Rest your ear on the ground and listen.
Can you hear? The sound of nature forcing it’s way through the earthen crust…pushing upward into the light, the tiny green shoots and delicate plants that have been in slumber throughout the Yule and winter months. Not all may hear, especially those where the snows have laid a dense blanket over the land, but the sounds, sights and smells of spring are bursting forth around us. For today is Imbolc in the Old Calendar, and another hint that the wheel of the year turns ever on.
What, then, do we mean by Imbolc? The name itself derives from the Old Irish “I mbolg” meaning – in the belly. This was the time when the sheep had full udders and the lambs were beginning to be born in conjunction with the grass starting to grow. This time is known as a cross-quarter day, this is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Old Calendar had eight points throughout the year that were celebrated and various rituals and ceremonies were conducted on these days. So there are the two solstices: winter and summer, two equinoxes: spring and autumn and then there are the cross quarter days these being: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasad and Samhain. Giving 8 days in all – the 8 fold year.
It was at Imbolc that the Celtic goddess Brigid was celebrated and honoured. This goddess of the Iron Age was associated with inspiration, healing and smith-craft, the hearth and fire. She was also the goddess of poetry. Ireland, which was the stronghold of Brigid, was Christianized in the 5th century and the mantle was passed to Saint Brigid who founded a monastery in Kildare and according to myth she set up a small chapel in Glastonbury, the Isle of Avalon. So there is a blending of both old Celtic and Christian beliefs at this time, but one must remember that parts of the Christian faith were built upon the old pagan ways.
It is at Imbolc that we notice and appreciate how the light is beginning to win back against the darkness of winter and as such is a fire-festival. The fire representing the sun – the eternal flame. In past days great fires would have been lit to honour the sun but now, if this is impractical, candles are lit to bring as much light as possible into the rooms on this evening. Thus representing the ‘Flame of Brigid’. Imbolc is a great time to let go of the old and bring in the new. A time of change. In fact the whole idea of ‘spring cleaning’ was based on ancient rituals to clean out and start afresh. But not just practically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As Brigid is the goddess of inspiration it is a perfect time to rid oneself of old, stagnant and debilitating thoughts and make room in the mind for new and exciting and invigorating aspirations to take over and drive us forward into the warming months.
All over these Isles people will visit sacred sites such as stone circles, standing stones, groves of trees and even caves to celebrate Brigid, the sun, fire and the ‘shift’ in the year. Groups who practice the Old Ways will join together at such places whilst others will singularly conduct their own rituals in the ways that seem fit for them. Quietly, with harm to none, the followers of these Old Ways keep the ancient traditions alive, like a sacred spring overflowing into the landscape, gently cascading into the earth, bringing their collective power together to keep the spiritual breeze blowing over old Albion and it’s isles.
The land is awakening and nature carries on with the cycle of life.
Put your ear to the ground and listen – the heartbeat of spring is getting louder.
Blessings to all at this Imbolc.
Blog written by Mark Elson for @pipistrelleart