February 1, 2012

Imbolc Sabbat

While the northern ground is still covered in sparkling snow-scapes, and the temperature hovers around twelve degrees, the first sprouts of life are emerging through the hard, frozen earth. As the Crocuses and Daffodils push forth toward the growing sun, their vigorous determination is a promise of re-birth and renewal.

Meanwhile, the birds are engaging in boisterous mating rituals at my feeder. They can't possibly know how long it will be until the warmth of the sun overrides the bitter cold of winter. Or can they?

It seems that we ALL have an instinctual need to prepare for the coming cycles of the year. Whether we're Pagan or not, we share a spark of excitement at the first signs of spring, and we're driven to rid our lives and homes of the dull and dusty old clutter, and to brighten our surroundings with ritual cleansing. We take note of those resolutions we made at the start of the new calendar year, and vow to follow through with our goals of self-improvement. Without even realizing it, we all seem to follow the same instinctual patterns centered around the natural events during the wheel of the year. Imbolc provides an opportunity for purifying the physical, emotional, and spiritual areas of our lives.

Imbolc (known also as Brighid's Day or Oimelc) is one of the four fire (or solar) festivals of the year. Imbolc means "in the belly of the Mother". It is the time (between January 31st and February 2nd in the northern hemisphere) best used for initiations and re-dedications, casting off the negatives of the past, and preparing the "seeds" - within ourselves and for our gardens - for a more abundant year ahead.

The ewes are giving birth to the first lambs of spring, just as the wild rabbits are beginning their 9-month long mating season. Imbolc is also known as Oimelc, which is translated as "ewe's milk". Symbolically speaking, Imbolc is the time of year when the Crone of winter departs making way for the spring Maiden. The Earth Mother's milk begins to flow, complemented by the growing God of the sun - together nurturing, in synchronization - the reawakening and birth of new life; of every bud, every blade of grass, and every baby creature seeing the world for the first time.

Imbolc is the best time to sort out any outstanding matters, such as making peace with those you're in conflict with, returning borrowed items, and reconnecting with family and friends. Rituals include those for manifesting desires, casting away the destructive or old patterns, opening oneself to positive enlightenment, consecrating tools and agricultural tools, and celebrating the conscious strengthening and renewal of self.

Incenses and Oils: Lavender, Cinnamon, Iris, Myrrh, Sage, Rosemary, Sandalwood.

Herbs and Flowers: Coltsfoot, Primrose, Saffron, Snowdrop, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, Daffodils, Crocuses, and all white or yellow flowers.

Gemstones: Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise.

Colors and Candles: White, red, yellow, light green.

Decorations and Symbols: Candles, yellow or white flowers, Brighid's Crosses, priapic wands (acorn-tipped), seed packets, besom.

Food and Drink: Honey, dairy products (especially milk), breads, herbal teas, lamb, pork.

Fire Dance by Mother Tongue

Come now flame of passion,
burning, writhing in the depth of night;
take me from the realm of darkness
through the veil that cloaks my sight;
turn me inward toward my power,
passion burst and winged flight;
now I ride the flaming frenzy
dancing toward the searing light

Activities for Imbolc may include Imbolc Crafts such as constructing a Besom, making a Brighid's Wheel (or Cross), making a Bride's bed and Brighid doll (or use the Corn Doll from Lughnasadh instead), or any of the following ideas for celebration:
  • Loosely tie bits of ribbon or torn fabric to tree branches for the nesting birds. Scatter the clippings of hair about the yard after a home haircut. Birds will use these materials when building nests.
  • Be sure to keep the bird feeders filled - especially in January and February in the colder climates of the north. Beginning a feeding ritual in early winter creates a dependency on this resource and birds may starve if the food sources they have grown accustomed to are suddenly unavailable.
  • Provide suet and salt blocks to the animals. If weather permits, place saucers of fresh water for the birds.
  • Buy a small cube of compressed Timothy or Clover Hay (available wherever Guinea Pigs are sold), and spread some out on the snowy ground near a bird-feeder for the rabbits. It is this time of year when the rabbits are actively searching for food. You may have already noticed their tracks near bird-feeders where the seeds have fallen.
  • Start an herb or seed garden indoors with seeds blessed during Imbolc ritual. For those in warmer climates, planting directly outdoors may be an option as well.
  • Find a suitable space (preferably outdoors) and burn the greens from Yule to assist in sending winter away.
  • Clean and re-consecrate your magical cabinet of supplies and craft tools. Check your supplies of oils, incenses, and herbs to be sure they are well-stocked and sealed tightly in glass containers.
  • Have a walk outdoors and search for signs of spring. Collect natural "treasures" such as stones, sticks, feathers, pine cones for use in the rituals, decorations, and crafts through the year.
  • Perform a cleansing ritual of the home, sweeping out all the negative energies and de-cluttering. Involve the children in helping to donate unwanted items to shelters, the Salvation Army, food banks, the local Department of Human Services, or prepare items for a spring Rummage Sale and set them aside.
  • Place a candle in each window of your home on Imbolc eve and let it burn until the morning. Be mindful of nearby items which may catch fire (curtains, shades, etc) or the possibility the candles will be knocked over by pets and young children living in your home. Alternatively, you may choose to use battery-powered candles instead.
  • Create your own tradition of making candles at Imbolc each year. 
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA.  She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.


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