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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Imbolc

Imbolc season is upon us. I say season because there's some discussion concerning the exact day it should be celebrated. So pick whatever day you like. Imbolc is one of the four Celtic fire festivals, which are on the calendar at roughly the halfway points between the solstices and equinoxes. It marks the beginning of Spring, though for many of us in the northern hemisphere that may cause raised eyebrows.


Traditions surrounding Imbolc date back to pre-Christian times, when the celebrations were associated with the pagan goddess Brigid. The primary theme of all those events was looking ahead to the coming spring. On my way home last night after work I noticed I was no longer walking in the dark at 5:30. In the cold climate of European winters, the lengthening of the daylight was confirmation to the ancients that winter's grasp was weakening and that despite more cold weather to come, Spring would soon arrive. Lambing would soon begin and snowdrops would be pushing their green heads from the ground.


All this looking to the future led to much speculation about the coming weather and so were born multiple weather divination traditions. Cailleach, the hag of Gaelic traditions, was thought to gather sticks to keep herself warm through the remainder of the winter. If the weather on Imbolc was clear, she could gather more sticks, so people hoped for a gloomy day and thus a shorter winter. Sometimes Cailleach's role was taken on by a giant bird gathering sticks in her beak. Of course, to many of us, her job was taken over and commercialized by the groundhog.


Christianity got into the act as well, appropriating the festival and associating it with Saint Brigid, who scholars believe was actually based on the goddess Brigid rather than a real person. Whichever way you believe, Brigid was a friendly personage who visited the homes of the virtuous to bestow her blessing. Personally, I like that image better than a groundhog.


Modern pagans celebrate Imbolc as a time of renewal, of new beginnings, of rising from the darkness. Whatever darkness haunts your soul right now, light a candle of hope and rise above it. Spring will always come. Despite what that stupid groundhog said this morning.


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