Poet T.S. Elliot called April the cruelest month, but I’ve always thought February fits that appellation far more thoroughly and resolutely. I detest this month, though I have to admit that it wasn’t always so. My adopted mom died in February though and since then everything, from the snow and ice, to Valentine’s day decorations, to the joyful celebrations of Chinese New Year remind me of her passing. For me, it’s turned an otherwise innocuous month into something bleak and grim. Still, there are bright spots: Chinese New Year for one. The child in me adores the decorations and yearly animal signs and my household usually holds some type of celebration to honor the Lunar New Year and that brightens the month considerably. The other things I look forward to are the celebrations of Imbolc and Charming the Plough. Even though I’m Heathen, I tend to celebrate both, partly in homage to my Celtic ancestors, partly because February needs all the holiday help it can get!
Imbolc (or Candlemas) is a feast of lights, traditionally given to the Goddess Brigid and it celebrates the slow turning of the seasons away from the woe of winter’s cold into the brightness of spring and summer. It celebrates the slow return of light, and the lengthening of days that inevitably follows the solstice. Charming of the Plough, celebrated in February as well, often incorporates a blessing of the fields and, with the slow march toward spring, honors the coming readiness of the land to accept plowing and planting. Both are celebrations of potential, potentiality, and massive creativity and drive. In contemporary Heathenry, since most of us no longer make our livelihood directly from working the land, it is not uncommon to bring pens and laptops, work proposals, and craft projects, and tools of one’s particular trade to be blessed on this day. It’s a time to honor creativity in all its facets, particularly and most importantly the harnessing of the creative force in all those ways that enable us to sustain ourselves and to nourish our families.
In a way, that’s what these holidays are about: how do we find sustenance in the modern world? How do we provide for our families? Is our work something honorable and healthy? Does it nourish us spiritually and emotionally as well as providing necessary cash-flow? Creativity is sacred. What outlets do we allow ourselves for creative expression? How do we craft our wyrd, our lives, our relationships? Imbolc and Charming of the Plough are about all of these things, these soul-questions that are far easier asked than answered. It’s a chance to examine one’s priorities and set new goals, or evaluate progress made toward the realization of dearly held passions. Perhaps it is a time to make offerings and pray that one finds one’s passion.
There is a momentum in spring, and these holidays call us to consider how best we shall harness that momentum in our own lives. Now is the time for transformation; now the time to welcome in the blessings of regeneration and renewal that the Deities of this time and season can so readily bring. After all, in the scope of spiritual life, we block ourselves more thoroughly than any external foe could ever do. The fire of this season, consciously honored, gives us a powerful chance to partner with ourselves instead of fighting every step of the way. It allows us an opportunity to consciously choose right balance, right relationship: with the Gods, ancestors, with the land around us, with our communities, our families, and perhaps most of all with ourselves. It is a time of celebration and a time to renew one’s commitment to all of those in our lives and that includes oneself.
Brigid, so intimately associated with Imbolc, is a Goddess of healing but She’s also a Goddess of smithcraft. She is a consummate craftsman and many of Her lessons, there for anyone who takes the time to seek them out, speak to the nature of craft and the care, patience, and perseverance necessary to acquire excellence. One other thing our Deities of the forge from Brigid, to Andvari, even to Weyland teach: there is no greater craft that we as humans will ever touch or engage in, than the careful crafting of our wyrd. That is our highest art and we can craft our wyrd well by striving to live rightly and honorably, maintaining balance and the integrity of an honest piety, each and every day of our lives. We do that by paying attention to the details, because the wise craftsman knows that it’s not the great things that matter, but the minutiae of the work day after day, that leads to the magnificence of the finished piece of art. There’s so much in our lives that we cannot control. We can control this, however: our responses, our choices, the way we live in and navigate our world and everyone within it. Imbolc speaks to those connections and how we choose to maintain them or not. It’s a time for reevaluation.
It is also a time to honor the blessings of fire. Our ancestors depended on fire for survival. From our most ancient past when they huddled in caves around a fire kindled not only for warmth, but also to keep predators at bay, to the founding of villages, towns, and cities dependant on fire for the cultivation of craft, the cooking of food, and the transformation of the gifts of earth into gifts of beauty through the heat of forge and furnace, our ancestors partnered with fire and in turn were blessed with the these things: cooking, glass blowing, smithcraft, jewelry making, and a thousand other arts: the grace notes of civilization. More importantly, fire brought warmth in the winter, and temporary stilling of the deathly grip of winter’s cold. Our ancestors depended upon its mercy. It is our earliest ally, and eldest ancestors for in Norse cosmology at least, all life sprang from fire and ice.
So too, Charming of the Plough teaches us not only to honor creativity and craft, but to honor that which sustains us. In the time of our ancestors, that was, more often than not, the land itself. We are taught to honor the land for its bounty, to pour out offerings in thanks and in hope. We are reminded that we are partners, not owners to the land from which we draw sustenance. We are reminded of the blessing of work and all that it brings. We can use the momentum of these holidays, to reconnect with our ancestors, and the depth and wisdom of those traditions we struggle each and every day not only to uphold, but to further. As our ancestors poured milk and honey into the frosty soil to honor the Earth Goddess Erda, to seek Her blessing on the crops that would in the months to come follow, so we too can say thank you to those people that nourish us in our lives: friends, family, even colleagues, maybe even our ancestors and Gods. We can honor those sometimes tenuous ties that sustain our world and enable us to find some measure of hope and comfort in the midst of our work.
Most of all, these holy tides also call us to joy. It is not a thing that Heathen lore speaks of often, but starting with the first blush of the coming spring, with the first courageous buds that choose to dare the winter’s bite, with the slow but sure return of the green, we are called to joy. As much as there is horror and sadness, struggle and pain in living our lives in Midgard (the human world), so too there is the potential for tremendous kindness, beauty, and joy. We are called to remember these things, to seek them out, to laugh and love, and find our own grace notes of living. We are called to celebration and that is no small thing at all.
Happy Imbolc! Happy Candlemas! Happy Charming of the Plough!