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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bright Blessings for Imbolc

Groundhog's Day ~ What a weird "holiday."  Why do we have this "weather divination" custom at the beginning of February?

Well, like most of our customs it has ancient roots ~ in this case in the ancient Celtic festival called Imbolc ~ also referred to as Brigid's Day and Candlemas.  February 2 is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox (the first day of Spring).  Many ancient cultures had celebrations this time of year, to mark the strengthening light of the sun and the lengthening days.  It's a time when you can feel the Wheel of the Year turning, if you pay attention ~ it's still cold, but the light is different, the birds may be starting to come back, animals are giving birth and making milk, there may even be a few very early flowers.  Imbolc means "in the belly" ~ pregnant!  You can feel Spring ready to be born... if you pay attention.  Imbolc is a way to pay attention, and celebrate!

Celtic Imbolc honors Brigid, the goddess of fire, poetry, birth, midwifery, and the young.  There is an Irish Saint Brigit who is also associated with sacred fire... and Candlemas (Candle Mass) is also a Festival of Lights, honoring the Virgin Mary.  It is a time of purification and new beginnings, and among the ancient Irish the maiden goddess Brigid (Bride) was invited to bless home and hearth.

Like another seasonal festival, Samhain (Halloween), this is a powerful time for divination of the future. Imbolc is considered an especially appropriate time to predict the weather of the coming Springtime ... sound familiar?  Whether it's Brigid's snake emerging from the earth or an Irish badger emerging from his den or that American groundhog poking his nose outside, we wait with the question: How soon will Spring arrive?

Here's an interesting old Irish tale:  Imbolc is when the "old witch" Cailleach gathers firewood for the rest of the winter. If she plans to make the winter last many more weeks, she will make sunny weather on Imbolc so she can gather plenty of firewood. (If you can see your shadow, there's plenty more winter ahead!)  Therefore, bad weather on Imbolc means Cailleach is sleeping and winter is almost over!

Some symbols of Imbolc/Brigid's Day are white and yellow flowers, green Brigid's Crosses made of woven leaves, lambs, bonfires, the plough, acorns and all kinds of seeds.  Eat foods made with seeds, take a cold walk, go search for some early flowers or green sprigs if you're lucky enough to have them, have a bonfire... heaven knows most of us in the Eastern U.S. want Spring to hurry up after this deep-freeze Winter!  (Isn't it over YET!)

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