A Time to Look Forward

The winter solstice has passed. The joys of the festive season, while still fresh in the memory, are over for another year. Now it’s time to look forward to a new year and the various celebrations and changes to come.

While winter still has a few dark and cold days to share with us, attention is certainly turning to springtime. This is the time of year, so the story goes, that we look for the groundhog to come out of hibernation. If he sees his shadow, he gets scared and scampers back underground leaving the rest of us with six more weeks of winter to endure. If there’s no shadow, we can all look forward to an early spring.

As I discuss in my book Sacred Ceremony, it’s a time when we humans tentatively come out of a sort of hibernation ourselves:

“We’re looking for signs of renewed life as well as the evidence that winter’s breath is still upon us. If we see our own “shadow”, it may require us to examine and clear any fears of moving forward into the growing light of day.”

The end of January and start of February sees the quarter day of Imbolc (it’s the Celtic name for the womb of Mother Earth). The time of year is also known as Brigid’s Day, or Brid (pronounced breed).

“Brigit, or Bride, is known as the Goddess of fire and fertility, of inspiration and poetry, and is healer and protector. Often, she’s visualized as a pregnant young maiden carrying the young seed of the Sun. At Imbolc, which is one of the fire festivals, she’s said to wear a radiant crown of candles.”

This helps explain another alternative name for the festival – Candlemas. Christianized Celts associated Brigid with the Virgin Mary, so the festival came to be known as the “Feast of Mary of the Beginning of Spring.” During this time, candles were brought to church to be blessed, thus a “Candle Mass.”

How to commemorate the festival:

Sow seeds
This is a time to prepare for the new growing season that spring will bring. If it’s warm enough where you are to plant seeds outdoors, then do so. Otherwise, germinate them in a warm and bright window sill indoors, and move them outside when the weather warms up. Wherever you’re planting, and whether you choose to plant a sapling, some bulbs or flowers, the process should be carried out with appreciation for the tenderness of the Mother’s belly and Her receptiveness to the first signs of awakening life.

Light fires and candles
If the days are still cold where you are, use your indoor hearth to warm yourselves and your guests, and allow it to be the focal point for a release and renewal ceremony. Because this is Candlemas, now is the time of year to set up candles, especially on the first night of the festival (January 31). Make them the focal point for meditations based on the start of the next cycle of life – the coming spring – while remembering to connect them with the thoughts and desires you expressed at the winter solstice.

Fast for 1 to 3 days
As Imbolc is a seasonal marker, it makes for an excellent time for a cleansing fast. Three days is ideal, but even a 24-hour fast will give you a great opportunity to greet the coming of spring.

By co-ordinating your fast with a fire ceremony and a candle-lit meditation, you should notice yourself beginning to thaw and preparing for an early spring internally, even if the groundhog emerged from his burrow and found the sight of his shadow a little scary!

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