Imbolc, usually celebrated 1 or 2 February is the midpoint between the longest night of the year (Yule) and the point on the wheel of the year when days and nights are of equal length (Ostara). By Imbolc there is a definite feel of spring in the air, the mornings are lighter and though it is still cold the sunlight hours have markedly increased.
Imbolc is considered by many Pagans to be the start of early spring -although as snow is often still on the ground and the earth remains frosted and freezing many early morning commuters may take a different view as to what marks the start of spring…
Imbolc celebrates the strengthening of the light and the reawakening of the earth after the winter. It marks the start of the farming season and the return of life after the sleep of the long winter months. At Imbolc we are moving into the second half of the dark half of the year and this is a cause for celebration and a chance to look ahead to what the summer months will bring. The corn dolly made last year at Lammas from the corn harvests will be burned (sacrificed) at Imbolc to release the spirit of the harvest to do her work for another year.
Imbolc is the first of the three fire festivals and Pagans often celebrate this sabbat with bonfires, flames and candles to welcome in the coming of the light. Pagans of old would have used this festival to ask their Gods for blessings for the harvests in the coming year. Pagans in modern times will use Imbolc as a focal point to plan the months of energy and activity ahead and to decide what they want to achieve in the coming year. To a Pagan time is a wheel with no end and no beginning but if there were a starting point to the year, Imbolc would be that starting point. It is the time of new beginnings and renewal, with the idea of new resolve and resolution emphasised in much the same manner as that celebrated by the secular New Year of the Gregorian calendar.
Imbolc is a time for personal anticipation in determining the year ahead but it is also a time for divination, to look forward to coming events and see what the months ahead have in store and what the year will bring. Many Pagans and Witches will undertake divination – tarot or rune spreads perhaps – to focus on the events of the new year and to work the foretelling into their own personal planning.
Imbolc is a sabbat of purification focused on stripping away the old to make way for the new. It embodies the elements of regrowth and renewal. The tradition of spring cleaning has its roots in Imbolc as Pagans clean out the winter and welcome the sun back into their homes. Many modern Witches will sweep out the winter quite literally and complete a cleansing of their house by sweeping the previous year away from their home with their brooms.
Imbolc has its roots in Celtic origin and traditionally honoured the Celtic Fire Goddess Brighid. In honouring the Goddess of livestock and spring, it was believed luck would be drawn to the land and the coming harvest. Traditions associated with this Goddess include tying a ribbon to the front door (the threshold of your own world) to signify you are asking for her blessing (the ribbon can be kept or more commonly among practicing Witches it can be used for spell work involving luck). Brighid can also honoured by the making of a Brighid’s cross - a symbol representing the bridge between the two worlds of the dark and the light. This is appropriate for Imbolc which itself is a threshold between the cold world of winter and the reawakening of the dead land. The Brighid’s cross represents the idea of the fire wheel and the turning of the wheel of the year to bring back the light.
At Imbolc the Goddess is the maiden awaiting the intimacy with the God which will lead to a change in her nature to the mother who will bear the child which will grow to be the Sun God. The Goddess is often likened to a bride, a woman on the threshold of change between maiden and mother. To honour this, many Imbolc celebrations include creating a doll of the Goddess and placing the doll into a bride’s bed. This acknowledges the awakening sexuality of the maiden as she moves toward her new incarnation as mother. The bride’s bed is also seen as a symbol of welcoming the Goddess (and specifically the Goddess Brighid) into the home.
In my teens I was pretty certain I was extraordinary. By my twenties I had met some remarkable people and I knew that other people too were extraordinary. In my thirties I’ve cottoned onto the fact that in truth most people are actually extraordinary. But you know what, I’m still confused…
I’ll explain why and I’ll start by sharing my greatest fear with you. I’m terrified by the idea of regret, specifically of one day being an old woman and wishing I had done more. I don’t mean not having done things like visit the Taj Mahal or taken part in extreme sports, I’m not a fan of all this bucket list business, to my mind all these ambitious tick lists are more about dodging the real business of living a life than they are about gaining insight of any real importance. But what I would regret and I would regret very deeply is having lived a life less than one I knew I was capable of living.
