Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Old Imbolc: What Sacred Well Are You Tending?
Madam the dog woke me early by pushing her large nose into my arm and making snuffling noises. She likes to wag her huge tail in such a way that it goes "fwap, fwap" against the end table. Fiendishly clever beast; she knows that one push is allowed when all she wants is attention and an early breakfast and that I have the right to roll over and ignore her when I need more sleep but we agree that two or more pushes and those "fwaps" mean "Outside, now!". This morning I got nosed awake at six, so after she did her business I made a cup of my favorite coffee and we strolled out together on to the back deck. The sunrise was fiery and full of birdsong. It's going to be a beautiful day.
I lit a new candle for Brigid and put it into the small chimenea on my table. Together dog and I wandered our property while the cats went their various and slinky ways. Madam kept me company as I watered the lavenders in their pots and filled the bird feeders. She carefully watched as I tossed down shelled peanuts for the Douglas squirrels (taking one or two as her due). I've come to love these tiny russet-bellied squirrels. They are so clever and brave and so very agile but they much smaller than the native grays. We call them Hobbit squirrels.
I took up my basket and Madam and I continued on down to the meadow where I threw down some apples and hazelnuts for the deer and her two does to enjoy during their next visit. (1) Ritual complete, dog and I circled back to our chairs out on the kitchen deck that overlooks the meadow. Madame began work on her newest bone, and I picked up my pen. We spent the next hour together engaged in our tasks, often watching the birds and squirrels enjoy their seed.
Brigid and Imbolc are very dear to me, so I've taken the day off to celebrate in my own way. At lunch, dog and I will meander down to our favorite nursery, the one with a nice variety of native plants and the staff who keep a drawer full of dog cookies for special visitors. Then it's on the wetlands, to look for eagles and the Eurasian Wigeons that have lately appeared. Then tonight I'll cook something special for Himself. Like the holiday itself, our dinner will involve some old favorites passed down through the family, and something new I've been wanting to try.
We could use a cheerful feast. It's been a rough couple of weeks both for my partner and for me because we've both lost valued colleagues to layoffs and a loved one has been ill. Of course, it's much rougher for those going through such changes. We try to be there for them, knowing they would do the same for us. Here we are, only a few weeks into the new year and already there are so many good people losing jobs all over the country. With so much vital energy going in so many different directions, it's a good time to connect with strength, healing, creativity and the many practical abilities embodied by a Goddess like Brigid.
Well, that's it, that's my ritual for Imbolc. Or at least as much of it as I care to share here. It isn't grand or complex, but it is full of gratitude and peace and I have good companions. However you choose to celebrate the turning of the wheel, I hope you find both beauty and good friends.
As I write this some dear friends in the Midwest and Northeastern parts of the United States and many in in Britain are caught up in some of the worst snowstorms they've ever known. (Folks, put out some food for the birds!) Here in the Pacific Northwest we seem to have finished with the worst of winter and now have clear skies and cold, bright sunny days, while friends in California are coping with unusually high temperatures and a looming drought. This network of friends all celebrate Old Imbolc (2) and each of us will honor it differently, depending in the weather, circumstance and our tradition. I suspect that it's always been that way. The day is different for each of us so why should our celebrations be any different? What binds us is much deeper than ritual.
Personally, I don't value any practice set in stone. What touches our hearts, lasts. What is useful to us, what resonates and nourishes, becomes as daily bread. What is not will pass away, as many faiths are finding. While I respect and cherish many of the old ways I use them as a guide not a rule. The older I get, the more I find Pagans who feel the same. In my practice we use the old traditions in order to connect to those who have gone before but we also create our own rituals, meditations and traditions, both for ourselves and our times, as our ancestors most certainly did. My students know that while our ethics stand firm, our rituals and celebrations can be creative, fluid, (and, within reason) eclectic. What matters is the attention and commitment we give to our cycle of days, not what robes we wear. Some of the most powerful experiences I have ever had as a Green Witch are ones in which form joyfully gives way to function. (3) Personally, I find that my own rituals are deepest when they remain simple and speak to time and place. Looked at in this light, this most likely means that Madame and the cats are far better Pagans than I am, since they are so much better at being in the moment. So be it.
These days, I'll do whatever it takes to keep my practice relevant and fruitful, something I need in both good times and bad. Perhaps it means that I need to pay more attention to my spiritual and emotional life. Or perhaps that means more walks with Madam or more time petting cats. Those things certainly clear my heart space.
Friends, family, furry kids, self and (please Goddess) meaningful work. Add, too, in my cherished volunteer work which I do so that the world will be a bit better for my being in it, and, because I love it. This is the community I value and the holy well I tend to every day. This is the service I'm called to. Lucky me.
Wishing the blessings of Imbolc to you and yours,
10 Ways to Help Birds in Bad Weather
(1) Assuming of course, that the animals we know as Murry the Possum, Kinky Friedman the Skunk or Mamma Raccoon doesn't get to them first.
(2) Old Imbolc is the time when this Cross Quarter Day in the year occurs, as opposed to the arbitrary date listed on most western calendars. Here is a helpful table of the astronomical occurrences for solstice and equinox days as well as the cross quarter days.
(3) Caveat: As long as my intent is clear and I have done the work required to clear my mind and heart beforehand from resentments, shadow issues and petty concerns; garbage in, as they say, garbage out.
Photo: Douglas Squirrel found at AlanBauer.com