On February 2nd, Neopagans in the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the first High Day, or Sabbat, of the calendar year. In the Celtic traditions it is most often known as Imbolc and is considered a fire festival due to the large bonfires that were traditionally built as part of the festivities. Because this day was celebrated around the world and across many pagan traditions it has many other names. A few of these names are Imbolg, Oimelc, Brigantia, Lupuercas, Disting, and Brigid’s Day. In the US today it is known as Groundhog’s Day, a day when we anxiously await news of Punxsutawney Phil’s reaction to his first day out after the long winter.
One of the names for Feb 2nd I just mentioned is Brigid’s day. Brigid is one of the most popular deities in pagan-dom. She is a fire goddess with one interpretation of her name is “bright” or “fiery” arrow. She is seen as the patron goddess of Healing, Inspiration, and craftsmanship off all kind. She is also associated water in the form of healing wells. She was so popular that when Christianity was conquering the world, they couldn’t vilify her as they did with most of the pagan deities and instead turned her into a saint. St. Brigit’s abbey at Kildare Ireland was home to an eternal flame that was tended by 19 nuns. This flame continued to burn until the church ordered the practice stopped. In the 90s the flame was re-kindled and it continues to burn today.
Imbolc falls at the half way point between the winter solstice and vernal equinox and celebrates the first stirrings of new life within the earth as the days continue to lengthen.
In Ireland, Scotland and Britain, this is the time when Ewe’s are lambing and lactating and the first snowdrops have pushed their way though the snow cover.
It is a time when farmers take stock and plan the year’s crops, deciding what they want to plant and grow in their field in the year to come. Imbolc is also a time to take stock of what needs cleaning out and repaired for the planting and growing seasons.
Here in Northern Indiana we are typically still in the midst of winter and we have yet to see the first physical signs of new life. Even though we have yet to feel the full warmth of the sun, we have noticed a difference in the length of the days and we can feel the energy building around us. For most this manifests itself in the seasonal affliction known as “Cabin Fever”. We are tired of being cooped up inside and want to get out to play and create. Seed catalogs are rifled though and gardens and flower beds are planned.
When I was younger my mom would harness this restlessness in my brother and me and use it to perform another tradition that appears this time of year: “Spring Cleaning”. Walls and base boards were scrubbed, cobwebs knocked out of dark corners, and drawers and closets sorted through. Items that had been outgrown, damaged beyond repair, or simply no longer used were donated or thrown out.
Although I grumbled a bit at the beginning of the process (ok I grumbled a lot), once the house was clean and still smelling faintly of Murphy’s Oils Soap, a sense of accomplishment and anticipation of new better things and happenings set in. This is the feeling of Imbolc.
Everyone can tap into this feeling. You don’t have to be a farmer or rancher, or a Pagan for that matter. You may live in town instead of the country. You may have no interest whatsoever in planting a garden. That’s ok. The same three steps apply.
- Purge that which no longer serves.
The first step isn’t much fun and can be fairly uncomfortable for a lot of us. You have to really look at things, both internal and external, and see what is still useful and what you have outgrown, or never needed at all.
This may be physical “stuff”. Books that haven’t been read for years. Clothes that no longer fit. Items which are damaged beyond repair, or your ability to repair them. Things you have held onto because “you might need them someday.”
As difficult as it is to purge physical things, cleaning out the mental and emotional spaces is much much more difficult. These items have a tendency to return time and again, even though you are sure you had tossed them out for good on many occasions. It is an ongoing process, painful and frustrating at times, but still well worth it.
This first step isn’t just about making room for the new, although that certainly is a goal. This also about recycling the unneeded and unhelpful and turning it into something useful. The earth recycles all the time. Unharvested crops decay and are taken back into the soil where they nourish and support the next year’s crops.
Remember the Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only be changed.
The clothes that no longer fit, or other unneeded items can be donated and may be just the thing someone else was looking for.
The unhelpful thoughts and emotions can be recycled or transformed to sustain new efforts and growth in those realms as well.
Sweep out the Old: (Broom)
Think about the things in your like that no longer serve you. Imagine sweeping these things across the floor and across the threshold of your life. As these things leave they fly apart into smaller and smaller pieces that can be recycled and reformed into something new and useful.
- What do you want to grow in your life within the next year?
We have purged the unhelpful and unwanted – that which no longer serves. We now have room and energy for something new in our lives. The question we ask now is; What do you want to grow this year?
If a farmer doesn’t know what crop he is going to plant, he has no frame of reference for the preparation and growing process. He doesn’t know what equipment we will need, how to best sew the seed for optimal results or which fertilizer will work best to nourish that specific plant. If he randomly tosses various seeds without thought , he may harvest something, but it will not be as successful as is he had selected specific crops that he could put his full attention to and tailor his planting and care methods for.
So, pick something you want to do this year. An idea you with to plant. It can be setting a goal to read more, or spend more time outside in nature. It may be overcoming a fear or learning a new skill. It may be finding a new job, or finally putting pen to paper or brush to canvas. Whatever it is, it is your goal, your wish for the year. You have to know what you want before you can set a plan or set foot on the path to get you there.
Planting the seed.
Take the seed and hold it in your hands. This is a physical representation of the goal you have for this year. Think about that goal. Imagine the recycled unwanted and unhelpful items we have purged reforming into fertilizer to nourish your new goal. See it sprouting and growing — coming into being.
- Take action
Once a seed has been planted the farmer must water and weed the fledgling plant to ensure its survival and health. We must also nurture our goals and intentions. We do this first by taking action.
If you want to learn to play piano, sitting thinking about playing the piano will not do much to further your goal. You have to DO something.
Taking action is frightening to some. It is easy and comfortable to stay where we are, even when we really want to (or should) change. It is fun to dream and plan about that life will be like when you reach your goal, but if you never get out of your head take actual steps to get there, you will in the same spot you always have been.
It doesn’t have to be a big step. Small steps will also get you where you are going. If you are looking to learn something new, request course catalogs. Looking to eat healthier — try a vegetable or fruit you haven’t tried before. Want to read more — get a library card.
One step will eventually lead to another. You just have to overcome the first bit of inertia and build the momentum. — Newton’s first law.
Once that goal is complete, the cycle starts all over again. Purge, Plan, and then Do!