Anticipating Imbolc

Anticipating Imbolc January 23, 2016

It has been cold in New England this week.  More than once, I’ve awakened to find the temperature in my bedroom had dropped to a brisk 54 degrees or so (about 12 degrees Celsius), and the windchill outside something in the single digits.  It is hard to force myself out of bed in the darkness, and my fingers hurt as I turn the key in the lock to my front door when I leave for work.

February Sun. Peter Bishop, 2012.
Photo by Peter Bishop, 2012.

But as I commute, the sun comes up, and the sky becomes so large overhead.  My classroom is flooded with winter light during the school week, and at home, I bask like a lizard in the strong, sloped sunshine.  Counter-intuitive as it might seem, I love this time of year.

Sometimes I say that to friends online, only to have them answer as though I must be being sarcastic.  This is the time of year I begin to receive reports from friends in warmer climes about the warm weather they are having, or even the new starts in their gardens.  (My New England friends haven’t yet bothered to order our seeds.)  I don’t envy them, however, even though the only sign of spring here is the faintest conceivable blush or swelling on some–not all–of the buds tight-furled on the winter boughs of the trees.

The air is clear!  With the ground finally white with snow, the light is reflected into gloriousness, and it is still low enough to the horizon to be tinted with gold.  Days are growing longer–indeed, we’re almost halfway to the Equinox–and yet, it is still bitterly, bitterly cold: perfect wood-stove weather.  We’re lucky enough to have a hearth, a real hearth, and both because it saves us money on heat and because it is so delicious, my husband and I have a fire almost every night.  He sits at one side of the fireplace and I sit at the other, grading papers or reading a good book, our stocking feet stretched out toward the warmth.  Why would I want to be in Florida or Southern California right now?

One tradition my Quaker meeting observes, every year at this time, is writing what is termed a “State of Society Report.”  The idea is that, once a year, the entire meeting community from kids to elders, gather together to reflect on questions designed to get us to think about the life of the Spirit among us  (“queries” in Quakerese).  Some meetings skip this practice, but mine has always embraced it, looking back, every year in late January, at our lives together as a spiritual community.

Somehow, this always seems to be a good time for that.  Looking over my blog posts over the last six months, I can follow a distinct curve in my mood, darkening with the fading light from Samhain to Yule and the weeks immediately after.  As the light faded, my gaze turned inward and downward, and my thoughts dwelled on aging, loss, sadness… death.

But at Yule, the year began to catch its breath, and now we’re climbing upward again.  I can see the future rising with the sun above the horizon, and it makes me glance backwards, over the terrain I’ve been traveling, and then ahead to what’s to come.

This year, the turn toward withdrawal and inwardness that comes with the waning light was exaggerated for me by a bad flu strain I contracted in December, that drained me of energy for weeks; I’m only now beginning to recover.  With that loss of energy, I wasn’t able to attend meeting for worship among Friends for over a month–a longer break in my habits than I’ve had in years, or maybe ever.

I’m back into the rhythm of attending meeting now, but stepping out of it had the effect of turning my gaze to my Pagan life.

Over the past few weeks, I have been sensing in my body that something important is drawing to a close, some cycle I had been unconscious of. What’s more, I can feel something new on its way.

Coincidentally (or not) the Tarot study Peter has been engaged in for a year now is drawing to a close, and both he and I are contemplating taking on a new course of Pagan study and practice… together.  We’ve both found ourselves attracted to a new Tarot deck, and we hear the book that accompanies it is quite good.  Using the habits of study Peter developed studying with B.O.T.A. this year, we may begin working in a similar way with the Druidcraft Tarot.  Or perhaps we’ll undertake  together the Bardic course offered by the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.  “It will seem pretty basic to you, ” friends who have just completed it warn us.  But that’s not the point, anyway: it’s not about urgently needing new knowledge or training… it’s about the pleasure of sharing a practice, a sort of “renewing our vows,” not so much as a couple, but as working partners, a spiritual support team for one another.

Photo by ForestWander, 2011.
Photo by ForestWander, 2011.

Maybe that’s not what we’ll eventually do; life is complicated, and there are many demands on our time, and many ways the gods find to get our attention and draw us to what they want us to undertake next.  Yesterday, for instance, they sent a pair of black bears to explore our yard, one up in our altar tree, the other pacing slowly and contentedly back and forth, between the altar and the apple trees.  I have no idea what that might mean, but it was unusual, and striking, and beautiful.

Imbolc is coming.  I am ready for another turning of the year.

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