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Imbolc: The first signs of spring

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By Special to the Monitor

Looking for an escape from “The Big Game” Sunday? Looking for something different? Well, Sunday just happens to be when the Wiccan holiday of Imbolc will be celebrated in Los Alamos.

Imbolc, Imbolg, Oimelc or Candlemas are all names for the ancient Celtic Sabbat celebrating the first fertility festival of the year. Literally translated “Oimelc” means “ewe’s milk,” and “Imbolc” translates into “in the belly” referring to the ewe’s pregnancy. This would be the time of year when the new lambs would be born.

While spring would still be quite some time away, in Celtic lands, some definite signs are signaling spring’s approach. Along with the imminent birth of lambs, the days are noticeably longer and slightly warmer.

 "Imbolc is a time of hope and new beginnings, as the first crocuses and snowdrops peek out from beneath winter’s mantle of snow, promising spring and warm weather to come,” Azrael of Our Lady of the Woods said. “In New Mexico, we often enjoy some mild weather before spring officially arrives with the winds of March. But those winds are still in the future, so we look to the early signs of spring. We light candles to encourage the sun to gain in strength as the days lengthen and celebrate with Brigit’s ale and cheese and dark bread. Come celebrate with us on Feb. 1.”

Imbolc is called a “Cross Quarter” in the Wiccan Wheel of the year, with the Equinoxes and Solstices being the Quarters. It is generally celebrated on Feb. 2.

 “I especially like Imbolc because it not only signifies spring is on the way, but I can actually see the days are longer,” said Mist, Our Lady of the Wood priestess. “The dark of winter is not something I particularly like.”

This was a time that was commonly used for weather divining and may have been the original inspiration for Groundhog Day. The date was originally dedicated to the Goddess Brigid, pronounced Bree-hid, although it was later known as St. Brigit’s Day when the religious landscape of the area changed. Brigid was a much beloved goddess and as such would not fade into the Pagan background, so, Her followers transferred the attributes of the Goddess Brigid to St. Brigit, or The Goddess Brigit to the Saint Brigid, or Bride or Brid. In working with old Irish/Celtic names translations can be difficult.

Fire and purification are important parts of this Solar Sabbat. It is a good time for cleaning house and rededicating your ritual tools.

"Many people believe the custom of spring cleaning came from this day" Rowan of Our Lady of the Woods said, "back in the days when you heated your home and cooked with an open fire the house really needed a good airing out when weather permitted".

 Brigid is the goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft, also wells and sacred flames, and was referred to as “the Triple Goddess of Ireland.” The flame at one of Her holy sites, Kildare in Ireland, was just rekindled recently, its fire burning as a constant reminder of the Goddess. “Being a healer and working in the healthcare field, Brigid has been a personal goddess to me. I look to her for strength, compassion and guidance all year round,” said Angus Medwolf Greyspirit, a Registered Nurse and local Pagan.

In one activity related to Candlemas, all lights and flames in the home and hearth are extinguished, then relit. Another custom is to prepare a bed for the goddess and make a corn dolly to represent Brigid. This is placed next to the hearth so the goddess will be with you in your home.

Our Lady of the Woods Coven will hold a public celebration of the Festival of Imbolc at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Los Alamos Unitarian Universalist church. The Ritual will be followed by a potluck. Bring a dish to pass, if possible.