Imbolc 2018

Blessed Imbolc has arrived!

Imbolc actually means “in the belly”.  It refers to an ancient Celtic celebration that was held in the early days of February. This is the time in the northern hemisphere when ewe bellies are fattening with the new life growing within. We are halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. The wheel of the year has officially turned toward spring!

For more information, please check out Nancy’s 2017 article on Imbolc:

Turning Towards Spring

Turning Towards Spring

Hag's Head - Cliffs_of_Moher
Hag’s Head – Cliffs of Moher

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.

The Celtic tribes lived in the far north where winter is a brutal season. They had to burn huge quantities of wood to keep from freezing every winter. They also had to rely on their own stores of food to get them through the long winter months when no crops could be grown or harvested. There was no corner grocery store to run to if they ran out of bread. Is it any wonder that the Celts were quite focused on the return of spring?

The Celts watched and waited for spring. And they noticed that the ewes began to lactate and prepare for the birth of their lambs in early February. The Celts saw this return of mothers’ milk as reason to celebrate. The flow of milk and the birth of baby lambs meant spring was definitely on its way. The harshness of winter would soon end. The Celts celebrated Imbolc because they understood that their lives depended on the grace of Mama Earth and her seasons.

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.

It is February, not quite time for the seeds to sprout. But the days are definitely lengthening. 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 your feet. Listen with your heart. Can you hear the stirring?

☾☽

Imbolc is traditionally celebrated at the halfway point between winter solstice and  spring equinox.  In 2017, this halfway point falls on February 3.

Want a simple way to honor Imbolc and the turning of the year towards spring? Light a candle or two tonight, and offer up a simple prayer of gratitude in honor of Mama Earth and the return of spring.

Spring Prophecy

Spring Thaw

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. Today Phil did NOT see his shadow, thus predicting that winter will end soon. How ironic that this prediction occurs when much of the country is buried under piles of snow!

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 herself 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.

The Celtic tribes lived in the far north where winter is a brutal season. They had to burn huge quantities of wood to keep from freezing every winter. They also had to rely on their own stores of food to get them through the long winter months when no crops could be grown or harvested. There was no corner grocery store to run to if they ran out of bread. Is it any wonder that the Celts were quite focused on the return of spring?

The Celts watched and waited for spring. And they noticed that the ewes began to lactate and prepare for the birth of their lambs in early February. The Celts saw this return of mothers’ milk as reason to celebrate. The flow of milk and the birth of baby lambs meant spring was definitely on its way. The harshness of winter would soon end. The Celts celebrated Imbolc because they understood that their lives depended on the grace of Mama Earth and her seasons.

There is a magic to Imbolc and the early days of February. It is there, running just beneath the surface. Can you sense 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. Now it is February, not quite time for the seeds to sprout. But the days are definitely lengthening. 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 your feet. Listen with your heart. Can you hear the stirring?

☾☽

Imbolc is traditionally celebrated at the halfway point between winter solstice and  spring equinox.  In 2016, this halfway point falls on February 4.  Here is a way to celebrate Imbolc at your house: Light a candle or two tonight. Then offer up a simple prayer of gratitude in honor of Mama Earth and the return of spring.

The Promise of Spring – Imbolc

Spring Crocus

Last night it rained. In the morning, there was a scent in the air that took a moment or two for me to place… Then suddenly I remembered; it is the smell of soil waking up, coming alive after its long sleep.  It is the smell of spring.

Go outside and sniff the air in early February. Grab a handful of soil and hold it up to your nose. Do you smell it? Or just stop and listen. Perhaps you can hear the gentle whispers? Mama Earth is beginning to stir.

All winter, Earth has quietly held the seeds of spring in her soil body; she has coddled them and kept them safe, waiting for the time to sprout. And now spring is almost here and the seeds are stirring, preparing to crack open and grow new life.

The chickadees know spring is on its way; they whistle to each other from every treetop in my neighborhood. My dog knows; she sniffs at the soil with new interest. And the sheep know; they birth their lambs in February, knowing spring will soon arrive.

My Celtic ancestors celebrated Imbolc at the time of lamb birthing. It was their way of honoring the end of winter and the promise of life returning to the land. The early Catholics changed the name of Imbolc to Candlemas. And modern man morphed Imbolc into Groundhog Day. By any name, this time is about honoring the promise of spring.

It has been snowing and snowing here, even more than usual for northern Colorado. And I had begun to worry that winter might decide to never end. But then, on a cold, wet day in February, I suddenly hear the whispers of Mama Earth, and I get a whiff of her soil coming alive. And it feels like I just received a message from a long lost lover. The spring I crave is on its way back to me.