Worldly success doesn’t mean much to me if I’m honest. It’s handy to have a job and to earn money but I would never define myself by what I do between nine and five. When I picture myself old, fat and rocking in my chair I know deep down that there is no amount of worldly achievement I could ever look back on that would make me feel I was right to devote my life to it. I’d feel nothing but a fool if I had lived for my career.
The same goes for material wealth. I’m quite simply not interested. I like the convenience of having money and I like the fact that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about bills. But beyond that I don’t care at all. Clothes, cars and designer labels mean nothing at all to me. The affectation of materialism has passed me by entirely. It won’t matter how much money I have in the bank or how many possessions I own when I’m old, they won’t be evidence to me of a life worth living.
A lot of people consider the worth of their lives to be the relationships they have with other people. Well quite frankly I don’t. I’m glad to have good friends and loving family but if they all disappeared tomorrow the core of my life would go along quite easily without them. I don’t define who I am by those around me. It won’t be enough when I’m old to think that I had good times and I made people happy. Same goes for having children, I admire those dedicated souls who do think it worth the bother bringing life into the world but to me it isn’t enough to do that and nothing else. If my only single achievement was having babies I’d have, to my mind, succeeded at breeding but failed at life.
The reason I am confused is that so many people seem blissfully content with so little. In my younger days I wrote such people off as being less complex, less emotionally developed, less intelligent. These days I’m not so sure the answer is that simple. I know a good many people more intelligent than myself, more philosophical, more aware and yet they don’t seem to have that underlying desperate drive to fulfil their potential in the way that I do. It’s not that they are not capable of more, it is simply that they don’t want more.
So I’m confused – why isn’t what seems to be enough for them enough for me? Why do I spend every moment of my life shoehorning in as much as possible to validate my existence, validating my time on the earth not to a higher being but to myself, to the person I will one day become. I wear myself out in the pursuit of wringing every ounce of life out of every day. I work constantly at what I consider to matter to me – my writing, my witchcraft, my spirituality - and when I’m not working I’m thinking, constantly thinking…. My mind if anything is a little too active these days, it never stops running at full speed except when I am consciously meditating or sleeping.
Likely it is fear, I perhaps have a much greater fear of old age than other people do and this fear inspires me to take constructive action to prevent regret. Possibly I know myself better than other people know themselves and the fear of regret isn’t to me a distant possibility it’s a very tangible prospect that I know with certainty I will face one day unless I do something about it. Perhaps it is also because my values are so very different to most people and that in the absence of a focus on materialism, relationships, family and career I have substituted things that require more personal investment to maintain. I find what I do very rewarding but at times I’ll admit it is also rather exhausting.
I’m talking about this on my witch blog because for me personally the awareness of my own life is very tangled up with my identity as a witch. My understanding that something in my life, beyond that which many people expect from their lives, was lacking came just after my formal crossing over to a craft path. Becoming a witch is a little like stepping through the looking glass. The world becomes an entirely different place and when people say you can’t go back from being a witch what they mean is that once you’ve become aware of the world to that level, you can’t unlearn the knowledge you have gained. It’s wonderful, magical, rewarding and fulfilling on the deepest level possible. It was the Craft that finally enabled me to look toward the future with the confidence that I was pushing myself toward the boundaries of my own potential with all the energy I can summon. Even if I could, I wouldn’t step back through the looking glass. But sometimes, just occasionally when I see so many people satisfied with so very little I’m a bit envious…
I used to tell myself it was because other people weren’t extraordinary but I can’t say that any more because I know they are, they are every bit as extraordinary as I am. The only thing different is that most people don’t know what lies in the future of their own psyche and I do. And I can’t unlearn that. That’s the downside of being a witch, you really can’t go back. You can’t stop knowing… And I can’t pretend I want less than I do because that’s all it would be – pretending. All I can do is keep on going and keep on giving all I have in the confidence of the knowledge that one day when I am old and fat and rocking in that armchair all the effort and exhaustion will have been worth it.
Image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/695102 (hortongrou)
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