The year starts to turn in February. Outside it may still be cold and damp, dreary and dark but there are signs that life will begin again. The first flowers, crocuses, snowdrops, aconites are stoically pushing up through the hard earth. Brave buds are forming on the trees. Tractors buzz around the fields spreading muck and ploughing the earth in dark deep furrows. In the native American system the Renewal Time gives way to the Cleansing Time -the world is being purified, perfected before the cycle of life starts all over again. February starts with the great Celtic festival of Imbolc or Candlemas. It falls on February 2nd and the word actually derives from “sheep’s milk” because in the olden days the first lambs were not born until after the festival.
Although we do not commonly celebrate it nowadays Imbolc is a lovely festival and one worthy of resurrection. In the pagan calendar it is very important, as an old friend of mine, the pagan priestess Shan explains: “It is the festival of hope, of trust, of dreaming of better times to come. Everything around us is black and cold but under the earth the new seeds are stirring.” She celebrates the festival by lighting lots of little candles or tiny nightlights to symbolize the “tiny hopes and dreams that keep us going when life is hard.”
Children are given tiny gifts which I think is a lovely idea – children love festivals and for young minds which only have the memory of a few years it often seems like a very long time from Christmas to Easter. Little Imbolc gifts can bridge the gap.
Adults, says Shan, should allow themselves some serious pampering around this time – “Have a massage, a sauna, a new hairstyle or a manicure,” she suggests. I’d certainly agree with that. I’m a bit lax when it comes to beautifying but, come February, I suddenly get the overwhelming urge for a facial (preferably something involving delicious aromatherapy and a neck massage) or a decadent pedicure (so what that no-one will see your toes under all those woolly socks – it just feels so good).
Above all else, Imbolc is a festival of trust – life may have seemed dead and ended to our ancestors but they held onto their faith that the sun would return and the fields return to abundance. While we do not have those immediate pressing worries, we still need trust in our lives. Imbolc is about keeping faith – in ourselves, in those we love and in the world to provide what we need. Shan also suggests that Imbolc is a good time to indulge in dreams. “Even if you have been hurt or let down, the one thing no-one can take away from you are your dreams,” she says, “when the outer part of your life seems difficult or is not helping you, go to the inner part of life. Renew yourself with dreaming. By dreaming you will begin to bring the outer world back to you.”
I think those are very wise words. At this time of year it can be tough to go out there and fight the world, to take life head-on. Sometimes we need to hide away a little, to retreat and nourish our inner world. Which is why this time of year can be the perfect time to get away, to escape. It’s a good time to have a holiday in the sun. But equally it can be a wonderful time simply to take time out, to stop the world and retreat.
This is taken from my book The Natural Year – click here for the Kindle version.
Main image is Imbolc by Coreline – coreline.deviantart.com