Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Imbolc: what's it all about anyway?

Imbolc or "in the womb" is said to refer to the growing bellies of the Ewes who were kept by the the Celts and so important to their lively hood. It is also called Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal in Irish, which translates to the feast day of Bride. These are all things any "baby pagan" can learn from a simple Internet search as well as a few other basics. Imbolc is dedicated to the goddess Brigid, fire is often involved be it a hearth fire or a bonfire. Young woman are often a major focus. These are all themes that can be found throughout the Celtic history of Imbolc. Having been pagan for many years now, and having seen a goodly number of Imbolc celebrations I have seen these ideas repeated time and again. The first flowers of the coming spring, the crown of candles in a young woman's hair, the Brigit crosses, and the corn dolly. Traditions of old made new again. Yet, what does all of this really mean? The oldest written mention of Imbolc comes from the Irish stories called the "Ulster cycle", yet no mention is given as to why it was celebrated. Why is Brigit honored instead of Angus Macogg? Perhaps knowing the answer to that question would help me understand what this feast is really all about. In a podcast, I can't recall if it was Druidcast or the Celtic mythpodshow, I heard a great Scottish version of the story of Imbolc where the winter Cailleach imprisons Brigid and enslaves her so that spring will never come. But with the aid of Angus and an old man she escapes and spring comes. The theme of this story reminded me of the story of the Oak and Holly kings battling it out to rule of over the light and dark half of the year. Even after Brigit escapes the grasp of the Cailleach, which marks Imbolc, the winter hag still throws the last few storms of the season in an attempt to recapture Brigit. I think in this part of the story lies the key meaning of Imbolc. It's the point when things have turned, when there is suddenly hope for survival and growth even though the dark cold of winter isn't yet over. Though the ground is still cold and wintry, the strangle hold of winter is done. In Jean M. Auel's book "Vally of the horses" She writes about the people celebrating when they feel the earth mother has "broken the back of winter". The old shaman in the story talks about the importance of the celebration as a way for the people to work off the sense of cabin fever. More then that I think all of these things point to the rebirth of hope. Hope that the cold will pass. Hope that the green will come again, that life will be renewed. Hope that things will get easier. Hope that the season of sickness and death will end. Imbolc is about hope in the time of cold darkness. Not the vague blind hope, but the pure sure kind of hope. The kind of hope you feel when you know with out any doubt that something good is coming. It is hope mixed with a healthy dose of anticipation. Imbolc is a reminder that cold and darkness never last forever. The light and warmth of life always comes again. So when you find yourself in the cold dark winter of the soul and can't seem to see an end, stop, take a moment, and invoke the spirit, the meaning, of Imbolc.

1 comment:

  1. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend "The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint" by Sean O Duinn. It is packed with rituals and traditions surrounding Brighid.