Imbolc 1st February- 19th march
Imbolc is that burst of light, that emergence of blossom, the first tentative steps into a still cold, harsh climate patched with moments of warm sun daring the hardiest of nature to come out and play.
This is a time not depicted by the slow steady ceaseless play of light and dark but by the less predictable play of the green world. The hedge-hog, snake and hazel catkins unfurl from a winter lull and it is they who announce it is time to wake. Imagine our leaders looking to nature to begin a new political agenda, surrendering to the knowledge of trees and animals to decide our fate. This is not some ungrounded fantasy but recognition of being part of nature for it is nature who tells us it is Imbolc and that the time has arrived to sow early crops, help the birthing of lambs and prepare for the new growing season.
Imbolc Fire Ritual
Imbolc or Oimelc can be translated as butter-bag and the key component of the festival is the birthing of lambs. It makes sense therefore that the festival is dedicated to the Goddess and to the women who start to bring creation into birth. The archetypal young mother of Celtic belief is Brighid, so exalted and honoured she continued into Christian lore and was feared by the patriarchal sect of Christianity.
In Christianity she took the form of the high abbess of Kildare and her sanctuary which no man could enter was tended by nineteen or nine nuns. At this time her importance was considered to be greater than the bishops which upset the Roman Catholic Church. A papal decree was passed in 1151 to close the hermitage which was later reopened, only to be challenged again in the reign of Henry V111 when the sanctuary was closed forever.
However she still lives on in our culture as the archetypal mother of all and as the caretaker of Celtic society. She takes on many roles as a healer, foster-mother and midwife, demonstrating the strength and power of the Goddess.
In Celtic lore the most important aspects are played out in threes, this was long before the idea of the holy trinity in Christian lore. Brighid is also seen as three, in the form of the three sisters, the daughters of the Dagdha.
Each sister represents a key component of Celtic life which are poetry, healing and smith craft. In her form that represents poetry she is honoured as the patron of the bards and a source for their inspiration.
In these times she is needed more than ever as a symbol of true womanhood, power and strength, a beloved Goddess.
The Sacred Three My fortress be Encircling me,
Come and be round My hearth, My home.
Fend Thou my kin And every sleeping thing within
From scathe, from sin. Thy care our peace
Through mid of night To light's release.
Traditional Celtic Prayer
This invocation is very much about feeling the support of Brighid and the strength of her protection.
We can feel the support and connection to others and allow the spirit of Brighid, the Goddess to endure.
Let us now feel the qualities of the season through poetry, this time with the words of Coleridge.
One month is past, another is begun,
Since merry bells rang out the dying year, And buds of rarest green began to peer,
As if impatient for a warmer sun; And though the distant hills are bleak and dun,
The virgin Snowdrop like a lambent fire, Pierces the cold earth with it's green-streaked spire
And in dark woods, the little wandering one May find a primrose.
Hartley Coleridge Feb 1st 1842
Brighid's Bed ( Leaba Bride)
The next part of the ritual involves bringing in a small Wicca basket to represent Brighid's bed. The basket can be decorated with seasonal flowers and hazel catkins on a bed of straw. A white wand of willow or poplar can also be put onto the basket to represent justice, peace and purity.
The bed is honoured and passed around, we can use this time to focus on the women who have inspired us, and honour and bless the powerful presence of women in our lives.
A moment of silence can be observed before invoking the protection of St Brighid's cross.
' May the protection of Brighid be given through Bogha Bride, St Brighid's cross' - the cross can be passed around and a silent prayer can be made to the Goddess.
The wand on the bed can now be offered to the fire as we chant:
Now we banish winter, Now we welcome Spring.
We can also gather all evergreens left over from Yule and burn them on the fire at this point in the ritual.
Wishing you all a blessed Imbolc.
You may wish to join us for our Woodland Bard Event on this Sunday to explore the healing powers of Spring further:
Poetry of flowers
Join me to explore the flora of the British Isles on this blog. My intention is to attempt to capture the unique quality and beauty of each species of flower, tree or shrub. For every species featured I will be growing many more wildflowers to celebrate the joy of their existence, their intrinsic conservation value and bewildering array of uses. For nearly 30 years I have noted, studied and explored wildflowers in the field much to the patience of the walker beside me. To share this passion is a heartfelt plea to respect, preserve and care for all British Wildflowers no matter how common they seem.