The snows finally come in January. The street is blanketed in brief sheets of white that last a night, unless the winter rains wash them away. The color of this season is grey in her overwhelming presence as if the God of Sorrows wrapped her shawls around the sky. The fields stay green, just barely, as they hold onto the life that would have been dormant in past years.
Mud is tracked into the home upon dirtied shoes. Wet marks of travel mar the entrance way before vanished in the greater activity of living – the bustling of returning life.
At least, in any other year. Any other time.
In a year of isolation the wet stamp of a boot remains on the hardwood, and its dulled glean marks an endless loneliness even an introvert could not dream.
Imbolc in 2021
“Now we light our candles not to ward off the gloom but to welcome even more light.” – Megan Day
What was I imagining, this time last year? Certainly not the world as it is. The tableau before us is painted in colors I would not recognize. The saturation is all wrong.
Imbolc is a time of beginnings. A time when I could pretend to begin again rather than chase after all the mistakes I have sought to undo, retroactively and uselessly, and a time when I might initiate myself into someone new. Though some say that the witches’ new year is Samhain I am, thoroughly, secularized and follow the secular calendar. Imbolc is the festival of the new year. The bright returning light still encased in ice. A hope not yet blossomed.
In Tucson I looked upon the festival ambivalently. The winter was a time of acceptable temperatures and lovely weather. We obtained the ability to exist in the desert with some semblance of normalcy, only for the heat to roll in during spring and summer and chase us inside. I have often told people that Tucson’s summer is far closer to harsh winter associations discussed in generic Pagan texts. Imbolc was a giving-away, a farewell. By the time the Spring Equinox came to cast her shadow the heat would be settling in and making life dangerous again.
Here in Germany the winter is dangerous. Wet and slick and cold. Damp and dark. Depression crawls in and nests in your head until the sun breaks through the clouds again.
This past year is perhaps best related to a centipede: a thousand minuscule hands that when spotted grant toe-curling revulsion. But that’s rude to centipedes, isn’t it?
A centipede, surely, would make more sense than this year of plague.
The Captured Flame
In The Well-Worn Path, Imbolc is symbolized partly by a fire encased in a block of ice. The oracle deck was the first I truly connected with enough to use, thanks to its Wiccan symbolism. The Imbolc card always stood out to me. It was as if in its symbolism I could grasp what all these books had been trying to teach me.
My explorations into spirits and Gods led me away from the vague Wiccish Paganism of my youth into the mess I practice now. But I still remember that symbol of a flame in ice. Something impossible, but hopeful.
Among the spirits I work with now, the symbol they give me for this time is much less impressive: a flame in a lantern. The meaning is different. The mystery takes a different hue. The Laetha, my God of Fire, is rampant and unstoppable and vicious as wildfire. To capture Him in any form, to transmute His destruction into something sustaining, is magic.
What does this symbol mean, I ask myself. Does this captured flame represent the difficulty of wrangling the seasonal fluxes of my hometown? Can it be a universal symbol of the light in the darkness, returning and returning and returning stronger as does the sunlight? The curve of the lantern, the brass sheen, and the glass panels are all clearly visualized to me, but their meaning is as obscured as if I were muddling through the dark.
I can see the hand grasping the handle of the lantern, extending it to me.
Maybe the meaning is to simply keep on. To sustain. To continue. To remain, waiting and ever-present, for the future to arrive.
What did I dream of this time last year? Surely a more pleasant dream than what has played out.
Some describe Imbolc as a time of initiations. I wonder if this is the new world we have initiated into. There are parts I would not mind: the reduced social obligations and the masks and the greater focus on cooking and homemaking. There are parts I did not want, now known in stark light: the wealth gap growing and the death that follows, the suffering, the cruelty of humanity.
Last year we initiated into this world where we (well, most of us) can’t look away from suffering even if we wanted to. This year will it be more of the same? Or are we praying for a return to the previous state of things? Let’s return to the status quo where we (some of us) didn’t have to think too hard about things.
No. I don’t think we can go back.
I don’t think initiation of any sort lets you go back.
We just have to stumble forward with the knowledge we’re forced to reckon with.