6 weeks ago was the winter solstice, in 7 weeks’ time it will be the Spring Equinox. The beauty of the 8fold year is that it transcends religions and culture – it’s a cycle rooted in the realities and wonders of the changing seasons, and our relationship with these changes. We can clothe it in religious or spiritual imagery if we like – with Christian or pagan imagery and associations – but the celebration of these times reaches out to those of all faiths and none.
It offers a structure that supports our experience of life as we travel through time: hand-holds every 6 weeks or so to act as moments when we stop in the headlong rush and renew in our awareness our relationship with the Earth and the natural world. Rather than having just Christmas and the summer holidays as markers for our year, we have a rhythm that is steadier and more frequent, based on our primal experience of light and dark, that affects not only our thoughts and feelings, but also our physiology. As we come to the time of Imbolc, our bodies in the northern hemisphere are reaching a time – 5th February to be exact – when, as we switch from winter mode, we may experience disruption in our sleep or digestion, or susceptibility to infection, aches and pains, and changes in how hot and cold we feel. And this is due to our endocrine and metabolic systems responding to the changing levels of light as we move towards the Spring. If you notice dips in your health at certain times in the year, finding yourself getting autumn or spring colds for example, this could be due to what are known as ‘mid-points’: days during the year at roughly the mid-point between the solstices and equinoxes, when our health becomes more delicate as the seasons change. Rather extraordinarily, these mid-points correlate with the Celtic fire festivals of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, occurring as they do around the 5th of Feb, May, August and November. So here is a phenomenon that links our physiology with these ancient festival times. You can find out more about this here:
So we are at a point in our journey through the year when we are particularly sensitive, vulnerable even, and yet – at the same time – we are starting to emerge out of the cocoon of winter sleep to start opening our petals, our hearts and souls, in the gradually strengthening light of the sun: so a time of vulnerability, sensitivity and a growing strength at the same time. For this reason, the old Celtic attribution of this time to Brighid, the Goddess of Healing, poetry, smithcraft and midwifery is very appropriate. Brighid, who seamlessly morphed into the Christian figure of Saint Brighid, is evoked at this time to offer us healing, to inspire us with poetry, and to help us give birth to ourselves and to new dreams and projects at this time of year.
To tune into the energy of this time, think of childbirth – a moment of both tremendous vulnerability and yet incredible strength as new life bursts forth into the world. This is the feeling to capture: of sensitivity, of the magic of birth – whether of a child or a song – and yet of great inner strength – of fire, of the forge. Remember Brighid is the Goddess of the holy well and the forge!
The Celtic festival of Imbolc (pronounced Imolc Irish, and Imbolc in Scot’s Gaelic) falls around February 1st and the Christian version of this is Candlemas (2nd Feb), when many Christians bring their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year. We have the evidence for the Christian co-opting of pre-Christian customs from a papal bull that ordained: “since the people cannot be stopped parading in the streets with their candles, let them come into our churches so that our priests may bless them.”
So if you are Christian, you can sense this as a celebration of St Brighid and Candlemas, if you are a Pagan you can sense this as a time to honour the Goddess Brighid, and if you have no particular affiliation, you can sense this as a poetic and spiritual recognition of this special time of the year.