Imbolc celebrations began in our home at sunset on Feb. 1st and resumed again at dawn the next morning. We use fire, seeds, bread, (1) milk, and meditation to celebrate Brigid. This is only the beginning. In our home Imbolc begins on Feb 2 and lasts through the 9th. The actual astronomical midpoint in the year (the cross quarter day) is on Saturday, February 4th.
I don't plant seeds outside for this holiday. That would be silly with winter frosts still on the way. (1) Instead I make sure to keep our seven bird feeders full, as the cold nights can be cruel and the beasties need food to survive. We provide various kinds of seeds for the different species of birds on our property. I also put out a peanut feeder for the squirrels. I love our squirrels, the bloody little thieves. My favorite coffee mug has a picture of a squirrel dressed in a beak mask and blue wings holding a sign that says "Feed the Birds"
Much of the focus of my ritual this year was on Brigid as Healer because my partner was due to go in for surgery that week. He is home now, and doing fine.
Much of my free time is spent reading the thoughts of others about this holiday and keeping my own green journal, as well. A good deal of my "hearth time" this time of year is spent in cleaning and organizing (even more so now that we're moving). I like to clear out the weeds in my garden (both real and metaphorical) and fertilize where needed (in the real world and elsewhere). I look forward to sending a receiving email notes filled with blessings, good wishes, pictures and poetry. Most of these come to me from female friends who, like me, hold Brigid dear.
I took special pleasure this year in reading the Imbolc posting by Jason, a delightful Greenman (and a snazzy writer) who composes the Wildhunt Blog. His section on Brigid (2/1/06) was both lovely and informative. Anne Hill included some wonderful poems by Elien Bass and William Matthews on her blog this year. I sent a note about these to Rowan Fairgrove who, it turns out, has taken her poetry classes out in Santa Cruz. Rowan in turn kindly sent me the link to Ellen's website so I could check out her workshops, and she included a news update on celebrations at Brigid's Well in Ireland.
Some Imbolc sites inspire me. Others make me laugh. Years ago I found an essay on Imbolc that made me groan and giggle. I've since filed it under "Stupid Pagan Tricks." Every now and then I pull it out and give it to good hearted urban types with fantasies about the outdoors.
One year, our Priestess decided/divined that Candlemas/Imbolc was the proper time to Initiate our Dedicants. She also decided/channeled the information from our Guides that the influenza tradition had arisen because we weren't in harmony with nature. Therefore, those desiring Initiation would have to do an all-night Vision Quest outside, and a Sweat Lodge at dawn. Mind you, this was during February in the Northeast....So much of what our ancestors did comes down to the dread of winter and the hope of spring, to seeds and farming and the migration of herds. Tens of thousands of years ago they knew the sea lanes and could track the flights of birds and follow the movements of whales and stars to new lands. Some followed the sea, some followed the deer and the caribou. Those who stayed on land knew how to find water, how to make beer or cheese, and how to help early the lambs be born. They valued woodland and weather lore, coupled their sky watching with common sense and brought their people up from mere survival into abundance, and made our poetry possible.
Such wisdom is worth honoring for it's own sake, as anyone who has ever tried to brew beer, bake bread, make tools or heal the sick can tell us. Is it any wonder then that Her gifts are so very practical? Those of us who watch the natural world take nothing for granted for we know that everything changes. Brigid teaches us the miracle in everyday things, and how to hold beauty in our hearts.
(1) Gardeners know better than to put seeds in the ground before the winter frosts are done. Most Pagan gardeners plant seeds in greenhouses and seed trays, and transplant these in March. Imbolc is when we order all those seed and gardening catalogs and begin to dream...
(2) I find it baffling that so many people who practice an earthwise spiritual tradition related to the seasons will plan their celebration around a date on their glossy paper calendar and ignore what father sun and mother earth are actually doing. Beltane is a good example of this. Many Pagans have no idea of the history of the calendar changes by the Romans and the Catholic Church, so they don't realize that the astronomical date for Beltane is closer to the 5th, and that certain calendar changes in the Middle Ages cost our ancestors 11 days, which meant that Old Beltane celebrations would have occurred in the middle of an ancient May, when the weather was much warmer. (This is actually the time when you'll see flowers blooming en mass in England and Northern Europe and when there is far less chance of freezing as we frolic in the wo-ods).
I once received an invitation to a full moon ritual from a Wiccan Coven nearby. It was set to occur on a Saturday. The moon had turned full the Wednesday before and was waning on the night in question. Ironically, the ritual was dedicated to abundance and prosperity. When I asked them about this, they said they were too busy to gather that Wednesday. They were nice people, too, just not real clear on the concept. I politely declined the invitation and wished them well. I'm sure the moon mistress who so loves woods and wild things blessed their endeavors as She thought best :-)
Art: Ellen of the Trackways by Ian Lowe