At Imbolc, the Goddess returns, and the Earth rejoices as the might of winter loosens its grip on the land. In many areas white snowdrops can be seen nodding their bright heads above the melting snow and the brightly coloured crocuses lift their heads as Persephone steps on the frozen earth again after her long work underground. Life awakens as new lambs are born in sheltered pastures and Mother Nature is renewed, as she becomes the Maiden of Spring.
The Celtic name for this celebration is ‘Oimelc’, literally ‘ewes’ milk’, which would have been a vital part of the family’s nourishment at this starved time of year. It is also known as The Feast of Brigit, Candlemas and Groundhog’s day. For thousands of years, 40 days after the Winter Solstice has been a special festival sacred to women and at this time we celebrate the festival of the White Goddess Brigid, a celebration involving the women of the household (men joining in later). Before the advent of the written calendar, people relied on nature’s own calendar to show them when the Goddess had come back. In the northern hemisphere, spring arrives with the thaw. According to Paddy Slade in her book ‘Natural Magic’, in olden times farmers used to take their trousers off and sit on the ground at Imbolc to find out if it was warm enough to plough.
Together we have found different ways to celebrate the coming of spring and the thawing of the land. We made some beautiful white robes, my daughter’s was silver like the glittering snow, and we lit a large white candle to put in the centre of the table at meal times. We have taken a bowl of snow and lit a candle in the middle allowing the snow around it to gradually melt to represent the thaw; a table full of snowdrops, crocus and other available flowers (we prefer to use potted rather than cut flowers where possible); a meal served in a cauldron or a cauldron of water in the centre of the table. At the mealtime we ask each person what commitment they are going to make to the coming year. We try not to prepare for this part and see what spontaneous ideas come up. It is good to have something to work on as the year unfolds and it is also very important to work on loving yourself enough to help yourself stay committed. (We make a point of not allowing anyone to use this as an excuse to criticize her or himself if they can’t finish what they set out to achieve!) You may like to give out small candles to your friends and family to represent their hopes and wishes as spring gives us hope for the year, and, if you make candles, this is a good time of year to do so; they can then be blessed and, if you make enough, can last you for the whole year.
One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries is to place a lighted candle in every window of the house, beginning at sundown on Imbolc eve (February 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. Make sure they are safe and won’t catch the curtains or tip over, as sadly, the number of house fires has risen due to more people using candles for decoration with little thought or respect for the power of fire. What a wonderful sight to see so many windows lit up on such a dreary night.
This is the time of year to look for new beginnings. Sometimes it is hard to believe that warmth and light will ever come again! Go for walks and feel the season turning and see who can be the one to get the first sightings of snowdrops. Make sure all your Winter Solstice decorations are put away before Brigit comes. This is the time of year for giving thanks for all that we have had and seeing what we can give away. Invite your friends round for a pot-luck dinner, take something to a charity shop, make some craft things to put in a present drawer, give to charity or make a commitment to sponsor someone or something, get involved in a community project or spring clean your house and learn from the disciplines of Feng Shui how to best use the energies in your home space.