Sometimes there’s so much excitement around an idea that we kind of short-circuit because we’ve got so much swirling in our head and heart and body. One definition of energy is “the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.” We’ve got to have a plan for harnessing and directing all that swirls.

Just like having the reins of a spirited horse in your hands, you’ve got to say “Whoa… steady… “ Like all things, it’s a practice. I’m still working on sitting still a little more, so I can let that energy and excitement flow more evenly, over a longer period of time.

Imbolc is about the awakening potential all around us. I’m giving you some of the fascinating history of the holiday, along with ideas for making your Imbolc altar. Grab hold of those reins… Steady as she goes.

>All my love, always.

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Celebrated on February 1st, Imbolc marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Its historical place in the Wheel of the Year is consistent with all the other holidays in its ancient origination within the natural cycles of life on Earth. What is happening in late winter? Animals, and possibly humans, are responding to natural mating urges. Yes! It’s time to think about growing new life.

The origins of the word Imbolc are dependent upon various scholars’ interpretations. The most common meanings are derived from Irish history. Referring to the pregnancy of ewes, and from the Old Irish “i mbolc,” the term translates to “in the belly.” The other, believed origin is the Old Irish “imb-fholc,” which means “to wash or cleanse oneself.” This is a reference to a spiritual or ritual cleansing, not simply one’s regular daily washing.

The most ancient rituals for Imbolc centered around the goddess Brigid. Hers was a connection with spring, fertility, healing, metal smithing, fire, hearths, and poetry. Cormac’s Glossary, a text written by 10th century Christian monks, regarding Brigid reads—”the goddess whom poets adored.” This pays tribute to her being known and admired as a woman of wisdom and care.

Brigid’s roots are found in pagan Ireland. She is daughter to the god Dagada, known as the Red Fire of All Knowledge. Her association with fire and also the sun, are reflected in the reverence paid her at this time of year as the sun shines longer each day. Her internal fire is one of creativity, which sets the heart ablaze through poetry and song, while lighting up the mind via the crafts of science and alchemy.

Nuns in Kildare, Ireland during the early Christian era, tended a perpetual flame for Saint Brigid, a woman born in 5th century Ireland (long after Goddess Brigid) and later sainted. Many believe this was simply a continuation of the pre-Christian practice of women tending a flame in honor of the goddess Brigid. Christian faiths later marked February 2nd as Candlemas and tied the holiday to Saint Brigid as a form of syncretism—combining different beliefs.

Wherever you set it, an altar is an intimate expression of your experience with this celebration. Here are a few items specific to the Imbolc altar. There are no rules, only suggestions based on those who have come before us:

  • A cloth of white or silver for purity, green, or patterned with flowers for renewal.
  • Items to represent all the elements—earth, air, fire, water. Some soil, a feather, your candle, & a small bowl of water are simple selections.
  • Pots of blooming snowdrops. Vases of angelica, bay laurel, eucalyptus.
  • Imbolc symbols—a hearth’s cauldron, candles, sheep, cows, swans.
  • Symbolic spices & seeds—ginger, coltsfoot, blackberry, poppy seeds.
  • Stones of amethyst, bloodstone, turquoise.
  • Wheat sheafs tied with white ribbon, or woven into a Brigid’s Cross.
  • Personal spiritual items such as deities, amulets, talismans, or images.
  • Something to represent both the feminine & masculine.

Above all, make it a delight to gather items and create your altar. Simple is lovely. As is over-the-top elaborate. Let it be who you are.

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