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[Witch Way] Volume #2 Issue #8 -- Imbolc, Return of The Light
January 13, 2010
|Hi, Happy Imbolc!
Welcome back! I hope your Yule, and New Year celebrations were filled with joy and fun.
This is the slow time of the year. All the holiday rush has gone, and it’s still the middle of Winter. People are hibernating in their homes, as best they can. This is the rest, before Spring comes.
At least socially.
Most of the nation has been suffering through bitter cold, for the last week or so. It seems much longer. I have to admit, where I am, the days are getting into the 50’s, and it’s actually very warm. That’s a nice change from most years, where it can get as cold as -20 this time of year.
It’s odd. I always expect bitter temperatures this time of year, because this week Denver hosts the annual National Western Stock Show, which is the largest rodeo and stock show in the country. It is commonly known that Stock Show week is always the coldest week of the year. At least most years.
By this time in the year, we’re all tired of Winter, and ready for Spring. We create myths and rituals to this effect, and to distract us from the fact that there may be 3 feet of snow outside.
Most Americans think that Ground Hog day is a fun little celebration, with no real meaning. We know better. What you may not know is that the ground hog is just one of several creatures said to look for its shadow this time of year.
This month’s Time of The Season talks about Imbolc, and its history, where it came from, and how it was celebrated.
We’re all feeling the effects of the season. It’s early on a Monday morning as I write this, it’s relatively warm outside, with bright sunshine, and yet I’m feeling lethargic. I can’t seem to concentrate, and putting two coherent thoughts together seems to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Up until now, we’ve had various parties and holidays to look forward to. It’s been too busy to even catch your breath. Now, it seems as though there’s nothing to do. Or more to the point, you really don’t feel like doing anything.
This is the time of the year when people get mortally depressed. Suicide rates jump after the first of the year. Everyone feels the effects. It’s after the Holidays, yet before Cabin Fever sets in. You don’t feel like going outside, or even getting out of bed.
All I can tell you is to hold on. Give it another couple of weeks, and it will get better. Depending on where you live, in a couple of weeks, you may find flowers and trees budding.
It’s odd, I was outside the other day, and this time of year I’m used to seeing Canadian Geese flying over, but this year, living closer to the country, I noticed smaller, non-migratory birds singing in the bare trees.
There was a pair of Woodpeckers, pecking at one of the trees, looking for food. Even now, as I write this, I can hear the birds happily chirping outside.
I don’t know if it’s because of where I live now, or if I’ve just never paid attention before, but I’ve never heard birds this early in the year.
Maybe it’s Global Warming, and the seasons really are getting hotter. All I know is that normal signs of Spring are coming out very early this year. With my luck, that means Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow, and we’ll get dumped on, the last few weeks of Winter.
Even with several inches of snow still on the ground, I can’t help but feel like Spring is just around the corner. The days are getting just a little longer. It may only be minutes, but they are longer. The sun is starting to warm up again, the Sun King is growing into His power.
So hang in there just a couple more weeks. Everything will be better, I promise.
A Monthly Column For Astrological Insight
Three things of general astrological significance are occurring from mid-January to mid-February. These are: Mercury going direct, Saturn going retrograde, and a return of the full force of the ongoing Pluto-Saturn square.
Mercury will station Jan. 14th and 15th, going direct on Jan. 16th. Transportation or communication problems that have developed during the Mercury retrograde (starting just after Christmas until the dates above) should resolve themselves at this time.
Saturn will begin its retrograde right as Mercury stations, and during the 14th and 15th they will square each other. What this means for most of us is that this will be an excellent day for planning the “how” of almost anything, but the questions of “why” and “when” may be difficult to answer these two days.
Indecision and the ironing out of logistical details are the likely culprits for being unable to answer “why” and “when,” though the delays won’t be long-lasting. It might be good to plan a fun distraction— a game-day, going to a movie, or going skiing— during one or both of these days, as we may be more prone than at other times to fall into a gloomy “all work and no play” attitude.
Having something to take our minds off of “business” for at least part of the day will probably be a good idea for the 14th and 15th.
Saturn will actually station Jan. 12th and 13th and begin its retrograde on the 14th of January. It will begin its retrograde in early Libra, and come out of retrograde May 31st 2010 in late Virgo.
When it re-enters Virgo in early April some of us may have to confront some unresolved employment or health issues, but the important effect of Saturn’s retrograde from mid-Jan. through mid-Feb. will be the full force return of the square from Pluto in early Capricorn to Saturn in early Libra.
