The problem of Imbolc

Today is the Celtic Sabbat/festival/holy day/celebration of Imbolc. Traci wrote a great post about it yesterday; I recommend it for those that want to know more about the word and its origins, as well as the Irish experience of it.

I’ve never felt all that connected to this spoke on the great wheel of seasonal observances. While I feel connected to all things Celtic, I don’t know much of the history, and there’s so much to know! I wasn’t raised in an Irish or Celtic diaspora family (my closest Irish ancestor was sent to Australia as a convict in the early 19th century) and I grew up in Alaska, where spring lasts all of six weeks and doesn’t arrive until after Beltaine. In fact, I remember many times snow falling in the beginning of May. How could the coming of spring be visible in early February?? That’s crazy talk!

When I lived in Wales I was able to see how this festival links into the lambing season and the coming spring. I remember seeing crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils peeking up through the ground. The light lengthened and its growing strength was palpable. Honoring Brid/Bride/Bhride/Bridgit/Brigantia made a lot more sense.

Now in Washington state I also feel the days growing longer and see buds tentatively peeking out. The next 6 weeks or so are little bit like a seasonal no-man’s-land here, it’s neither winter — the temperatures have warmed up, we’re unlikely to get any snow, but it’s not spring yet either — still a bit too cold, windy and wet. I don’t feel the strong urge to hibernate, but neither is the strong sunshine energy urging me to get out and Do Things.

I wrote yesterday about how I plan to observe Imbolc this year. It will be quiet: with an outdoor offering and lighting some candles, with ritual tomorrow with my teachers. I’d like to develop this holiday into something more deeply meaningful, for me spiritually, for my family, and to break up the monotony of this part of the year.

Autumn is packed with holidays and then after new year…… nothing. Sure, in the US there’s Martin Luther King Jr Day (but who observes that? does your community? most people just enjoy a day off work), Super Bowl Sunday (this coming Sunday, I hear. I don’t observe this, as I don’t care for American football), Valentine’s Day (another one I skip), and President’s Day (another long weekend that no one I know observes in any meaningful way), St Patrick’s Day (another one I skip) and then….. finally the Vernal Equinox and/or Easter. Oy. That’s a long dreary void.

Traci talked about using Imbolc as a time of cleaning and cleansing. I associate the Spring Equinox with that. It’s time for me to grow this holiday and find a way to include it in my seasonal rhythm here. I wonder if there’s a way to observe this turning of the wheel without having to get too Celtic. Only time and getting outside and engaging with the Land will tell.


About Niki Whiting
  • Theora

    My Imbolc practice is pretty muddled (well, all my practices are pretty muddled). First, while Dec 21 is the middle of winter light-wise, early February is the middle of winter weather-wise, at least here in New England it is. So at Imbolc I try to observe the particular quality of bright and cold – sun on ice, the way you can tell that it’s snowed by the light without even looking at the ground. It’s also the point at which winter really starts to grate in New England, so there’s an element of comfort: a fire in the fireplace, sitting with a hot drink, etc., things which might seem appropriate at Yule, but which I usually forget due to the hecticness of that time of year.

    The second thread is gardening/plant related. At this time of year there’s actually a good bit for gardeners to do: it’s a great time to prune summer and fall blooming shrubs and to cut back perennials. And while I’m out doing that, I scout for the growing tips of bulbs to come. I also sprout seeds indoors (e.g. alfalfa), both for the experience of watching the seeds germinate and for something fresh and green to eat at a time of year when that’s scarce on the ground.

    I’m still trying to turn all that into an actual religious practice rather than just some stuff I do, however ;)

    (BTW, wanted to say that I’ve been loving this blog. I usually don’t have time to comment, but I’ve been enjoying it so much .)

    • Niki Whiting

      I’m so glad you are loving this blog! I’m sorry I can’t contribute to the gardening angle. I do not have a green thumb at all! I can’t even keep houseplants alive. It’s really sad…..

    • Drekfletch

      You must live in southern New England. Up here we don’t get bulbs until early March at the earliest. Unless there’s an unnatural warm spell. Then foundations might force some.

  • Drekfletch

    Another NewEnglander here. Where I am, Nov-Dec is the seasonal no-man’s land. Personally, I consider the Holiday season an actual season. Then Winter starts New Years Day (weather-wise, maybe a week earlier, but I look at that as the tail end of the Holidays.) It runs into the middle to end of March, sometimes holding on till April. So all this Spring celebrating is just silly for me.

    Personally, I see the monotony of this part of the year as a sort of fallows. Deliberate inaction, time-biding, despite all the shoveling, skating, ice-fishing, and skiing that goes on.

    As an aside, I know of a few people who celebrate Presidents’ Day as a holiday for them as cultural Heroes, in the Greek sense.

  • Apollo Heart

    Being down here in Louisville I really don’t see the connection either. I don’t celebrate Imbolc but I did use the time to clean things up that needed cleaning, like my room. I really can’t do any major cleaning until the weather warms up. I still don’t understand the point of celebrating Imbolc but each to his own.

  • Pingback: A simple Imbolc-tide observance, and not so simple thoughts… | Chrysalis()

  • Pingback: cat 4 brother()

  • Pingback: blue ofica()

  • Pingback: alkaline water machine()