Open the Imbolc celebration pages as a pdf Imbolc Festival Pages
As part of the 2015 Earth Pathways Diary festival pages we are including extra information on these festival web pages, to encourage you to explore the energy of the festivals yourself through stories and storytelling. We have been gifted these beautiful stories and chants by Marion McCartney.
Start by reading the introduction to the Imbolc story here (or download the introduction as a pdf)
Then immerse yourself in the Imbolc story, ‘The Awakener’ here (or download ‘The Awakener’ as a pdf)
Extract from Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glennie Kindred
This festival celebrates the reawakening Earth and the potential of manifestation inherent at this time. The Cross Quarter festivals are an opportunity for us to use the developing energy of a new season. Here it is important that we remember to use our intuitive unconscious energy, the inner wisdom we have gained during the winter months, and bring it out with us into the active phase of the year. It is this union of the two aspects of ourselves which is the power and magical alchemy of Imbolc, bringing fertility and manifestation. Candles are lit at this time to represent the return of the light as the Sun’s energy begins to increase.
In Celtic tradition, the Triple Goddess has become her virgin self again, known as Bride, Brigid, Brigit, the Maiden, Keeper of the Sacred Fire,. Her attributes are intuition, inspiration, divination, the spark of life. Her life-giving waters are the sacred springs and holy wells of our land, and were honoured at this time. She is the preserver of tradition through poetry and song. In Celtic countries, poetry was understood as channelled ancestral memory. It was seen as sacred, as an aspect of clairvoyance, vision and divination. English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish mythology are rich with legends of the beguiling spring maiden who is called Olwen, Niwalen, Gwenhyver, Blodeuwedd, Brigid, who initiates the young king in a deeply spiritual sexual experience. Hidden in these tales of love and sexual initiation lies the secret alchemy of Imbolc. The power of the unconscious represented by the young female is the spark of intuition from within as it joins with the intellect of consciousness (represented by the young Sun king). It is this union of these two aspects of energy which brings about manifestation and growth on all levels.
Other ancient myths reflect the same process in action. Persephone returns from the Underworld (the inner world) as herself made new, the young spring maiden. Before this, she sits in her cave and spins a web of a great picture of the universe which ‘the Mother makes into reality’. Northern Europeans worshipped the great goddess Freya, the virgin aspect of the Triple Goddess who, in Nordic myth, are the Three Fates who stood at the foot of Odin’s tree of sacrifice. The constellation of Orion was called the distaff of Mary, but previously it was called the distaff of Freya who spun the fates of men (humankind). Freya represents sexual love, her alternative name ‘Frigg’ became slang for sexual intercourse. Clotho in Greek myth was known as the fate virgin, the fate spinner, the first of the Moerae (later called Mary) who spun the thread of destiny. Roman pagans worshipped Juno Februata, the goddess of the fever (febris) of love, later replaced with St Valentine by the church. Athene, Isis, Minerva, Diana, Aphrodite -are all similar aspect of this energy.
The early image of the virgin was very different from what we now imagine. She was seen as being full of her inherent ability to be fertile. She was honoured for her vibrant sexuality. In pre-christian Rome, the ‘Virgines’ were unmarried women. They combined a natural abundant sexuality with the potential of motherhood and procreation. These free young women must have presented as much a threat to the new patriarchal church as the old matriarchs. A marriage system was introduced which harnessed women’s natural nurturing caring instincts to serve men. Her sexuality became feared by the church and by men for its potential power over them. To complete the reversal, virgin became synonymous with purity.
The worship of the goddess was channelled by the church into the worship of the Virgin Mary. It is interesting that virginity is the most emphasised aspect of her, not her motherhood, even though her virginity was wildly inexplicable. They were well aware that the goddess worship they sought to suppress could re-establish itself through the worship of Mary, so they diffused and debased her power and the power of the female. Mary became passive, meek, subordinate, without sexuality, successfully removing her previous attributes. This complex reversal of women’s natural instincts, as a method of control by the church has, of course, had the most dramatic and far-reaching psychological and sociological effects throughout the christianized patriarchal world. Inner reflection, the unconscious, the intuition, receptivity, the inner voice – all became synonymous with everything female and was also denied, suppressed and feared. This has meant that men as well as women have been cut off from these vital aspects of themselves.
