Gateway Goddess: Imbolc – Feeding the Hunger of New Lives with Milk and Fire

Gateway Goddess is a column by Kathy Nance. Look for it on alternate Fridays or follow it via RSS or e-mail!


Lambing season always began in the cold and the dark.

My grandparents would rise early. Grandma filled sterilized glass Pepsi bottles with warm milk, fitted them with black rubber nipples. I pulled my boots on over two or three pairs of socks, zipped my fleecy winter coat. Together, Grandpa Hill and I walked across the road to the barn.

Hungry lambs greeted us loudly, wobbled to the side of the lambing pen. There were always some whose mothers either couldn’t or wouldn’t feed them. I watched as Grandpa knelt beside them, angling the bottles to keep the milk flowing. I loved to help hold the bottles. Best of all was stroking the lambs’ soft little heads.

The lambs didn’t seem to have a problem with getting nourishment from a bottle instead of a ewe. They were hungry, the milk was there. They drank in what they needed without questioning the source.

Brigid at Imbolc, by Carey Moore.

The Celtic Goddess Brigid brings us fire as well as nourishing milk and healing wells. Fire in the hearth, fire in the forge, fire in the head. She is a source of healing, protection, and inspiration.

I’ve been told Imbolc is derived from the Celtic words for “in the belly,” or “the quickening.”  And, I’m reminded this year of the idiom that combines those two images of Imbolc into “fire in the belly.” Fire in the belly–desire, drive, the will to achieve.

Like so many of you reading this, I’ve done more than a few manifestation spells. Not even knowing it was a kind of spellwork, I spent part of New Year’s Eve 2000 making a paper chain representing those things I thought were holding me back, then burning the chain and going outside to scatter the ashes at midnight. (I’d had to work as a newspaper copy editor earlier in the evening, and my then-boyfriend was sitting in a computer lab guarding against the end of the cyberworld.)

I didn’t know then that setting intention, raising energy and releasing one’s desires into the universe were the start and not the finish of manifestation. It’s not enough to visualize the change and want it–we have to move towards it with as much desire as a lamb has for a bottle of milk. We must move forward with the knowledge that if we do not, our new life will die before it can be born.

We also need to be kind to ourselves, and recall that change is not linear. It doesn’t move forward in a straight line. Babies don’t stop crawling the minute they take their first wobbly steps. They continue to crawl a lot of the time. It takes practice and encouragement before they transition to full-time, successful walking.

I’m spending the days between now and Imbolc putting the finishing touches on a plan of action for this calendar year. I’ve made lists of goals, some practical (declutter closets) and some not (spend birthday at the beach). I’ll make a collage, draw up action plans. It all will be based around putting some more juice in a long-term manifestation plan to bring my life more into alignment with my creative and spiritual goals.

And I’ll be open to things arriving in packages I didn’t expect. One of my 2013 goal items, for example, was to go horseback riding again. I’d pictured a trip to a local stable later this year. Instead,  in a few weeks I’ll be on a trail ride in the Nevada desert, an area I felt an almost physical pull to explore when I flew over it last spring. And I’ll be with my much-hoped-for new beau, who is not the Pagan or Unitarian or Buddhist I had expected, but an open-minded Eastern Orthodox software engineer.

I’ll continue to remain open to the things I need arriving in ways I don’t expect. And to move towards what I want with as much desire and joy as a lamb reaching for milk. Nourishing milk, healing fire. Spark of inspiration put into form by our labors at life’s forge. Happy Imbolc, everyone.

About Kathy Nance

Kathy Nance is freelance writer and green entrepreneur who lives in suburban Missouri. She has a B.S. with majors in mass communications, sociology and English. She has worked as a newspaper education reporter, feature writer and editor. Her freelance work has been published in general circulation and specialty publications in the U.S. and Great Britain. Before coming to Patheos she was a featured writer for Civil Religion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interfaith blog. She has organized both large and small public Pagan celebrations bringing together groups from a variety of traditions in the St. Louis area. She leaves offerings to the Fey and to her ancestors, as well as a multi-ethnic family of Gods and Goddesses who so far are content to share altar space. She can be found expressing opinions on a daily basis on Facebook and Google+, or @GatewayGoddess on Twitter.

  • Megan McEvers

    A professor once pointed something out which stuck with me. Babies never give up – no matter how difficult and time-consuming it is to walk, to speak, to learn, they keep doing it. I take comfort knowing I have such drive in me and can still channel it as an adult.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    While I love what you’ve written here and agree with its overall and very useful and timely message, I have to make a correction.  Imbolc is Irish, not “Celtic,” and the etymology of Imbolc cannot under any circumstances be what you’ve listed it as here–that particular etymology is very recent, and not at all based on actual linguistics.

    • Kathy Nance

      Thanks for the information. I think it’s valuable to remember that a lot
      of what we think of, and are even taught as “traditional,” is in fact
      of a more modern vintage. Which is its own kind of tradition–but not
      the same as the meaning more commonly implied by “traditional.”

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