Some people love winter. I am not one of those people. I quietly celebrated the winter solstice last month. I was overjoyed that we were on the other side of winter and the days would now grow longer. The celebration was astronomically supported, but optimistic in light of the actual conditions. July has been bitterly cold.
Winter and spring are battling it out. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that, on the right, the sun shone high in a clear and crisp blue sky. On the left, angry grey clouds threatened to dump cold rain on pedestrians. The sun is shining everywhere today.
It’s been a winter of discontent. After five years, I’m not accustomed to the cold, and I’ve had a rough few months, but spring is coming.
In the Northern Hemisphere, as the wheel of the year turns towards the autumn, Pagans are observing the holiday Lughnassadh. Historically celebrated throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of man, this festival was observed halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, and marked the beginning of the harvest. On the Wiccan ritual calendar, it is celebrated on 1 August. In the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans divorce our seasonal holidays from their calendar dates. As 1 August approaches, we celebrate not Lughnassadh, but Imbolc.
Also a Gaelic festival, Imbolc occurs halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is a celebration of the lengthening days and early signs of spring. Imbolc belongs to the goddess Brigid. She’s associated with the spring, the hearth, fires, fertility, healing, smithcraft, and poetry.
Imbolc offers a perfect opportunity to make a fresh start. Here are a few ideas for coming out of the darkness and giving way to the spring.
1. Clean your space
Gretchen Rubin says, “Outer order contributes to inner calm”. That’s true for me. When I can’t find something, I clean. When I have writer’s block, I clean. When I can’t think, I clean. When I feel overwhelmed or unmotivated, I clean. I clean and I get rid of clutter. I donate clothes, books, and other items I no longer need or haven’t used in a long time. I feel better when there are fewer items around me.
Clean your living space, open the windows, and let the sunshine and fresh air in. If you have an area dedicated to your spirituality, such as a meditation space or an altar, definitely clean that.
2. Cleanse your self
Take stock and review the lessons that winter taught you. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and let go. Take a long, relaxing, cleansing bath. Reboot your fitness, yoga, or meditation practice. Pamper yourself with a massage, a facial, a manicure and pedicure.
3. Honour the goddess Brigid
As previously mentioned, Imbolc is associated with the goddess Brigid. It was believed that she visited virtuous households and blessed its inhabitants. Brigid represents the light half of the year and the power that brings people out of the darkness. To receive her blessings, people made Brigid’s crosses and dolls, made a bed for her, and left offerings of food and drink. Candles and bonfires were lit to represent the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun. People also visited sacred wells and made offerings of coins and clooties.
Pagans around the world continue these traditions today. Some Christians do too because Brigid was either Christianised as St. Brigid or her attributes were grafted onto the real woman, if she existed.
Your mileage may vary. If Brigid isn’t part of your spiritual pantheon, honour the spirits and gods that are.
Imbolc is a festival so be festive! Buy fresh flowers. Make a special meal or go out to dinner. If the weather is pleasant, go for a country drive or bushwalking, a stroll in the park, or on a picnic. If you pass a fountain, make a wish and toss a coin in.
Imbolc is associated with the onset of the lambing season. The etymology of Imbolc is unclear, but possible origins include “in the belly”, which refers to the pregnancy of ewes, as well as “ewe’s milk”. This gives us insight as to what kind of food and drink to partake of and offer.
We’re four months away from the new year. You might be thinking that this is a strange time to set new goals. In the Northern Hemisphere, Imbolc comes just a month into the New Year. That seems like a more auspicious time for a holiday about beginnings, fertility, and birth. But you don’t have to wait until the New Year rolls around to set new goals or revive old ones. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is coming now! Reboot your diet, your wardrobe, or your goals. Why do you need to wait four months to start living your best life?
The idea of making a fresh start sounds a little strange. We can’t step outside of ourselves and there are no do-overs. We are all starting where were are, but the spring brings a vibrant energy that can lift and propel us somewhere new and different. Where do you want to go?