This will be in effect from Jan. 12th through Feb. 16th. Since we can expect much the same effect from this transit now as we could in Nov.-Dec. just past, I’ll quote most of what I wrote in the Nov.-Dec. 2009 column regarding it:
Saturn squaring Pluto is a stressful transit. In this case, it is probably going to involve a perceived lack of resources...Under the influence of this transit, comfortable and luxurious things that people are used to having may suddenly become unavailable, or their availability will seem threatened...many people with long-term financial imbalances may abruptly find them more troublesome during [this transit].
Insolvency—the inability to pay debts with the assets one has—may become an unavoidable issue for many of us during this transit, even if official bankruptcy is avoided. Authority in all its forms (parents, schools, governments, etc.) may have a harder time delivering expected services during this time. While under the stress of this transit, there may be a strong temptation for many of us to cheat in some way to maintain our lifestyle.
During this transit, however, the old saw “cheaters never prosper” is particularly sharp. Trying to get ahead by deception is much more perilous than normal right now, no matter how attractive it seems.
The stress caused by this transit may be the cause for the widespread insomnia that’s been making the news recently. A Pluto-Saturn square can create a sense of continuous grinding tension that persists no matter what a person tries to do about it.
If this transit directly affects a person’s natal chart (making it even more powerful for that person than the general population), then an inability to sleep because of vague tension is quite probable. Insomnia will probably be the worst physical side-effect of this transit for most of us
...The same transit will occur again...August of 2010.
Although this transit is stressful, stress is not all there is to it. Saturn can mean responsibility, and building to last. Pluto often causes buried treasure to surface. Through crisis, Pluto forces many of us to discover that we are better and more resourceful people than we believed ourselves to be.
Although this may be a hard time for many of us, it may also prove to be a period of initiation. As the structures we’ve built to ensure our comfort— and keep us in a state of childlike dependence— become ever more strained during this time, we may find ourselves unexpectedly willing and able to take responsibility in becoming the people we really need to be, rather than the people we expected to be.
We may find ourselves called to grow up in some important ways, and in doing so discover that we prefer adulthood to childhood. Through this process we will become much harder to deceive, and more willing to spend time and energy on the things— and people— that really matter to us.
While this transit has backed off during most of the Christmas season and early January, the stressors it represented before— shrinking budgets, lower than expected employment numbers, smaller sales numbers, and the temptations to use “shortcuts” to get ahead— will probably return with the full force of this transit, from early-mid January through mid-February.
Although the stress will no doubt be unpleasant, it is important to remember the potential for initiation and “growing up” I mentioned above. The key to this is to accept limitations and adapt, rather than try to deny them and defend the status quo. This is not an easy lesson to learn, and is why most of us have to be confronted with a crisis before we learn it.
It’s very easy to be gloomy this time of year, even if the transits that are happening are more pleasant than the ones I listed above. However, good times can still be had if one can shift focus. The emphasis these transits place on the Sign of Capricorn, and on the Planets Saturn and Pluto, make us very conscious of where we are limited and powerless in our lives.
They incline us to look at life as black-and-white, with a little too much emphasis on the black parts. The trick is to shift focus toward acceptance, compromise and The Big Picture. It then becomes easier to remember then that Winter is a season, and that like all seasons it has its place.
And its end.
NOTE: This is not a typical “horoscope” reading, breaking astrological influences down by Sign for a given period of time. The information in this column should apply to most people, most of the time. If you have any questions, or want specific personalized information on how what’s going on in the heavens affects you, contact Jim Trader.
Time Of The Season
The first Sabbat of the new year is Imbolc. Imbolc is a Celtic word meaning “In the belly”, a euphemism for pregnancy. The older term spelled Oimelc, means “ewe’s milk”. While spelled differently, both words are pronounced the same, and refer to the time of the year when ewes begin lactating in preparation for lambing.
This event was important for several reasons. By this point, the Winter stores of food were growing very thin. Ewe’s milk provided the needed sustenance to allow people to survive, it also foretold the coming rebirth of plant and animal in the coming Spring.
Imbolc is celebrated on February 2nd, half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Originally this Sabbat was dedicated to the Celtic Goddess, Brigid (pronounced Breed), but was Christianized into St Brigid’s Day.
Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.
Fire and purification is an important aspect of this Holiday. Brigid is the Goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. She is also associated with Holy Wells, and Sacred Flames. It is this aspect of Sacred Flames and Smithcraft that is probably the basis of how the Sabbat is celebrated.
To early cultures that learned how to work metal, the craft of metal smithing was a magickal act. You took rock from the ground, and with fire, and hammering, you transformed it into metal, which was harder than antler and could be used for digging or ploughing, it was more durable than leather, used as armor, and it could be pointed and edged, and used as a weapon.
