Guest Post: Kathy Nance on Imbolc

Guest Post: Kathy Nance on Imbolc February 1, 2011

One of my favorite nicknames for the Pagan holiday of Imbolc is “the Quickening.”

Spring stirs in the belly of the earth but is still weeks from emerging. Imbolc takes its name from the old Celtic imbolg “in the belly.” The term referred to the pregnant ewes.

I can imagine the farmers looking at the ewes’ bellies for the movement of healthy lambs, feeling the udders to see if milk was forming. These signs of life were cause for celebration.

We, too, look for hope as February begins. We wake groundhogs and hope there’s no shadow as they emerge from their man-made dens. We touch the buds of trees, wondering if we’re just imagining their swelling.We scan the earth for the green spears of crocus, knowing it’s most likely too early.

And this Imbolc in St. Louis, looking for crocus would indeed be hopeless. Instead of decorating an altar for Brigid’s holiday, I spent today looking for some of the last ice melt in town and stocking up on food. What could be the worst storm in many winters is approaching.

Before it’s over I could be camped out in the basement of my apartment building next to the new woodstove my landlord has installed in his workshop. The holiday’s symbolic life-giving fire could be very real for us and our cats.

The storm could make this one of the most heartfelt Imbolcs we’ve had in a while.

Some of our other holidays are easier for we converts to connect with because they’re close to the ones we grew up celebrating. Yule and Christmas are twins. Samhain and Halloween, siblings. Ostara and Easter, kissing cousins. Imbolc has many of us starting from scratch.

We learn to burn candles, make Brigid’s Crosses, eat bread and cheese and milk. We do these things with devotion and that makes them sacred. But they do not have the same urgency for us as they would if fire was a home’s only heat and light. Or we’d been waiting months for the pregnant cows to produce a little milk. Winter is inconvenient but rarely fatal.

This winter, and especially the storm that’s predicted to strike us over Imbolc, has reminded us how close we are to those days. If ice snaps the power lines, or snow closes off our roads, we’re right back to lighting candles and huddling around fires. And those jokes about us buying milk, eggs and bread before a bad storm? Well, it’s funny because we do. As if somewhere in our collective unconscious we recognize those foods as signs of coming spring, signals we’re going to make it.

So with our homes prepared with milk, with candles, and with bread, it’s as if we’re all ready for Imbolc. We all know that somewhere, beneath the ice and snow, spring is quickening.

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