At the beginning of February, we celebrate a strange and wonderful holiday known as Groundhog Day. We are told that if the prophetic groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow on this day and runs quickly back into his burrow, winter will last at least 6 more weeks.
The idea of waiting and watching for the first inkling of spring is not new. The ancient Celts celebrated Imbolc in early February long before Groundhog Day existed. Celtic stories tell us that the Cailleach—the divine hag Goddess who rules over winter and death—gathers firewood for the rest of the winter on Imbolc. If the Goddess Cailleach wishes to make the winter last a lot longer, she will make sure that the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. But, if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.
The Cailleach was worshipped by the Celts as the sacred Earth Mother in her bare winter form. And she is not just a dark and evil hag who arbitrarily decides how long winter will be. The Cailleach is also the Bone Mother who collects the bones of the animals that die in the winter. The Bone Mother is said to sing or pray or sleep over the bones all winter long. She does this out of love, so that the animals will cross over and can return as new life in the spring.
There is a magic to Imbolc and the early days of February. It is there, running just beneath the surface. Can you feel it?
Mama Earth holds the seeds of spring safe for us all winter. As the cold wind blows and the snow piles up, she holds them safe in her soil.
The wheel of the year is slowly turning towards spring and new growth. And beneath the surface of Mama Earth, the seeds are beginning to quietly stir. Spring is stirring in the ground beneath our feet.
Imbolc is traditionally celebrated at the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. In 2020, this halfway point falls on February 4.
Light a candle or two tonight, and offer up a simple prayer of gratitude in honor of Mama Earth and the return of spring.
‘When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection; love is born.’
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Photo by Carly Rae Hobbins on Unsplash
What we need is a great, powerful, tremulous falling back in love with our old, ancient, primordial Beloved, which is the Earth herself.
“In several systems of thought, the world’s soul, or anima mundi, is the connection between all living things on Earth, just like the soul is connected to the human body.
In Western philosophy, Plato is thought as the originator of the idea. In ‘Timaeus’ he wrote: “Therefore, we may censequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.’
Plato’s myth has inspired the Stoics, neo-Platonist philosophers, alchemists, astrologers, magicians, and occultists in their works. Modern thinkers have also suggested that a vital force – the soul – links and animates the whole material universe.
In the works of Western occultists, The Anima Mundi was imaged as a female. Plutarch associated her with Isis, ‘shown as a naked goddess with a halo of stars, one foot on land and the other in water to show her dominion on land and sea. Her left breast was a moon, which was repeated on her pubis. Her right breast was a star or sun pouring forth blessings on the world.'”
~Stars and Constellations
I am the dust in the sunlight, I am the ball of the sun . . .
I am the mist of morning, the breath of evening . . . .
I am the spark in the stone, the gleam of gold in the metal . . . .
The rose and the nightingale drunk with its fragrance.
I am the chain of being, the circle of the spheres,
The scale of creation, the rise and the fall.
I am what is and is not . . .
I am the soul in all.
“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.”
Today marks the cross-quarter day (halfway point) between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. The wheel of the year turns and the entire northern half of the planet enters into the dark part of the year. It is the time of year when the Sun drops lower and lower on the horizon, and the dark of night lasts longer and longer.
Ancient Celtic tribes celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in) to mark this auspicious time. According to the Celts and other pagan tribes, the veils between the worlds grow thin at this time of year. That means we can more easily connect with loved ones who have crossed over into the land of the dead. It is the perfect time to honor and celebrate our ancestors.
Celtic Samhain is also about celebrating life. The last of the harvest has been gathered up in our fields and orchards. The natural bounty of Mama Earth will bless and nourish us all winter.
As you enter into the dark half of the year, pause for a moment or two. Offer love and gratitude to Mama Earth for the water, food and shelter she provides. Say a prayer for any loved ones who have moved beyond here and now. Express thanks for everything you have harvested in your life this year.
May the Spirit of peace
bring peace to your house
this Samhain night
and all nights to come.
All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong
and varied as the land.
And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
~Rainer Maria Rilke