Experiments in … Spirituality: Celebrating the Wheel of the Year – Imbolc

While much of the nation will be celebrating husky dudes body-slamming each other for the rights to fondle an oddly shaped ball the first of February, I will be celebrating the sacred holiday called Imbolc.

Wheel of the Year
Wheel of the Year

Imbolc is one of eight holidays on the Wheel of the Year.  The Wheel of the Year is a representation of the passing of one year through its four seasons.  It is marked by the quarter days – which are the two solstices and the two equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days – the midpoints between the quarter days.  The quarter days mark the beginning of one season and the ending of its predecessor.  And, ergo, the cross-quarter days mark the midpoint of each season.  Imbolc, which occurs sundown on February 1 through the following sundown, is one of the cross-quarter days.

Imbolc is a Celtic Fire Festival.  It goes by several other names, as well, the more common being Candlemas and Brigid’s Day (or St. Brigid’s Day).  This is a celebration of making it to the halfway mark of Winter, and a looking forward to the light of the coming Spring.  It is a way of instilling hope for the rebirth of the light from the darkness of Winter.  Just as pregnant mothers experience what is known as the quickening when the spark of life is said to enter the unborn child, Imbolc could be called the time of the quickening in Mama Earth’s womb.

Imbolc marks the beginning of the agricultural year.  It is the time when seeds are sown to make ready for germination and maturation.  It is the time when ewes are giving birth to the first offspring of the year, and filling their udders with the first milk of the season as lactation begins.  (In fact, Imbolc translates to “in the belly”.  Oimelg, another name for the holiday, is a Gaelic word that translates to “ewe’s milk”.)  In some areas of the world, this is the first day of plowing in preparation for the planting of the crops.

Pagan Brigid vs. Christian St. Brigid
Pagan Brigid vs. Christian St. Brigid

According to Irish mythology and custom, Brigid is the goddess most commonly associated with Imbolc.  This is a Celtic Fire Festival, and Brigid is the Celtic goddess of Fire (the forge and the hearth).  She is also the goddess of inspiration, healing, smithcraft and midwifery.  Brigid is often associated with serpents.  This association holds a strong link with the Kundalini energy of Indian lore.  On this sacred day in February, it is traditional to look for serpents emerging from the womb of Mama Earth as a means of weather divination, a tradition that is echoed by the American celebration of Groundhog Day.

While She is often associated with healing, and has had many bodies of water dedicated to Her, Brigid is most strongly aligned with the element of fire.  Being the goddess of smithcraft, the fire of the forge is Her domain.  As goddess of midwifery, She provides the spark of life that enters the womb during the quickening of pregnancy.  As a solar goddess, She bestows the gifts of light and inspiration (as when as idea dawns on us), and the vital and healing energy of the sun, itself.  As a Triple Goddess, Brigid can appear in the form of maiden, mother or crone.  Imbolc finds Her in Her maiden form.

Imbolc is a festival of purification and preparation for the passing from the season of Death (or the crone phase of the goddess) to the season of Birth and New Life (or the maiden phase of the goddess).  It is a celebration of the coming of the light of the growing sun – the sun that will bring warmth and vitality back to the earth and its inhabitants, as well as provide food from the fields, orchards and gardens.  Traditions of Imbolc are often centered around these themes of light and fire and purification.  Imbolc is also a good time for initiations, commitments and dedications … you know, new beginnings.

Briedog (corn dolly) and candles are popular celebration traditions for Imbolc.

There are several traditions associated with the revelries of Imbolc.  Corn cakes and oat cakes are popular treats to share during the celebration.  Brideogs, dollies made of corn or cloth, are made in the image of Brigid.  They are dressed in white and/or adorned with a crystal to symbolize the purity of the Maiden and the renewed soil of the earth.  Fires are lit in fields and in hearths, and candles are lit for protection, purification, and to honor the sacred flame of Brigid.  It is also common practice to place a besom, or broom, by the door to symbolize a sweeping out of all that is old and stagnant to make way for the new that will inevitably arrive with the resurgence of Spring.

Another popular craft used in Imbolc celebrations is the Brigid’s Cross.  These are hung in homes and farm buildings to honour Brigid and to protect the buildings from fire and lightning.  Brigid’s Crosses were traditionally made of reeds, but are today made with any number of materials.  As Brigid is the goddess of inspiration, it seems appropriate for one to be as creative as one likes when fashioning a symbol in Her honour.

My Brigid’s Cross. It’s adorned with beads and shells in honour of Brigid and all of Her gifts.

For this year’s Imbolc celebration, I have decided to light candles around my home, and to make a Brigid’s Cross.  I am hanging the Cross in my workspace at home for inspiration and creative sparks when I’m working on art/craft projects or writing projects.  I made mine out of strips of braided raffia.  (I have no idea where to find reeds near my house.)  I’ve included a video below which shows how to make a Brigid’s Cross.  Should you feel so inclined to make on yourself, please post a photo of it in the comments.  I’d love to see your handiwork!

