You may not have heard of Imbolc, but it is still very much celebrated in Ireland at the beginning of February. If you are Irish, or have Irish roots, you may already know all about the Pagan goddess Brigid who was so loved by the people that she was later incorporated into the Christian calendar as St Bridget. She brings fertility to the land and its people, and so has a close connection to midwives and new-born babies. The church celebrates this time with Candlemas on 2nd February and it is easy to see how this came from a much older practice. Observe the sky, even on a snowy day, just as it was yesterday, and we start to feel the light coming in. It is time to let go of the darkness and the past and to look to the future. Clear out the old and make both outer and inner space for new beginnings. Light a candle.
In the Celtic seasonal calendar Imbolc also marks the beginning of the lambing season. It signals the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life; ‘Feile Brighde’, the 'quickening of the year'. The original word ‘Imbolg’ means 'in the belly'. You might notice small signs that the Earth is stirring and seeds are preparing to grow deep within. Look for early bulbs and the way birds seem to sense that the days are lengthening. Even though the light is low, you may feel the promise of renewal, of hidden potential a life-force stirring. It feels like hope. If you have a garden or allotment you will be in tune with this. Make time to go outside and connect with what nature is telling us.
Brigid is also the goddess of hearth and of home. This is perhaps especially relevant to us now as many of us are spending much more time inside than we usually would. It’s a good time to clean the house and decorate it. In Ireland people make special dolls called Bridey dolls or a Brigid cross to put on the mantelpiece and protect the home. It’s also lovely to bring in a vase of snowdrops, a white or green candle or a white feather. (Tradition says it could be a swan’s feather but you may not be able to get hold of one of those!) This spring cleaning of the home also clears the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle. Make a wish, set an intention as you begin your yoga practice.
In your practice you could meditate on the light as you breathe life on the seeds you may have planted at Samhain, when we entered the dark season. There is no need to rush, it is still cold, but we can start to reawaken a little. Feel rested as you listen to the birdsong and know that even if the snow comes again, the cold will pass. The small seeds will start to germinate in time and the growth cycle will start again. I like to meditate on the Earth or even a smooth frozen pool of water, around this time.
This time last year the winter already seemed full of illness and then the pandemic turned our world turned upside down. Instead of the new beginnings we had hoped for, there was a seismic shift, reminding us that we never really know what will happen next. Maybe tuning into the great cycles of the year can help us hold on to hope. Only then can we reach out to those who need us most.