We have reached the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Today we celebrate the beginning of the beginning of spring.
I am told that the North American celebration of Groundhog Day was established in Pennsylvania, with the help of a newspaper story, in 1887. It is said to be an adaptation of a German tradition, where it was a Badger, I am told, who poked its head out of the ground to check to see if it's time yet to come out of a long winter's nap.
I began to feel it last weekend, the instinct that it’s time for deep cleaning on the inside, and deep cleaning on the outside. It's accompanied by a need to increase the greens in my day: more greens in the stir fry, more greens in the soup, and double the greens in my favourite Indian-style lentil dish. This weekend, I will order my seeds for the garden, and plant some microgreens to grow under the grow lights.
We will celebrate Imbolc - the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox - this Sunday, February 3rd at 11:31 pm AST. We will have officially have crossed the line, the beginning of the end of the winter that is the beginning of the beginning of spring.
The German tradition of the badger was part of the old celebration of Candlemas, a Christian term given to an old celebration of the return of the sun and the season of spring. This time of year was known as Lupercalia to the Romans, Sul-Minerva to the ancient Brits, and Imbolc – Brigid’s day – for the ancient Celts. There are Neolithic megalithic stone structures which mark the light of the rising sun on this day: the astrological midpoint between the equal night and equal day in the arriving season of spring, and – in the north – the deepest, coldest, darkest days of the year. It is one of the cross-quarter days between the four major points in the wheel of the year.
Imbolc: I am told that the word means “in the belly”.
It marked the beginning of lambing season in Old Celtic culture, and it comes with the sense that somehow everything is pregnant, with this sense of possibility and expectancy. Yet it’s only just visible, if visible at all, like the gentle curve of a just showing pregnancy. It is a promise of renewal, of hidden potential, and a quickening.
It is this sense of quickening that most speaks to me, the time of the quickening of the year. The sap of the trees - and somehow the sap of me - pulls in in the midwinter season. We hold the seeds underground - and we heal, and we nurture, and we rest, and we dream - but now the days are getting longer.
It's like the pulse of the earth has begun to quicken, and my sap begins to flow again a little bit more vividly. Here, in eastern Canada, before too long it will be time to tap the maple trees so that we can make maple syrup, because the sap has begun to flow again at this time of the beginning of the beginning of spring.
Sometimes this word “Imbolc” is said to derive from an old Irish word for “milk”. The lambs and cattle are pregnant with the spring, and lambing season means that the ewes are lactating. It's possible again to have new milk, so special cheeses and the churning of butter was part of the celebration of Imbolc, as if now it was possible to let go of what we were holding back. It is time to just let things flow again.
The days get longer, the light gets brighter, and it brings with it the hope and potential of being born freshly with the rebirth of the year.
Imbolc is associated with the Celtic goddess Bridget who will enter into Christian tradition as Saint Bridget. The Celtic goddess in her maiden form of the sun: it is said that she spread her green cloak across the land releasing it from the grip of winter. So light, and heat, illumination, blazing bonfires, hearth fires, candles and food symbolizing the power of the sun are part of the celebration.
As we cross the line out of the grip of winter and into the hope of spring, it's a time for ritually burning off and releasing the old year: a shedding of skin, and a letting go of what is gone. It is time for making space in the inside, and space on the outside, for nourishing the new.
It is the time of quickening, to wake up the dormant seeds that have lain inside of us in wait for their time to come, and as the sun gets stronger, and the days get longer, somehow we are also called to awaken to being alive in a fresh and new way. A time for the birth of new possibilities, new ideas, and new thoughts as we are reborn from the seeds of our past. With the turning of the wheel of the year, somehow we, ourselves, also reborn in a new way.
The earth is quickening, and our transformation also accelerates. We stoke our fires to burn off the old year, and invite the new and fresh potential of the life-giving strength that comes with the return of the sun.
My mind began to feel it last weekend. There was a sense of “why hasn't this happened yet?” and “why hasn't that happened yet?”. This seed of possibility that I know is just lying there, why isn’t it sprouting?
Like the year, we are all somehow pregnant with the potential of what our lives will show themselves to be for us, in this time of rebirthing, as we poke our heads out of the ground, and look about, checking to see if we see our shadows or if we see the sun.
Is it time to wake up yet? Is it time to go back to healing, nourishing, resting ,and the growing that can happen under wraps underground? The beginning of the beginning of spring: we have crossed the line in that space in-between.
It can be deeply nourishing to notice this, and to make space to help our lives to come into harmony with the great cycles of the nature of which we are apart. It can be soothing, and harmonizing, nurturing and strengthening, to somehow more deeply feel home as together we follow the pathway of the sun. It helps to connect us with the cycles of the earth, and to remember the cycles of the ancestors who have shared with us in this experience of following the pathway of the sun.
So, if you would like to give pause and celebrate, you can look up online to discover when is the astrological midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox where you are now, or the midpoint between the summer solstice and the fall equinox if you are south of the equator.
Personally, I like to witness it. It's like being in conversation with the flow of things, and if you can feel your heartbeat and feel the blood pulsing through your veins, it's quite possible that you'll feel it when we cross the line and begin the beginning of spring.
It is the tradition of Candlemas to light all the candles. Whether you do it at the moment of change itself, or at some other time this weekend - and even if it's only for a brief time - light all the candles. Turn the lights on in all the rooms. If you're feeling it, build a big fire in the hearth, if you have one, or a bonfire on the beach, if you're there. The return of the sun is celebrated with fire and light.
In some cultures pancakes - golden and round - are symbols of the sun and form part of the feasting quality of the celebration of Imbolc or Candlemas. Spring cleaning certainly is also part of this time. I think this weekend I'm going to make sure it's a clean and fresh fridge, and discover what I can either burn through, or let go of on that list of undone things.
Can we eliminate from our lives the things that weight us down or hold us back - old clothes and old dreams - and make space, inside and out, for new beginnings.
If you're thinking of the feast, it would often include warming spices. If you'd like, perhaps you can mull some cider or wine; enjoy spicy foods like curries ,or soups with onions and leeks. The potential of seeds is part of it. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds could be included as part of the feast, and by tradition there would be cakes with fruit and nuts, for nuts, of course, are seeds. If someone in your world enjoys dairy, in the time of lambing season and fresh milk, by tradition there would be butter and cheese: I'm sure the grandmothers would be just fine if it's almond milk or cashew cheese.
To live in a world where time is round is to know how to pass from one season to the next, to harvest in the time of the harvest, and to prepare for the planting of seeds.
I am told that ancient alchemists described the climactic day of an experiment - when base metals were being transmuted into gold - as being a day of projection. This is that time in the year.
In my neck of the woods, the spring equinox – the quarter day of equal night and equal day - will come March 20th at 6:58 in the evening, in the north in Atlantic Standard Time. We have from now until then to choose, to foster and to nourish, the seeds that we will plant.
It's a time of personal transformation when we are, in a sense, pregnant with ourselves, a period of projection when the dreaming of dreams that happened through the winter begins to take form.
For me, this is perhaps the most meaningful part of the celebration of Imbolc. There might be cardamom in the coffee, or Indian style ginger tea, perhaps some kind of a loaf or cake with fruit, and spices, and nuts. Perhaps it will be a weekend to enjoy camembert or brie, or some other kind of special and festive cheese, and a conscious enjoyment of butter or ghee. Yet, as I light the candles and reflect on a clean fresh house - and the beginning of the beginning of spring - it is most deeply a time of projection, of setting intentions, of the making of wishes…for this is the season when wishes come true.
Copyright © 2019, Adela Sandness