The church incorporated this festival into their religion as Candlemas, celebrated on the 2nd February. Candlemas became known as the festival of the ‘Purification of the Virgin Mary’, a time which, according to judeo-christian rule, a woman must be purified forty days after childbirth as she had been made unclean by the event! This removed all previous understanding of the power behind this ancient festival of Candlemas. ‘Cande’ from the Anglo-Saxon, and ‘Candali’, ‘Kundali’ and ‘Kundalini’ from the Sanskrit, all bring association with the raising of sexual energy. This is the serpent which rise; up the spine in sacred and sexual union, in which the self merges with the infinite. This reflects an understanding of sexuality and pleasure as a deeply spiritual experience. Eros, an older Greek phallic god, and Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, were worshipped at a time when sexuality was honoured as a primary life-force.
In Celtic mythology Brighidh was an older solar goddess associated with the awakening hibernating serpent which was said to come forth from its hole on Imbolc eve. In pre-christian times, serpents were associated with inspiration, aspiration, healing, the phallus, an emblem of life. The paths of Earth energy were called serpent paths and here at Imbolc their energy becomes reactivated and vibrant.
THE UNDERLYING ENERGY OF IMBOLC
The days are beginning to lengthen. It is still cold but buds are forthcoming on the trees. Sap is beginning to rise and the bulbs are pushing through the Earth. Everywhere there are signs of the Earth stirring. Our acceptance of winter is giving way to an urge to move forwards into springtime energy. Now is the time to prepare inwardly for the changes which will come. Plant your ideas and leave them to germinate. Bring your visions and inner understandings out through poetry, song and art. Divination and clairvoyance are potent now as the link with the inner realms is still strong.
At Lammas, opposite Imbolc on the wheel of the year, consciousness began its descent into the inner realms and the dark, to find inner wisdom and regeneration. Here at Imbolc the unconscious is emerging from the inner realms, revitalised, potent and fertile. Our unconscious and conscious selves unite now, to bring about new growth, fertility and ultimately manifestation.
Imbolc is the time for initiation and healing, for reclaiming what has been forgotten. It is a time for invocation of the life-force and working with the dynamics of its potency. Our intuitive flashes and sparks of inspiration are needed more than ever to complement the active rational approach which dominates our western life-style. The returning active phase of the solar year brings with it an opportunity to use our inner Fire, to unite our dynamic inner power with the fertile edge of the new year’s cycle.
We are trying in our own way to live the dreams and visions of a new age, but we are still bound by our old conditioning and life patterns. We each carry the seeds of a new vision, of a new way of being. Each time these visions re-emerge after the incubation period of winter, they are stronger and we are surer.
PREPARATIONS FOR IMBOLC
* Decide where and when to celebrate Imbolc. Use the rising energy of the New Moon to enhance new beginnings. Invite friends and ask them to bring their poems to read, their creative projects to show, a new candle to light, something for the shrine and food and drink to share.
* Create a simple shrine for Imbolc using white and yellow cloths or scarves. Pick a small vase of early spring flowers, a vase of twigs in bud or some bulbs in flowerpots. Bring back something from your walks – anything which suggests the awakening Earth. Light a candle at the centre, as you focus on your inspirations, aspirations, dreams and visions.
* Buy plenty of candles for lighting up the space and some special ones for invocations and wishes.
* Clear out the old and make way for the new. Clear and clean your space. Give away unwanted possessions along with their associations. Wash all your crystals and leave them out in the Sun, Moon and rain to recharge. Re-examine the resolutions you made at the Winter Solstice. Seek clarity and wisdom to help you find your way.
* Make time for meditation, writing poetry, drawing and painting. Create simple new chants and new tunes. Pick up an instrument, even if you think you can’t play. Begin simply with three or four repetitive notes and see what words come to you.
