Imbolc 2017 for Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times
Here in Central Ohio, we have enjoyed temperatures in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s in late January this year. We are lulled into a false sense that Spring is here due to the warmth. Winter isn’t over yet.
Or is it?
Our ancestors would say this time of year IS the beginning of Spring, regardless of temperature. First signs are everywhere from groups of returning birds, to animals awakening from hibernation, and buds on the trees.
For me, it means time to start planning the garden again. I dug out my seed stash, sorted what I do not want, communicated with my gardening partners, and I have a seed catalogue on the way!
This week, I’ll buy some soil and start sprouting seeds that need to be transplanted to the ground in eight to ten weeks. I will go bastshit nuts planting, tending, and harvesting clear up to Samhain, and then, do garden cleanup. I will be tired of it all for a month or two and then start dying to get started again by mid January next year. My crazy has it’s own “Wheel of the Year!”
I was pleased, in researching what I’d like to write about, to find some new things I did not know about Imbolc! I’ll share what I learned, and then share a simple working I’ll be doing, myself this year.
Light it Up!
While much of the attention is given to the celebration of the goddess Brigid by Pagans, and then St. Brigid by Catholics, what gets little attention is some of the candle ceremonies that happen.
Some Pagans have their candles they have at the traditional places on their altars, and just stick with that for all Sabbats. Ancient Pagans had different practices.
For example, some Germanic and Celtic Pagans celebrated in late January that bears, sacred animals, came out of hibernation. They had torch lit processions and bonfires. With days continuing to grow longer, the awakening of these animals was seen as more signs of Spring. Fires were used as blessing and purification, but also emulated the light the people were enjoying more of.
It is speculated it was these very practices that were used to inspire Xtian churches to create festivals of light at this time of year. Instead of the returning sacred light brought by the gods, and the return of the spiritually powerful creatures like bears, the sacred purity of Mary, mother of the Xtian god was celebrated.
The candle magic, which Catholics would hardly call magic, however, is practiced at many Candlemas celebrations. Some devotees bring candles to church to have them blessed to use in their homes for the rest of the year. This emulates the pre-Xtian Pagan practice of having a communal bonfire and letting each participant take a lit stick of fire back to their own homes, and lighting their hearth fires from that.
The whole point of the lighting of fires and candles was to emulate the strengthening sun, and longer, soon to be warmer days, approaching the growing season. For Pagans, it depended on what deity they served, and for Xtians, of course their god was “the light of the world.”
divination was also practiced around Imbolc time. One method in Wales entailed lighting two candles and having each participant take turns sitting between the candles. A horn filled with beer was given to them, and once they drank it, they tossed the horn behind them. If it landed upright, it meant they would live a long life. If it did not land upright, it meant they would not live as long.
Spring cleaning was also practiced by some. There was more light to work by, and dust and cobwebs in corners would be more noticeable. Plus, in parts where people decorated for either Yule, Solstice, or Xmas, it would be the time to take all those decorations down if it was not done by then. I don’t know about you, but one of the happiest days of the year for me is when I get all the holiday décor packed away and I get my house back to normal. In Ancient Rome, they would burn the evergreen branches they had used, while in modern times, we pack up our artificial trees.
Each of us who have groups will observe whatever is most meaningful to us collectively. For Earth Based people, as well as people who have cabin fever by now…(raises hand) …holidays that mark returning and strengthening light is a wonderful time, indeed.
Blessing the Earth
One thing I read about was people blessing the grounds before preparing it and then planting seeds, and for me, being a gardener who is VERY VERY excited about gardening again, I thought I would make a garden blessing ceremony including light as well as holy water in the working. It’s very simple and can be done discreetly if you are not out of the closet and don’t want neighbors nosing about, or with as much ceremony as you prefer.
Saoirse’s Imbolc Garden Blessing Ceremony
Set up an altar to your liking or one that is appropriate for your tradition. You will be blessing your garden space or garden pots you grow things in. You can bless your garden tools as well if you like.
You will need to do this outdoors in the garden space. Have a little gift as offering for the critters. Something like birdseed, a salt lick for a deer, a bat box or birdhouse, or even a cat house for a stray works nicely.
On your altar, place one thing of your choosing to represent each element or Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and you, yourself will be the representation of Spirit. Place the items in position that is most meaningful to you. This may entail the traditional Earth in the North, Air in East, Fire in South, and Water in West or not. However, for the sake of using fire in this, for the actual representation for the element of fire, make sure to use a candle, any color you feel is appropriate. Green for life, or red for fire and magic for example, or even gold to represent the sun.
Cast circle as you see fit, or do this open circle. If you do cast circle, remember to cast it around your whole garden space you will be blessing.
Light your candle first and say “I welcome the strengthening light. Shine down upon this earth where I grow food and flowers. Bless it with abundant life, protect it from drought, and give me a great harvest. So mote it be.” Then walk around your planting space, holding the candle over it, emulating how you want the sun to shine on it. Replace the candle on the altar.
Pick up what represent Water and say, “I welcome the waters of rain. I ask you to bless my garden the whole season long with all the water it needs to grow. I ask protection against floods, washing away of plants, and water logging. Give me a great harvest. So mote it be” If you used water or holy water, sprinkle it across your garden space. If you did not use water, wave your representation of water over the garden as you did the candle. Replace the representation of water onto the altar.
Next pick up the representation of Earth, Say “ Hail Mother, Earth we walk on, and which gives us food season after season. I will touch your body, and tend it this growing season with love. I will nurture plants and share with the creatures that live here with me. Guide me to know what you need and what I can do to make the best harvest for all of us. Blessed Be.” Pass the representation of earth over your garden patch. Replace it on the altar.
Next, pick up the representation of Air. Say “ Breath of life, move upon my garden. Breathe growth, and health into it. Begin growing it with me, and grow it with me until we have a bountiful harvest together. So mote it be.”
Leave your gift for the critters as an offering to the spirits of nature.
Do not banish.
Put everything away.
May your garden be glorious and abundant.