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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Imbolc: Light in the Midst of Darkness

Most folks know February 2nd as Groundhog Day, when a furry critter is hauled out of a hole to predict the length of time remaining until spring, based on whether or not he sees his shadow. Of course, for us witchy types, the 2nd is Imbolc,a quarter-cross holiday (midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox) that celebrates the first stirring of life under the quiescent earth. Along the way, the day also transmuted into the Christian Candlemas.

What do all these holidays have in common? They are focused on that small light in the midst of the winter darkness. For many of us, winter means cold and dark. Think how much more impact that had on our ancestors, whose only light came from candles, lanterns, and the flames of their fires. By the beginning of February, the food they'd fought hard to preserve for the lean winter months was probably starting to run low, and it may have seemed as though spring would never come.

My cupboards are full, but I know exactly how they felt!

The name Imbolc has Celtic origins, and means (depending on the source) "in the belly," "fire in the belly," or "ewe's milk." The essence of the word is two-fold: the stirring of seeds in the belly of the earth, and the literal milk in the belly that resulted from the arrival of the first lambs, and the milk their mother produced, which often meant the difference between starvation and survival.

These days, we don't need sheep's milk to survive, thankfully. But we can all use a little bit of light when things are dark. For me, the theme of this holiday has always been simple--hope. That little glimmer of a candle's flame in the dim, cold night of winter.

Imbolc is a good time to look inward and choose the seeds to nurture in your own metaphorical belly. Sit in the darkness and think about what you want to work on in the year to come. Where will you focus your energy? What changes can you make to bring the most light into your own world? I like to pick three focus words that I can come back to over and over in the coming months. This year, my words are these: Balance, healing, and success.

What three words would you choose? If you need some guidance, this is a good holiday to use quick and easy divination [I blogged about that earlier, if you need some suggestions]. Light a candle and sit quietly, emptying your mind as much as possible. Then ask the gods/the universe what you should be focusing on in the coming year, and pull a couple of rune stones or tarot cards. Alternately, if you have some ideas but can't narrow them down to three, put all the words or phrases on individual pieces of paper and pull three of them out of a bowl.

Of course, you don't have to use three words. You could use one, or two, or four. The idea is to plant the seeds for your own growth in this quiet time, before the energy shifts and we have to start moving forward more dynamically. Don't limit yourself to small goals either. Think about what you really want, really need to grow and prosper in the year to come. Be your own light of hope, no matter how dark things might be.

And here's hoping that spring comes soon!


  1. I have some ideas already about what I need to grow and prosper in the year to come. And once I get around to really cleaning and organizing my room, I'll even be able to light candles in there!

    1. Excellent! Then you'd better get to that cleaning :-)

      What would your three words be?

  2. How suitable that I decided to take my Christmas tree down on Ground Hog Day this year. (I usually leave it up at least until my birthday near the end of January.) My parents always celebrated Ground Hog Day because it was halfway through winter. I don't think they knew of its pagan origins.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

    1. LOL. Clearly your parents are closet Pagans. I usually take down my evergreen swags and decorative lights on Imbolc. This year I took them down early because I just couldn't take the mess :-)

  3. Hmmm. My three words came out, "focus", "finish" and "fun".

    I need to work on focusing better, finishing things!, and just letting go to have more fun.


  4. Healing, balance, creativity.

    I feel a little bit like a copycat, but that's where I'm at now :)

  5. A little late to the party I know, but I just found this post and I thought I might add my two cents. I only have two words, grow and balance.