Every Year my birthday falls close to the pagan celebration Imbolc (pronounced ee-molc). It’s one of the oldest known Celtic fire festivals and is usually celebrated on February 1 or 2. It’s famously called Groundhog Day in the USA. In the northern hemisphere, it celebrates early signs of spring as it falls half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. For our ancestors, it was a festival to celebrate the end of winter and the start of the agricultural year. It can be the coldest and darkest time of the year, I remember growing up in England, school was often cancelled in the first week (the first week of February) due to heavy snow. Here in Australia, with the days still hot and long, it’s hard to imagine that autumn is just around the corner.
This year I’m paying more attention than usual to this pagan celebration that shares my birthday… Because I’ve had, what I think, is a great idea for a series of short stories. It’s so useful to write short stories while trying to finish long books. Sometimes you just need to put a big book, or a difficult plotting problem to one side and let your creativity flow on something completely new. I don’t do it enough, but I’m feeling pretty excited about this idea 🙂
I usually research too much so I’m trying to restrain myself a little, especially as I’m on a tight deadline to finish editing my non-fiction book about fighting fatigue. The problem with research is… It’s hard to know when to stop! While Imbolc has a long history and its ancient roots are not disputed, some of the beliefs of modern neo-pagans are disputed by historians. That doesn’t mean to say they won’t be a feature in my stories.
A few Imbolc facts and beliefs:
- Imbolc is also called Brigid’s Day, honoring the Celtic goddess of fire, fertility and midwifery.
Some of the pagan fire festivals are famous for their huge communal bonfires. Imbolc tends to be more personal and family centred. Flames tend to be on candles or lamps rather than huge bonfires. Though this image shows enthusiasts enjoying the Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival 2012. In driving snow, torches representing the return of the sun are used in a symbolic battle against winter.
- Imbolc festivals celebrate the awakening of the land and the growing power of the Sun. Traditionally, to honour the sun’s rebirth, people lit every lamp in their home at dusk.
- Some people believe in a triple goddess. Most commonly she is described as the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Each symbolises a separate stage in the female life cycle, a phase of the Moon, and rules either earth, underworld, or heavens. Imbolc marks the transition point of the goddess from Crone to Maiden.
- Modern day Wiccans and witches of all kinds follow customs that combine more ancient folklore with practice and beliefs brought together at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Incense to burn is rosemary, frankincense, myrrh, and cinnamon.
- Besom (a broom made of twigs tied round a stick) and spring flowers such as snowdrops, crocus, and daffodils are traditional decorations, as is a dolly made from corn.
- Celebratory colours are white, representing winter’s cold, brown for the sleeping earth beneath the snow. Orange, red, yellow, and gold are the colors of the growing sun god and of Brigid’s flame.
- The Imbolc celebratory foods I’ve seen mentioned most are sheep’s milk cheese, seeds, raisons and winter vegetables. Meat eaters may look to lamb or mutton.
I’m celebrating my birthday with a reorganised writing and crafting area. (A lovely present from my dear husband – the bookcases from IKEA were cheap and easy to put together but a pain to attach to our brick walls)
The bookcases are large enough to fit my writing as well as my paper crafting supplies, and I now have enough room on the desk to actually do paper crafting! Rejuvenation is totally appropriate for this time of year, I have a feeling I’m quite in tune with the celebration of Imbolc.
I’ll continue with my research, as much as I can while I’m finishing my editing, and be back to write those short stories later in the year 🙂