Monday 1 February 2016

Imbolc and the first stirrings of spring

Imbolc (pronounced i-molk or i-molg), also called Brigid’s Day or St Brighid’s Day, is a Celtic cross-quarter festival marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. As the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, the festival would probably have been celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, which this year falls on the 24th January. The astrological point of Imbolc, when the sun reaches 15 degrees of Aquarius, falls on the 4th - but most people tend to celebrate on the 1st-2nd  - or, if you’re living in the southern hemisphere, you’ll celebrate this anywhere between the 1st and 4th of August!

The name ‘Imbolc’ comes from the old Irish “i mbolg”, meaning “in the belly”, referring to the time of year when sheep and goats are pregnant, carrying their young.   Other etymology includes “oimelc”, meaning “ewe’s milk”, a reference to the onset of lactation in ewes about to give birth. Fire and purification have played important roles in this festival throughout the ages, with celebrations involving hearth fires, bonfires and the lighting of candles to represent the return of light and warmth to the land. It’s also traditionally a time of weather divination, with people watching for serpents or badgers (or groundhogs!) emerging from their winter dens.

For me, the most potent sign of this time of year is the emergence of the snowdrops – that sight always lifts my heart, and gives me a sense of hope.  One of the first things I do when I move somewhere new is to ensure that I plant snowdrops in the autumn so that I have this to look forward to during those short dark days.  

The card in the tarot that symbolizes that hope and optimism is, of course, The Star – the card that’s linked, astrologically, to the sign of Aquarius (which we entered on the 20th January).  I wrote about this a few days ago - click here to see this post.

The Ancestor (trimmed): Wildwood Tarot
The Wildwood Tarot (Mark Ryan-John Matthews-Will Worthington, published by Connections) connects strongly to the Wheel of the Year, and starts its ‘journey’ at Imbolc, so it feels appropriate to look at the cards they assign to this festival – the Ancestor (5) and the Pole Star (17). Both cards, then, are linked to beginnings and to the “guidance systems” we have available to us – the Ancestor representing our inner ones, the Pole Star the outer.  
The Pole Star (trimmed): Wildwood T arot
In some ways, the Wildwood’s accompanying book’s description of the Pole Star (a symbol of “universal law, spiritual knowledge and power”) is not unlike the way I think about the traditional Hierophant. What brings it back to the traditional meaning of the Star, for me, is the idea of universal knowledge being a web – a very Aquarian concept

Daughter of Cups in the South (trimmed):
Haindl Tarot
The Haindl Tarot’s Daughter of Cups is represented by Brigid. Talk about being hit over the head by the cards!  This really speaks to what it is within me that longs to do – to allow my creativity and intuition greater freedom to explore...  And I have the wisdom I’ve gained from past experience (the Ancestor) and the guiding light with which I can navigate into the future (the Pole Star) to help me with this birth. The birth of hope and optimism, and the reminder not to be so cynical and jaded about the state of the world!  

Haindl Tarot created by Hermann Haindl, published by US Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections

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