Cleansing is a basic spiritual practice with roots in ordinary life. You keep your kitchen clean – or at least, I hope you do – because you want to avoid the bacteria that can grow in food residue. You wash your utensils when you’re cooking because while you like onions, you don’t want them in your desserts.
We do spiritual cleansing before a ritual because we don’t want mundane matters interfering with our magic, or with our worship of the Gods. Those mundane matters aren’t bad or evil or dirty, but we don’t want them in our worship any more than we want onions in our chocolate cake.
Like dust and crumbs and bits of grated cheese that fall on the floor, over time we accumulate spiritual residue. We also retain bits and pieces of the troubles and traumas that impact us. These things need to be washed away from our lives.
Any time is a good time for cleansing. But some times are especially appropriate. New moons, the Winter Solstice, the secular New Year – all these are good times to banish what is harmful and inappropriate, to make way for the new.
Imbolc is another good time for cleansing. And this year, it’s both especially auspicious and desperately needed.
Imbolc as a time for cleansing
From my earliest Pagan days, I was told that Imbolc is a time for cleansing. The story was that everyone had been cooped up inside since Winter Solstice (sometimes with farm animals) and the house was getting smelly. So, by the first of February it was time for cleaning. That feels right, but stories like this are often more apocryphal than historical.
I asked Irish Pagan and author Lora O’Brien if there was anything in Irish culture or lore that would support Imbolc as a time of cleansing. Lora says “it makes sense … Spring cleaning is a big deal here, and January is our coldest month usually. So February sees us warming up ever so slightly.”
And perhaps more importantly, there is a theory that the origin of the word Imbolc is “from the root folc, meaning ‘to wash’.”
Imbolc is an Irish festival. But many of our modern Pagan ideas about it come from the Christian Candlemas, which often include a ritual of purification. According to Jason Mankey (who has written more about the Wheel of the Year than any other modern Pagan) this was likely influenced by Pagan Roman purifications during the month of Februarius.
So we have not one but two sources for Imbolc as a time of purification. There is a direct line in Irish culture, and an indirect line from Roman Paganism to Christianity to modern Paganism.
A practice need not have ancient roots to be meaningful and helpful. But where it does, that helps us connect with our ancestors and their ways, which makes it that much stronger.
Banishing the remnants of 2020… and more
A year is an astronomical phenomenon – one revolution of the Earth around the Sun. Naming or numbering years is an arbitrary human invention, and trends that start in one year don’t end just because the calendar changes.
But giving something a name makes it real in meaningful ways. For the rest of your life, when someone says “this is like 2020” you’re going to know exactly what they’re talking about.
We want and need to banish what’s left of 2020 from our lives, to the extent that we can.
This year, Imbolc is 12 days after the U.S. Presidential inauguration. The damage Trump and McConnell have done to the courts will take a generation to repair. The damage to the government and to society at large will take years. But none of that can begin until he’s gone.
Mainly, I want him out of my head. In 2017 I said my goal was to make him irrelevant. I succeeded for three years. But between his mismanagement of the pandemic, the election, and his post-election tantrum, I was unable to do that in 2020.
This Imbolc I want to banish what’s left of 2020 and what’s left of Trump from my life. And I think most of you do too.
Things to do for cleansing
Here are some things you can do to banish this annus horribilis and cleanse it from your life:
- Project all your 2020 energy into an object and then burn it, bury it, or send it far away.
- Use a witch’s broom to sweep the residue away.
- Cleanse with smoke. White sage is problematic because of its use in Native American rituals and because it’s been overharvested, but there are many other plants that produce an effective cleansing smoke. Research what’s native to your area.
- Cleanse with water, especially water that’s been charged and blessed.
- Use a bell, chime, or singing bowl to disperse negative energy.
- Use energy manipulations techniques to break it up and send it away. Don’t know any energy manipulation techniques? Read Mat Auryn’s book Psychic Witch.
There are many other ways to cleanse – these are the ones I’ve used with success.
You can simply do the work of cleansing and banishing, or you make them the main working of a formal ritual. Doing it in a ritual setting increases the good energy you can raise to power the work, and it facilitates asking for help from your Gods and other spiritual allies. But just doing it works too.
The best way to begin a cleansing of any kind is with a good mundane cleaning. Throw out the garbage, dust and vacuum, wipe down all the surfaces. I’m not a neat freak, but there’s a level of clutter where it starts to bother me. If you need to do a house cleansing, I described my methods in this post.
A Ritual of Cleansing – January 30
I’ve been leading online rituals since the pandemic began, and I’ve committed to continuing them until we can celebrate together in person again. For Imbolc 2021, I’ll be working with Denton CUUPS to present a ritual of cleansing.
We will place our injuries, our losses, and our sorrows from last year into an object and then send it away. We will sweep our world clean. And we will bless our world and our lives for a better year in 2021.
I wrote the ritual in collaboration with Denton CUUPS Coordinating Officer Cynthia Talbot. A small group that’s been “podding” together since the beginning of the pandemic will present it, along with some remote help from others.
The ritual will be on the Under the Ancient Oaks YouTube Channel on Saturday, January 30 at 8:00 PM CST. I’ll post a link to the ritual in a blog post, and on Facebook and Twitter, once it’s available.
No ritual can make the pandemic go away. No ritual can undo the harm that 2020 and the bad actors in it caused. But a good ritual of cleansing can help clear away the residue from last year and make it easier for us to start fresh in 2021… even if we’re already a month into the year.
I hope you’ll do your own ritual, join in our ritual, or both.