Pagan Imbolc Stirs the Spirit, Shakes Off the Winter Blues
It is Winter; the wind howls and Mother Nature lies sleeping, deep under a blanket of snow. Bare branches, stark against the slate gray sky, crack against each other like knucklebones, and when the winds really howl they snap, hitting the snow covered ground with a hushed thump.
On the Great Wheel of the Year, this is the time of Imbolc. In the Celtic seasonal calendar, Imbolc marked the beginning of the lambing season. The ewes came into their milk and the first stirrings of Spring began.
This is the ‘quickening of the year’; there is a spark hidden below the surface, like a new pregnancy, barely perceptible and yet urgently anticipated and holding great promise. The seed stirs in the belly of the Earth.
Traditionally, Imbolc was the great festival in honor of Brigid (Brighid, Brigit, Bride), so beloved as a Pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church and she became St. Bridget. Brigid is a Triple Goddess, of poetry, smithing, and healing arts. She is also a Goddess of fire, and of the hearth; she brings fertility to the land and its people.
Other archetypes and characters that might be honored at this time are the Cailleach, the old woman in the stone; Lucia with her crown of candles, and of course the Ground Hog, whose story bears surprising similarities to the Pagan mythologies of Kore or Persephone.
Most Pagans, the People of the Earth, are (naturally or through training) consciously attuned to and aware of the differences in the energies of the land as we move through the seasons. We find certainty in the concept of mirroring — “as above so below; as without so within.” The light, which is mature and at its full height at the Summer Solstice, is now in the belly of Mother Earth at the time of Imbolc.
The original word ‘Imbolc’ means ‘in the belly’, which aptly identifies the underlying energy of this time of year. We do not feel the same vibrant vitality and enthusiasm that we feel in June, at the time of Imbolc.
We use this Imbolc time to finish the season of spiraling inward, of reflection, and dreaming. We hold tightly to the promise of renewal, and awakening, and with the returning light we have hope.
With Imbolc we also begin to experience some sense of relief in another way. The lengthening daylight, which began at the Winter Solstice, can alleviate the struggle so many of us may have with Seasonal Affective Disorder. (S.A.D.)
Denmark, given its geographical location endures particularly long, dark winters. One would think there would be a high number of people affected with seasonal depression in that country. Interestingly, Denmark lays claim to being the happiest place on Earth.
According to Mother Nature Network, the Danish word that embodies this particular kind of happiness is ‘hygge’ (pronounced hYOOgah). Blogger Russell McLenden says, “ ‘Hygge’ may sound alien outside Denmark, but its general ethos of enduring wintry gloom with coziness and camaraderie could help raise spirits almost anywhere.”
My community embraces this concept. Through the Winter months while Persephone reigns in the Underworld, and her mother, Demeter expresses her grief through a barren landscape, we make a point of gathering together in each other’s homes, sharing food and stories, and small comforts that sooth worried hearts.
At Imbolc, we acknowledge and feel gratitude for the good fortune of having made it through the cold dark Winter — something our ancestors may not have so easily taken for granted. We feel the first stirrings and anticipate the return of Persephone, the maiden of Spring.
We weave solar wheels (Brighid’s crosses), which pre-date Christianity, and which are said to protect the house from fire. We bake; we braid bread and churn butter. We dip candles, to remind us of the fire that burns in the belly, and the spark that ignites deep in the Earth. With each dip of our new candles we are reminded that just as the snow hides the Earth, the layers of wax hide the promise of light within — within the candle and within ourselves.
We gather in a circle on a quiet hillside. Standing together on the hard packed snow we feel the quickening beneath our feet. Hand to hand, we allow the rhythm of our breath and the drumbeat of our hearts to synchronize with Her rhythm and with each other. As our flames burn bravely in their little glass jars, we experience the connection to the Earth. We are blessed by the fullness of heart and Spirit that comes from spending time on the land with loved ones, as we contemplate our own hidden fires and await the return of Spring.
We are the People of the Earth and these are the Earth Traditions.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia
Rev. Angie Buchanan is a Family Tradition Pagan. She is a founder and director of Gaia’s Womb, an interfaith spirituality group for women, and Earth Traditions, a Pagan Church that also offers a Training Program for Pagan Ministry. She is presently the religious advisor for Pagan students at the University of Chicago.
Angie has a background in law enforcement and politics. She consults with multiple religious and interreligious groups, encouraging dialogue and understanding. She is a former instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, having taught Introduction to Interfaith there for four years. Angie travels, speaking to groups at churches and schools about Paganism, religious freedom, the Global Ethic, the separation of church and state, and the First Amendment. She has been a presenter at a number of interfaith events, including the 2004 Parliament, 2015 Parliament and the Buddhist Council of the Midwest Women’s Conference.
She has worked with the Parliament of the World's Religions as a Board Trustee and Trustee Emeritus since 2002.