Today I’m preparing for the pagan holiday Imbolc, the Christian holiday Candlemass
There are a lot of different traditions associated with this holiday (as well as a few of what I like to call “sidekick holidays”). ((And I think we can all agree that the chief sidekick holiday IS Groundhog Day.))
Imbolc is celebrated Feb 1-3 as the halfway point between solstice (shortest day of the year) and spring equinox! For people who follow the stars and moon in any way, this is meaningful. Almost, shall we say, ✨magical✨
In the Christian churches, this holiday is the purification of the Virgin Mary, and on these days and the Sundays surrounding either side of the 1-3rd of February, people would bring all their candles for the year, to be blessed. They would bless the light. This was important—think of it today as being grateful for the abundance of lightbulbs we are blessed with in our houses, recognizing our good fortune to have energy, and hopefully be able to pay for it all. Back then, this was their light, and in a world more spiritually awakened and undeniably “enchanted”, people were very thankful for this light. thankful to their gods, spirits, angels, and saints. Life, as it is now, but moreso in the past, was not promised. Life was lived in passion. We can live with said passion in every circumstance, timelessly. I don’t mean loving everything about your unique life, your journey, but more that we can live courageously and with purpose. We can honor our journeys and use them to inform how we take control of our futures, in any (and hopefully every) way we can.
In conclusion of that rambling mess, Bless the damn lights 😂
For me, I plan to bring this tradition into my day by making some candles, lighting some candles. I plan to do a little ceremony to bless the finished candles by anointing them with epsom salt water from base to wick away from my body, for purification, and then again with earth water from wick to base toward my heart to draw in the energy of the natural world. I don’t know yet if I will repeat any mantras or chants, but I did write some intentions.
Imbolc is not the pagan New Year (although the lunar New Year will be coming up!) and it is actually a minor holiday. However, Imbolc is traditionally meant to indicate a fresh start. It’s a great time to start learning new skills, and I have two new skills I really hope to focus on. They go together. The first is setting intentions.
I think the first time I remember noticing that word was in a yoga class “what is your intention for this practice?” It, to me, has seemed so simple. Flexibility, breathing, hamstrings. Stuff like that, right? Well, yes, but there are also other, deeper ways to practice setting an intention. I read a book for my book club, Cord Magic, which delved deeper into intentions.
Brandy Williams writes that intentions are positive, and do not allow “negative bias” to seep in. We inherently think in terms of what could go wrong. However, our fears of that can shape how we go about whatever it is we’re setting an intention for, her example being driving a car. The car will not crash. I think of this in my own life as “how much worry is useful” in each circumstance. Maybe some worry will help you acknowledge that focus is important while driving. But if you start catastrophizing, that can be paralyzing and or agonizing. Not a good mindset to drive a car AND can actually be the SOURCE of problems that wouldn’t have arisen, had you let go of excess worry and relaxed. Proceed thoughtfully, but do not dwell. It only drains you.
So, stop being negative, and envision goodness and ease, and allow yourself to receive these blessings as they enter your life.
Intentions, to me, seem like a cross between affirmations and manifesting, just with the caveat that you have to meet the universe halfway. You do your work and trust that what you intend will come to fruition. I also struggled to understand affirmations (a lot of learning about mental health is informing how I think I want to raise my future kids). To me, intentions, affirmations, manifesting, believing, and actually DOING the work. One of the things I love about my mental healthcare is that my support system also cares about and discusses our spiritual health. Spirituality is obviously one tool for connecting with and maintaining our mental health.
The second skill I’d like to practice is cord magic. I plan to use my intentions to create a few cords to tie knots with for energy magic. Actually, I was thinking I would be interested in making some Inkle woven bands to tie in knots. They are basically woven ribbons, and I feel all of the same qualities are there as with “cords”, just the type of creative act is different. I plan to do a deep dive into this when I actually go about doing it.
(I’m gonna round up allllll the Imbolc traditions at the end of my article!)
The next tradition of Imbolc is dairy and fertility. The February moon is called the Quickening moon, a fertility moon. The Quickening refers to when the baby begins to move within the womb. Imbolc actually means “in the belly”, and is often the start of lambing season. Sheep were often traditionally bred to lamb before cows calved, and in the hunger months, their milk was precious for the babies and for the shepherds and their families.
This year the moon is a half moon, waxing, or getting bigger, during Imbolc. The moon, in my feminine experience, is about fertility always. It’s cyclical nature so similar to mine. I am not in a season of procreation currently, so I’m not connecting with that magic this year, but it is magical to consider this and meditate upon it.
Milk and dairy are one of the many many physical signs of fertility. Cooking with them is an Imbolc tradition. I plan on making butter, mozarella, buttermilk, buttermilk pancakes, quiche and who the heck knows what else. It’s a fiesta and I’m extra so let’s get it on.
Another sheep-related practice I’m bringing into my celebration is washing wool, fiber prep, and spinning on my spinning wheels. Can you believe that? Me? Spinning wool? Nahhhhh
Yes. So expect a fiber blog soon!
Another crafty tradition for the holiday is creating St Brigid crosses (a woven swastika with earthen reeds) and placing them over doors and windows for protection. The tradition of this and its shape in the weaving is an ancient Celtic tradition. I’m thinking I’ll try making one!
Then, there are other little details I have for sort of intentionally, spiritually decorating. I count “smudging” or incense as decorating—it’s decorating with a scent and an energy. Cleaning my body and anointing myself with my tallow body balm—a natural, local, humanely processed and home-refined fat with great healing properties. Somewhere I saw that one tradition was making corn husk dolls, and I’m low key interested in doing that. Slight interest there, I have some ideas. I’m also thinking I’ll make some river birch firewood bundles. Birch is the tree spirit of Brigid (oh, PS Brigid is the goddess/Saint/real actual person who Imbolc is associated with). And possibly have a bonfire. Idk it’s wet out so….
Finally, for me it is an important and sacred time when I put my phone away. I’m going to try to make sure I get more of this time as a regular part of my life. So this Friday I’m gonna have a go at having some of this time. I feel like this is a part of my Imbolc Sabaat
Round up: look at the sky; make, bless, and burn candles; set intentions and work cord magic; cooking with dairy; meditating upon the concept of fertility; wool, Brigid’s crosses, and corn husk dolls; smudging, bonfire, cleanse, anoint, decorate, put my phone away and celebrate the sacred. Are you going to do any of these traditions?
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A sustainability major at U of L, beginning farmer, crafter, and writer.