Day 41. Ascending to Imbolc. How I fell in love with this celebration of early spring

I’ve long had this love hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. I hate the commercialism but love the flowers, the colours, the chocolate, the expressions of love… theres *something* about having a holiday at this time of year that just feels right to me. 

Imbolc is one of the cross quarter days in the neo pagan wheel of the year and a celebration in the Celtic calendar. The cross quarter days fall at the midpoints between the more major milestones of the solstices and equinoxes, and with the exception of Halloween and Samhain perhaps, they tend to be more low key. I only started really marking this point in the wheel last year and I’m so glad that I did! 

When I used to work in nature conservation, I noticed that the frogs would often awake front their winter slumbers to be back in the ponds and breeding by the 14th of February, so if we were planning any pond works they needed to be completed by then so as not to disturb that our amphibian friends. It was so satisfying seeing them come back to a tidied pond or turn up in a completely new one! My former colleague Mel used to get excited too about the fact by Valentine’s Day we could drive home without your car headlights on at at 5.30pm. 

It may still be bleak. The mud may be thick and the clouds grey, but those frogs can taste spring in the air.  Snow drops and crocuses burst through the cold earth to bring signs of hope. The light is slowly returning.

It makes sense that humans would celebrate that change in the air too. And as I began to do more research, I could see why I was feeling this pull to celebrate.

Valentine’s Day is though to have its rooted in Ancient Rome and the festival of Lupercalia on the 14th of February. This was a lusty, bloody celebration of the wolf who raised Romulus and Remus. As Rome was Christianised, instead they celebrated a tamer holiday - St Valentine’s Day on the 14th, in memory of a martyred saint who was believed to help persecuted Christian couples to marry. 

You can read more on the history of Lupercalia here.

The wheel of the year is actuality a fairly modern creation - it’s drawn from surviving Celtic traditions and extrapolated from evidence of what our pre Christian ancestors might have done. We’re using guesswork and imagination a bit to connect to the past, as well as creating new traditions. I’m not Wiccan or a Druid - the crafts that created the wheel of the year - but I still find it such a useful way to mark and celebrate the shifting seasons. Including the cross quarter days is helping me to appreciate the subtler shifts in nature and the seasons, and the wheel can help us to connect with what our ancestors, especially our Celtic ancestors, might have believed and practised. I believe this can also help us to forge new ways of connecting with nature that are more nourishing for all of us. 

Imbolc is a Celtic celebration and deeply linked to the Goddess Brigid. It has been translated from the ancient Irish as ‘in the belly’, believed to refer to the pregnant ewes, and both Imbolc and Brigid are connected with sheep farming and lambing season. The atmosphere at this point in the wheel is one of quickening, hidden new life, germinating seeds, new beginnings just starting to show themselves.  It’s a gentle energy, but so alluring. It falls around the beginning of February, the same time as the Christian celebrations of Candlemas and St Bridget. 

You can read more on the history of Imbolc here.

The frogs are right. This is a time to celebrate. Winter isn’t over yet, there’s still more work to do as we slowly ascend towards the Spring equinox, when the world really does start to feel more alive. But this change brings hope.

Imbolc illustration by artist Sam Goodlet, Samdrawsthings

Ideas for celebrating Imbolc and making it your own: 

🌱 Come and joint myself and some other witches for Resurgence of the Quickening Spark: a three day immersion from the 28th to 30th of janaury

🌱 Do some knitting! I’m collaborating with the brilliant Mia from Brambles and Me on an Imbolc parcel with some very special, naturally dyed yarn and a print from me 

🌱 Do some sacred hearth work (rebranding cleaning is a sure fire way to make it more fun) 

🌱 Dig or take care of a pond before Valentine’s Day to help frogs, other amphibians and water-loving wildlife 

🌱 Prune trees and carefully weed ready for the birds to start nesting again soon 

🌱 Bake some spelt bread - an ancient grain the Romans also used 

🌱 Start dreaming, planning, planting seeds (literally or metaphorically) for the coming year 

🌱 Check out these other ideas from The Goddess and the Green Man

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