* Find ways to celebrate and revive women’s arts and crafts such as needlework, weaving, beadwork, macrame. Get together and work on a group project such as making a large quilt which can be hung and displayed. Decide on a theme and decide the size of the square everyone must use. Get the children involved and the men, and create something of great inspiration. The squares can be sewn together and backed. Loops can be sewn onto the top enabling the whole thing to be hung from a pole.
* Brigid’s Cross
Traditionally made to hang on the door or in windows at Imbolc (similar to God’s Eyes), and traditionally woven out of grass, straw, rushes or vines. If you are using dried materials, soak them in water first to restore their flexibility. You can also use natural woven wools. These are the most interesting, but children like to use bright colours.
1. Begin by binding two sticks together which are of equal length as in fig (1). Silver birch, willow, or rowan would all be appropriate wood for the symbolism and significance they represent.
2. Tie on the first piece of wool, straw etc., wind it over the first twig, wrapping it round the twig once before moving on to the next twig. Wind it over and round this twig in the same way. Continue round and round in the same pattern, tucking in the ends. These beautiful weavings represent the all-seeing eye of Brigid, to watch over you through the coming year. Shells, beads, tassels or feathers can be hung from it or woven in as you go round. You may try tying three or four stick together to make them more elaborate and experimental. Old crosses from last year should be ritually burnt to release the old year and open the way to moving forwards.
* Snake sticks
Another relaxing and focusing activity which can be done alone, with children or a group of friends, is to paint a snake stick, serpent stick or dragon stick. Driftwood is is particularly good but any dried stick will do. Check first that it is strong and will not break easily. Chip off some or all of the bark and sandpaper if necessary. You may like to whittle a simple face at one end and tail at the other end and paint patterns on it with acrylic paint.
As you work with the image of snake, serpent or dragon, unravel and share what you know and understand about it and any experiences you may have had working with this ancient symbol of power. True to its own nature, it has many layers and levels of energy. Its early pre-christian meaning of health, healing and potent energy is now resurfacing once again.
Write poetry, indulging in your imagination, releasing your hidden or pent-up feelings. Let it all pour out. It doesn’t have to be ‘polished’ or ‘finished’. You don’t have to show it to anyone of even keep it. Just do it for yourself see what comes out. if you like it or like some of it, share what you want to with friends or write it in a special book. Above all, you will find understanding and your own wisdom hidden within it. From your unconscious many things will be revealed to help your understanding of yourself. Bringing things out from the unconscious is the special energy of Imbolc and may help you to find your way forward.
A great goddess of Northern Europe who represented sexual erotic love. Her sacred day was Friday and was considered to be the best day for weddings. The Romans re-named this day ‘dies Veneris’ after Venus, their own version of this goddess. In pre-christian times, Friday was a holy day dedicated to Freya. Fish were eaten as symbols of fertility. Later, of course, Friday was called ‘unlucky’ and doubly unlucky if it fell on the 13th as it combined the goddess’ sacred number (the number of lunar months in a year) and her sacred day.
* St Valentine
February has long associations with sexuality and love. Juno Februata, the Roman goddess of love, gave her name to the month, and the festival of Luperealia on the ides of February included a tradition of exchanging small papers or ‘billets’ on which partners were chosen for erotic games. These forerunners of our valentine cards were discouraged by the church who tried to replace them with short sermons. But the love notes survived, although changed from their original meaning. The church replaced Juno Februata with St Valentine, a mythical martyr who was said to be executed at the very moment he received his billet of love from his sweetheart. Despite all efforts of the church, this festival remains dedicated to lovers. Eros, Cupid, Kama, Priapus and Pan are all gods of erotic love from pre-christian times when sexuality as a primary life-force was worshipped- Renaissance art depicted Cupid as a small winged baby, but ancient talismans of Cupid were winged phalli made in bronze, bone and wood. Cupid was the son of Venus and Mercury, the ‘Goddess of Love’ and a god of communication between the worlds and serpent energy (in Greek myth Aphrodite and Hermes). Their child Eros, a god of erotic love, was an ‘herm-aphrodite’, combining both the male and female qualities of these two deities.
