, and then call to the Quarters in the same manner as any other ritual. When I call to the Goddess and the God energies, I light the yellow candle for the youthful aspect of the God and then the red candle for the Mother aspect of the Goddess. As we pass the chalice of red wine around our Circle, each of us states what we are leaving behind with Winter. We will write this on naturally made, biodegradable paper which we will return later it to the Earth. Then we will say farewell to the Mother, taking her flame to light the Maiden’s candle and extinguishing the red candle. The remaining red wine or drink in the chalice is poured back to the Earth when we close the ritual. Once the Maiden’s candle is burning and we have talked about what is happening in the natural world, we pass the other chalice around the Circle. Here, we each state what we are going to manifest in the year that comes. We have done this in a variety of ways, from writing down a goal for the New Year, to passing out seeds that we will eventually plant in the Spring. I feel that in doing something that is tangible, I am better able to stay focused and nurture my growth. Just as the Maiden sets out to awaken the Earth and commit the energies once again to fulfill the promise of Spring, so do I commit myself once again to walk my Path. After re-affirming our promise to our individual Paths, everyone in Circle is anointed with a magickal oil. The Circle is released, and then we go outside to bury our Winter papers and return what is left in both chalices to the Earth.
The Snow Moon at the end of this month will serve as a good test of my resolve to hold onto what I touched at Imbolc. Every month when I look up to the full moon, I wonder what others before me saw and felt. I ask to hear their rhymes and reasons, for assigning the names they gave to each moon. Aside from the obvious, what is there to glean from the Snow Moon? It comes at a time when most of us are tired of Winter and can no longer see any magic in it. We have celebrated Imbolc and have now filled our heads with thoughts of Spring. Perhaps the Snow Moon is meant to be a reminder for us to be patient. Maybe it is one last natural suggestion to cherish the remnants of Winter and not rush ahead without a focused purpose. Somehow by force or through seduction, the snow asks us to be still. It asks us, within that quiet stillness, to look inside ourselves and measure our balance. It reminds us that there is a flow to all things and that we are a part of that flow. Spring will surely come, for change is both inevitable and constant. All things come more naturally though with patience and discipline. The seeds of Imbolc need time to germinate before planting. As I sit by a fire, holding off Winter’s last breath and look out at the moonlight reflecting off the snow, I see the wonder of this Full Moon.