It’s January and there are flowers blooming in my front yard and temperatures in the low seventies. There’s nothing but blue skies for miles and yet it’s Winter and Imbolc-season. While the weather outside my front door sounds lovely, it’s actually not. The same things causing all of the “polar vortexes” in America’s Northeast and Midwest are keeping much needed rain away from California. Our weather might be gorgeous, but there’s a price, and that price is drought. I’d much rather be huddled in a blanket on my couch hiding from the rain than sitting outside this afternoon.
Imbolc has never been my favorite holiday, but it’s always been an important mile-marker on the Wheel of the Year. It lacks the sexiness of Samhain or Beltane, but it offers a whole host of reasons for celebration and reflection. No matter your geographical and/or life circumstances Imbolc can still have meaning.
The reason for the season. A lot of “Pagan 101” books list Imbolc as the “start of Spring.” While that might be true in certain parts of the Western World, it’s certainly not true everywhere. Imbolc can be the start of Spring, but for others it’s the height of Winter. Whatever is going on in your world should be celebrated, even when it’s so cold outside that even your soul is a little frostbitten.
When I lived in the Midwest Imbolc was often a bitterly cold holiday, and snow was the norm. Instead of despairing over that ice and frost it’s better to think about what those elements mean in the long-term. All of that cold and snow set the table for the beauties of Spring, Summer, and Fall (and sometimes there really is nothing more beautiful than a snowy night). Snow fertilizes the fields and fills our rivers and streams when it melts. For so many places it’s a vital part of the eco-system. Instead of lamenting the reality of the situation, celebrate it! Celebrate the snow, celebrate the cold! Curl up with a hot chocolate and be thankful your heater works.
In California Imbolc really does mark the start of Spring. Green grass returns, flowers bloom, trees bud, and we even open up our windows sometimes. All of those things are generally lovely but the most important development in Northern California in early February is rain. It’s supposed to be our coldest and wettest time of year and when those things don’t happen it means we could be in big trouble come July. I love Spring-like weather and I won’t complain about it (my Michigan-living Father has told me that I’m not allowed to share how warm it is out here) but I’d rather see rain.
Imbolc has long been associated with milk (think lactating sheep) and while milk isn’t really all that seasonal in the age of grocery stores I still like to slide it into my own Imbolc rituals from time to time. One of the easiest ways to do that is by celebrating “Cakes and Ale” with “Milk and Cookies.” It might not be completely authentic but it’s tasty.
Wash your hands, and your spirit. The word “February” comes from the Roman “februa” which translates roughly as “purification.” The Romans even celebrated a Februa Ritual, dedicated to the idea of purification. Imbolc is a wonderful opportunity to return to the original meaning of February and engage in some spiritual housecleaning.
After the hustle and bustle of Samhain and Yule, Imbolc can be a breath of cleansing sabbat air. Take advantage of the “down time*” to evaluate what’s working and not working in your own spiritual practice. Throw out or re-develop the parts that might be holding you back, and then do some inventory as to why the successful bits are that way. Clean out your ritual space, ridding it of any lingering negativity there from the previous year. “Spring cleaning” isn’t just for the home, it can be a part of our spiritual practice too.
Many of my Imbolc rituals over the years have stressed ridding one’s self of negative influences. Instead of asking for something at this stop on the Wheel, ask the gods to take something away. Looking inward and evaluating what tendencies need to go or be changed is difficult, but oh so rewarding when done properly.
Be prepared. One of my coven-mates told me last year that she blesses all of her candles for the upcoming year at Imbolc. Doing such a thing had never occurred to me, but it makes perfect sense. My Samhain rituals are usually pretty elaborate affairs, and since the coven exchanges gifts at Yule amongst various things, there’s not a lot of time there either. Imbolc is the perfect opportunity. It’s also usually an indoor ritual, blessing a bunch of tools is easier when you don’t have to lug them into the woods. (Yes hardcore Druid friends, I know you do even your most wintry rituals outside, but you are made of stouter stuff than I.)
This idea of preparedness can also be found in the Catholic holiday of Candlemass (a name still used by many Witches for Imbolc). Not surprisingly Candlemass tapped into the purification aspects of Februa and was also the date on the calendar when the Catholic Church blessed their candles for remainder of the calendar year.
The return of the light. By early February December’s reborn shines a little longer in the sky. Yule’s a great holiday for celebrating the sun’s rebirth, but at Imbolc the return of the light is far more noticeable. Not only does Imbolc offer an opportunity to bless candles, it’s also a good time to light them as well. Let the return of the light cleanse and prepare you for what lies ahead!
Brighid’s back. The Celtic goddess Brighid is one of the most popular and honored deities in all of Modern Paganism. She’s been associated with Imbolc nearly from the beginning, and is still an important part of the holiday for many Pagans. Even when my Imbolc rituals are not specifically crafted around Brighid I still tend to find a place for her within them. Brighid is usually pretty busy this time of year, but if you invite her to whatever you have going on she’ll still most likely show up.
Whatever you do, and however you celebrate . . . Blessed Imbolc.
*”Down time” does not exist if you are currently preparing for a couple of Pagan Festivals in February, or are a football fan whose teams are on their way to the Super Bowl. Congrats Seattle and Denver, and remember I picked that match-up back in September.
1. Goddess holding the Green Man in her hand as the light grows around Her.
2. Sheep in a snowy field, snow is not just for Yule.
3. Time to put that broom to use.
4. My Imbolc altar back in 2012.