“I do not want to go quietly, I want to slide in sideways, cookies in one hand, whiskey in the other declaring “Whoo, what a ride!” In my notes for this talk, I wrote “cabin fever” three times. I also realized, the Internet kind of erased cabin fever from our culture. I see that as a good thing.
Imbolc is a Old Gaelic word that may have meant “in the belly” and referred to sheep’s pregnancies, or possibly meant to wash and cleanse one’s self. Most people believe it is the former. Late winter is when ewes prepare to deliver their lambs and their milk supply freshens. Paganism really always leads you back to critters. But this is a celebration of quickening; evidence of new life about to begin.
Imbolc is the halfway point in the Winter season, literally the middle of Winter. Winter began six weeks ago, and Spring begins in six weeks. These halfway points are the truest expression of a season; we are in the thick of winter. It is cold, dreary, windy, not fun to be out of doors.
What do we do this feverish, restless, dreary time of year? We have Carnival, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year; huge, wild, brightly colored celebrations where you can let out all the crazy. If you keep trying to follow decorum during such a dreary period, you could permanently lose your mental balance. It is better to go crazy for a few days and shake out those winter blues. If you have read any James Herriot, you know that lambing season drives farmers a bit crazy, too.
Imbolc is a High Holy day and its signature deity is Brigid, or “Bride”, the most beloved of the Irish gods. Brigid was a fire god: a blacksmith, a poet, and the home’s hearth. Poetry? Fire, you ask? Yes! A good poems sets your heart and mind ablaze. Poets in Ireland were ranked higher than kings and queens, who were considered somewhat expendable. I am not making any suggestions, here, but Irish kings were sometimes sacrificed if things had gone badly for a few years in a row.
Imbolc is when you can tell that the daylight hours really are growing longer. It is sunset when I leave work now, not full dark. Dawn happens during breakfast, not on my way to work. Even Utqiag`vik, the northernmost point in Alaska, is getting 3 hours of sunlight per day.
The opposite holiday is Lughnasadh, the grain and apple harvest that is halfway thru summer. Lughnasadh is when you see the days are waning, but your larders are filling up. Halfway thru Winter, larders are emptying and we tighten our belts. This may not apply to food in our modern lives, but it can apply to our emotional and mental stores.
In farming communities, carnival is followed by fasting. In modern life, we are trying to keep up with our new year’s resolutions to lose weight or get in shape. Kind of the same idea…if you have hot work to do, cold weather is a good time to do it.
Candles are a symbol of Imbolc, celebrating the returning light. So are Brigid’s Crosses, milk, and early flowers like snowdrops or crocus. I have daffodils coming up, but I think that is climate change, not Imbolc. At Lughnasadh we made corn dollies; at Imbolc we make Brigid Crosses. The dolly sometimes gets burned after it is completed, but the cross is really just an unfinished basket. Where does that take us?
This is the end of the agricultural year. Gardeners smell Spring on the wind, or at least imagine it. We pore over brightly colored seed catalogs and dream at length about this year’s garden. We have forgotten all the work of turning the soil and weeding; we just want to see sprouts and flower buds.
The end of any thing is a good time to review. How did your projects work out this past year? DId you improve over the last time, or fall behind? Did you try a new thing? Was it an improvement? What ideas needs to get thrown out to make space for new ideas, what things could get finished before Spring arrives? What do you need to do to prepare for growth?
We handle all that ancipation with planning and preparation. Planning and preparation, you say? I say FUN! Get out the grid paper and plot your garden! Go thru your seed store and see what you saved from last year. DREAM. Fire up your greenhouse and get some seedlings started. We all have greenhouses, right?
Maybe finish that brigids cross, turn it into a egg basket. Maybe finish that poem you were writing, turn it into inspiration for your next step in life. Many folk are planning bee-feeding gardens, nowadays. This is the time of year that needs inspiration. Feed your busy little dreams. Put your dreams on paper, express all this pent up energy, get your thoughts and feelings out.
My husband uses white boards in every room, to plot menus, work days, healthy habits, notions. He bought two new white boards in the last week, and one of them is so big it will take up almost an entire wall. I love that.
What have you saved up in your heart and mind, and your belly? What does your gut tell you right now? The Hindus have 7 chakras, but the Irish have 3 cauldrons. The Belly, the Heart, and the Head. Each needed to be kept full, none should be neglected. We are halfway thru a season of deprivation. Are any of your cauldrons tipped over right now, or needing a top up?
You MEANT to give up junk food, but did you? Try again, put good food in its place, eat your green leafy vegetables and whole fruits.
Your gut tells you that someone on your friend lists is not a good person? Obey your gut and unfollow them.
What else is your gut telling you? If you are not in the habit of listening to it, start now.
Have you called your loved ones recently? Do it, tell them you love them. Get over their flaws and failings. Get over yours, too.
Do your favorite artists need support? Re-post their artwork, buy their work, comment on their social media.
What makes you feel loved? Seek that again. Start over if you need to.
Bolster yourself by talking about or writing down these ideas of yours. Talk them up! Up! Talk yourself into bringing your ideas to life. Remember it is OK to be a little crazy right now. LET THE LIGHT IN. Let go of shade. Strategize, plot, plan, throw it all out and start again.
Do you have a gratitude habit? Is it working for you? Maybe it needs re-vamping.
Read your favorite philosophers again, read your favorite poems. Do you still love them? Do they bring you new insights? Try reading them out loud to your friends. If they are still your friends afterwards, good.
Imbolc reminds us to make use of dull times to prepare for better times. Hash out your ideas and dreams, sort out the dead seeds and half-baked notions, reconnect with what – and who – truly inspires you.
Even Brigid’s cross is just an unfinished basket. If it is not working out, toss it in the fire and try again.