Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Celebrating Imbolc

Okay, so one of my resolutions, as you have seen, is to celebrate the 8 sabbats. For those reading who do not know, I'm a baby pagan, and for some (but certainly not all) pagans there are 8 times of the year that are considered sacred.  We have the four Quarter days which mark the equinoxes and the solstices (which show the progression of the Wheel of the Year and the seasons and all the good nature stuff that our society tends to forget). Those days are Ostara (Vernal Equinox), Litha or Midsummer (Summer Solstice), Mabon (Autumnal Equinox) and Yule (Winter Solstice).  Then there are the Cross-Quarter Days, or the four Fire Festivals. Those Festivals are Beltaine (or May Day), Lughnasadh (August 1st), Samhain (Halloween), and Imbolc (the christian version is called Candlemas). Now, not EVERY pagan celebrates EVERY Sabbat, but as my spiritual life begins to blossom I've decided to take an active role in each of the Sabbats.  I feel like doing this will increase my religious/spiritual knowledge.  I don't want to be one of those people who says "Oh yeah, I'm Pagan/Christian/Jewish/pick a religion, but I don't really practice." I feel like that's a cop-out. Spirituality should be active!  I don't think you should believe something blindly, and I feel like a lot of people say they are a part of a religion because someone tells them to, not because they actually believe in the tenets of their faith or because they have a deep knowledge and connection to it.  That drives me crazy!  It's like when someone says they're Christian, but they don't read the bible, don't go to church, don't do any Christian activities or even know the 10 commandments. You can believe in a Christian God if you want, but if you wanna call yourself a Christian, you gotta do some of the work! But I digress. I want to be the kind of person that seeks out spiritual truths, not just sits there like a bump on a log. So I'm gonna learn more about these Holidays-- why they are celebrated, how they are celebrated, etc-- and I'm gonna celebrate all of them.  And the first one coming up is Imbolc.

Winter is Not Forever.

Okay, so.... what is it?  This was the first question I asked myself.  The second was why do we celebrate it? And the third was how does this relate to me and my own spiritual practice? Well.... I don't know!  I've looked through my books on the Sabbats and scoured the interwebs for relevant info, and I've been left feeling unsatisfied with the results. There is a plethora of information of what Imbolc WAS-- How the ancient Celts celebrated the beginnings of spring and the lactation of the ewes with a fire festival to Brighid-- but this doesn't necessarily tell me what Imbolc IS. For me. And people like me. I mean, lets be honest, I don't have any lactating ewes in my backyard. (Bonus question: when do ewes begin to lactate anyway? Is it really in February or is this a case of calendrical mishap? Wouldn't be the first time coughcoughCHRISTMAScoughcough.) The closest I've come in contact with any kind of lactating animal was when my friend's goat gave birth in high school (sad note: they eventually got eaten in the night by mountain lions).  And to the best of my knowledge I don't live in the British Isles, so I'm not even geographically close to where the ancient Celts once feasted in honor of Brighid, a goddess I only vaguely understand to be pretty important in the Celtic pantheon. I'm not even sure if I feel comfortable venerating a specific pantheon in the first place!

That is not my backyard and that animal is NOT mine!

So you can see how this research left me feeling unsatisfied.  How can this be a holiday when I feel like it isn't relevant to me in any way?  I needed a change in perspective.  Why is Imbolc an important part of the natural cycle? What stage in the process of this "circle of life" pagans love so much does Imbolc fall into?  I had to set myself onto the wheel: we've just celebrated Yule, the winter solstice; that means the days are becoming increasingly longer, which means we are making our way out of winter and into spring, but we're not out of the wood yet, so to speak. However, we're getting little hints that spring is coming; longer days, a little bit more sun, increasing temperatures, maybe a little green under all that snow (if you live in the Bay Area, all this is moot; we don't have real seasons). It's not spring yet, but you can feel it coming on. Maybe, if you just hold on and keep your spirits up, it will feel like its coming faster (that's what she said). So why not have a celebration of those 'little hints'?  Why not give thanks for the hope those hints provide?

I'm still not sure how Brighid fits into all this, but perhaps that's an issue of historical ignorance on my part, and not because someone back in the day just threw her in there for shits and giggles. In any case, this is all a work in progress.  I'm merely being a critical thinker-- shouldn't we all think critically about our faith?

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