These are some suggestions for celebrating Imbolc.
* Spend time outside, feeling the emergence of the life-force. Talk to the trees, welcome the awakening dryads and nature spirits. Pick some snowdrops and other early spring flowers for your Imbolc shrine. Cut some twigs of willow, dogwood, forsythia, winter jasmine, almond and cherry blossom. Weave them into a circle the same as you did with the Winter Solstice wreath, but this time place it in a wide shallow bowl of water. Keep the water topped up and during the next few weeks the twigs will begin to root and the leaves and blossom will come out. Place moss, a stone or a crystal in the centre of the circle and leave on a window ledge. Arrange any twigs left over into a vase of water. If gathering with friends, this could be something you make together at the beginning or the end of the celebration.
* Place on the shrine any methods of divination you may wish to use, such as Ogham sticks, Tarot cards, Runes, I Ching. Now is a good time to use any of these systems to help you see the way forward.
* Put aside a special day and evening to spend by yourself or with friends. Keep your focus on your intuition and inner voice. Let your rational mind go, follow what you ‘feel’ is right and not what you ‘think’ or ‘ought’ or ‘should’.
* It is good to have a fire outside if the weather is fine. Failing that, find creative ways to light your celebration space with candles to celebrate the return of the light and the kindling of the inner Fire. Symbolically cleanse and purify by Fire what you wish to clear away and leave behind. You could write this down on a piece of paper to burn in a ritual fire, visualising it being transformed. Saying “I leave behind…” gives it added power.
* Spend time in meditation. Reach out and feel the stirrings of the Earth and seek oneness with the germinating seeds deep within the still cold ground. Ask for guidance to help you move forwards, and for directions which will serve your greater good and the healing of the Earth. Meditate on your reflective intuitive qualities and how you can use them and enhance them in your life. Ask for guidance and direction.
* Pass around seeds or crystals and each imagine what you wish to grow. Later plant the seeds or bury the crystals. Speak in the present tense and imagine it is already on it’s way.
* Lead the circle into a tight spiral and imagine yourselves to be the Earth dragon or Earth serpent asleep, curled up tight for the winter. Gradually feel yourself waking up as part of the energy of the re-awakening Earth. Spiral outwards, dancing your dreams awake.
* Each light a candle for the positive qualities you value about yourself. Share these with each other and how you hope to use these in the coming active phase of the year’s cycle. Plant the candles in a large bowl of earth or sand in the centre of the circle and let them burn right down.
* Light candles for those you love and their positive qualities you value. Light candles for healing, for friends, family and yourself. Light candles for the Earth. Light candles to celebrate the activation of the inner Fire, for the Fire of inspiration, for illumination, for the spark of sexuality and attraction.
* What are the seeds of your future that you wish to germinate and see grow? Write them on curls of silver birch bark, or slips of paper which can be rolled up into a scroll, to represent your new beginnings. Hang them up by threading them onto embroidery thread with a large strong needle Tie them to a birch twig and hang in the window.
* Share with each other the poems, chants, music and songs you have been creating. Inspire each other with your visions and creativity. Share with each other your accomplishments of all kinds, celebrating the re-emergence of the self as you step out into the active phase of the year.
* Dance together in a circle or on your own. Weave into the dance everything you wish to change, what you want to begin and transform in your life. Weave new dreams to take hold and grow. This is the spark of power which initiates their becoming. Dance to celebrate being free of winter. Dance to be free of old outworn restrictions. Release words of invocation for a new direction. Dance to activate the Fire within. Dance to release negative attachments. Dance to let go of the old and embrace the new. Dance your dreams awake!
* Bring the group together for a closing ceremony by holding hands in a circle. If you are on your own, come into your centre. Thank the guardians, angels and spirit guides, for their presence and help. Thank each of the elements for their guidance and thank each other. End on a chant which carries forward the energy of Imbolc in everyone’s heart – something to take with you into daily life, to remind and connect you to the sacred in yourself.
* Bless the food and drink to share.