Imbolc is celebrated by the lighting of candles and fires. These sacred Flames are both representative of the fire used to forge metal, and the returning warmth of the sun as Spring grows near. Traditionally a maiden is chosen to play the part of Brigid, and she wears a crown of burning candles to represent the Sacred Flame.
On this day, there is no such thing as too much fire. Every candle in the house will be lit. Cook fires, and bonfires rage far into the night. This is a form of sympathetic magick. The more fire there is, the warmer it becomes, the more like Spring it gets.
Americans all understand the significance of Groundhog Day. If the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, it’s much too sunny for the time of season, and so there will be 6 more weeks of Winter. This comes from the tradition of watching for snakes and badgers to come out of their burrows. Weather prediction at this Sabbat is an ancient tradition.
Imbolc is the first of three fertility Sabbats, celebrating the first buds of nature, and birth of animals in the fields. Both were extremely important to ancient cultures. The budding plants would eventually bear fruits, berries, leaves or roots that could be harvested and eaten, and later seeds and nuts that could be stored for the Winter.
The births of domesticated herd animals meant that people would have meat during the year, without the need to go out and hunt for it. This was significant because you never knew if a hunt would be successful, but as long as you had extra, you could always catch and slaughter a relatively tame animal.
This was the time when the earliest flowers bloom, Crocuses and Snowdrops, as well as other early spring bulbs. Buds appear on tree branches, and you can easily tell which trees made it through the Winter snows, and which ones didn’t.
This is also the time when preparations for the coming growing season are started. Pruning, early ploughing, and starting seedlings inside are all done between Imbolc and Ostara.
One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan homes on St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid's Bed. The girls and young, unmarried women of the household or village create a corn dolly to represent Brigid, called the Brideog ("little Brigid" or "young Brigid"). It is adorned it with ribbons and baubles like shells or stones.
They make a bed for the Brideog to lie in. On St. Brigid's Eve (January 31), the girls and young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the Brideog, and are visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home.
This was a way for young men and women of a community to come together and get to know each other. Since most people old enough to work the fields were busy all day every day during the Spring and Summer, and everyone stayed indoors during Winter, they didn’t have time to date as we know it today.
This was a way to let young people meet and fall in love. It is from the name of Breed, that we get the term for a woman on her wedding day…the Bride.
On the following day, the girls carry the Brideog through the village or neighborhood, from house to house, where this representation of the Goddess is welcomed with great honor.
Adult women — those who are married or who run a household — stay home to welcome the Brigid procession, usually with an offering of coins or a snack.
Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year.
In this way, she is very much like Persephone, who spends the Winter months in the underworld, with her husband Hades, then comes back to her mother in the Spring, thus causing the changing of the seasons.
Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc eve. Before going to bed, each member of the household may leave a piece of clothing or strip of cloth outside for Brigid to bless. The head of the household will smother (or "smoor") the fire and rake the ashes smooth.
In the morning, everyone looks for any marks on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or early morning. The clothes or strips of cloth are brought inside, and believed to have powers of healing and protection.
Imbolc is the day that the Cailleach — the hag of Gaelic tradition — gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood.
Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. This too may have been an influence on the American Groundhog Day, where it is believed that if the ground hog sees his shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of Winter.
Imbolc is usually celebrated by modern Pagans on February 1 or 2nd in the northern hemisphere, and August 1 or 2nd in the southern hemisphere. Some Neopagans time this celebration to the solar midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which now falls later in the first week or two of February.
Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is most likely that the holiday would be celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, or when the primroses, dandelions, or other spring flowers rise up through the snow, or when the sun aligned with the passage tombs among the pre-Celtic megaliths.
Imbolc is the time for starting new things that you have planned through the Winter. It is traditionally the time when new Witches Initiate into their study of the Craft.
It is a time of increased activity, making the physical preparations that will ensure a successful year. This is not just for those close to the land. Imbolc is the time when you start all the things you want to do during the rest of the year. It is the time of beginnings.
Imbolc at its core, is the presence of the fire of life, making itself known again after the dangerous time of being dormant over the long cold Winter. The masculine gender of the animals, including humans, start to feel that rush of hormones, that need to mate, even if they are not consciously aware of it.
It is the first signs of the returning warmth of Spring, and all the promise that holds. Winter is finally ending, but Spring has yet to unfold. It is that in between time that is so magickal. You can see it in the plants and animals, you can smell it in the air, and you can feel it in the breeze. Spring is almost here.
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Until next month, may you be blessed in all that you do, or as we usually say,
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