Happy Imbolc!
Happy Imbolc!

Happy celebrating!  And, if Imbolc is new to you, may I suggest that you take a moment – perhaps during the half-time show of the Super Bowl – to offer up a little nod of gratitude to Brigid for Her bright influence in your life.  Even if you’re only thankful for all the lights and fireworks and creativity that went into those commercials and that half-time performance.  After all, those are what make the Super Bowl worth watching!





imageHere we are again in the doorway of a shiny new year. 2015. Before I start allowing my self to get too comfortable with this new year, I have decided to, once again, take some precautionary measures to ensure that I get the very best out this year. As you know if you’re a regular reader, I have been making a list of resolutions every January for the past several years. And while I am still tweaking my style, I am finding the practice to be a worthy one. For me, at least. The process of ruminating on and organizing intentions for the coming year does several things for me.

First and foremost, it sort of forces me to take inventory of how I spent my time and energy in the past year. It allows me to compare that performance against how I hope to spend my time and energies this coming year. This is huge for someone like me. I have a tendency to assume that I know what I want in life, and to also assume that I am actually working toward making that happen. However, like many people, when I take the time to really and truthfully observe my desires and behaviors I find my self totally lacking. When I don these goggles and observe even further back in my herstory, I am able to see how consistently negligent I’ve been in getting specific about what it is I want. I also see my tendency to procrastinate on actions that might actually get me where I think I want to be. It’s kind of a strange, self-defeating double helix of negligence: How can I expect to get what/where I want without actually taking concrete, measurable steps to get there? And how on earth are any steps going to get me anywhere if I don’t know where I’m trying to go? Annual goal-setting in the form of resolutions (or intentions) is a good way for me to get specific about my desired direction, and that specificity of vision makes it easier to create manageable, measurable and active progress toward that end.

Secondly, making resolutions gives me an opportunity to bring some living into my life in fun, creative and adventurous ways. It makes me less likely to fall into the rut of mundane routine, by giving me prompts for interesting activities throughout the year. Who doesn’t like fun, creativity and adventure?

Thirdly, setting intentions/resolutions for the year, provides my life with some structure and discipline; two things I have a difficult time coming by naturally. While I love the free-spirited, adventurous side of my self with great abandon, I also believe in balance. Strengthening those skills (structure and discipline), actually, in the big picture, affords me more opportunities to revel in my freer side.

This year, I have, once again, tweaked the way I’ve set up my resolutions. As last year, there are a total of 12 intentions. However, rather than aligning each resolution with a particular month, as I did last year, the new resolutions are not time-specific. In fact, I’ve tried to become more specific with my goals, so that there are actions to be taken and documented throughout the year. Some of these overlap enough to be performed at the same times. Others will be done individually. Some are one-off activities or experiences, some are month-long experiments. Of course, one could accurately say that the whole Year of Resolutions is one big Experiment in Bliss.

So, with no further ado, I present to you …

Melanie’s Resolutions for 2015

1. Formally observe the Wheel of the Year. Do so publicly by sharing info on social media. Also have a personal observance either at home, with community members, or in Nature.
2. Try something new. Choose 6 new things to try this year. Document the experiences on social media. (My 6 initial choices: SUP Yoga; taking solo camping trip; attending a meetup group; aerial dance; making clothes from a pattern, hang gliding) NOTE: Feel encouraged to try more than 6!
3. Start a YouTube channel. Make regular posts – at least one a month.
4. Save some money. (As last year, I have some specific actions here, but I prefer to keep that stuff private.)
5. Volunteer, already! Find an organization, and set up either a regular schedule for donating time/service or a particular project for contribution of self and skills. Document the experience via social media.
6. Take a vacation. I mean a proper vacation. Travel somewhere other than here for at least a week.
7. Go fully raw LFHC vegan for one month, beginning with a three-day stint on Banana Island.
8. Embark on one month of super-productivity a’la Tynan’s “Love Work” article.
9. Be creative. Pursue one or several creative hobbies. By the end of the year have a minimum of 6 finished products. Use these products as gifts, or giveaways on social media.
10. Write an ebook. Sell it online.
11. Pay off debts by a minimum of 50% by year end. Try to pay them 100%, if possible.
12. Find ways to reduce consumption, and, therefore, cost of living. Document these experiences via social media. As part of this project, try a one week experiment in asceticism. Reducing stimulation as much as possible – a’la Tynan’s “Stimulation …” article.
So, there you go! These are my resolutions for the new year. I don’t know about you, but I’m actually looking forward to achieving these goals. And you, did you set new intentions for the year? Care to share? I’d love to hear from you. We can support one another together. Either way, I hope you have a most beautiful year filled with a million opportunities for love, laughter, health, wealth, and, of course … BLISS!