I watch the sun on the western horizon all year. Its setting spot barely moves near Solstices, but in February, the sun travels north over the oak and pine canopy in plain sight from my windows. Up close, oak, hickory, and birch leaves cover the forest floor, protecting hidden seeds waiting for warmer days. Tree roots push deep into the soil while sap rises in maple trees. Before long, the days warm, swelling seeds sprout, and a new cycle of life begins
My friend Marge invites me for a drive on a rare sunny day. We hope to see a flock of sheep. We drive on dirt country roads looking for signs of Imbolc, the Celtic name for the earth’s spring quickening. In the windswept field, cream colored sheep with shaggy coats nibble at hay piles provided by the farmer but they prefer the first grass shoots near a stream. Like us, they survived the darkness of winter and long for fresh green.
In the Celtic worlds of Ireland and Scotland, Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day begins at sunrise on February 1, half way between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It’s one of four cross-quarters half way between each solstice and equinox, each honored by pre-Christian Celts. Solstice and equinox mark the movement of the sun in the sky, but the Celtic cross-quarters such as May Day and Lammas (the time of grain harvest) mark Nature’s changing seasons here on earth.
When we see the herd of sheep, my heart fills with joy and hope.
The Celtic pagan goddess Brigid became Saint Brigid after Romans established their religion in Britain between the Third and Sixth Century AD. The history is spotty, but I loved reading what is known in the link in the previous sentence. At Imbolc, the pagan rituals continued as Celts left gifts for Brigid–breads and ale, cloth and ribbons, and Brigid dolls and crosses made of rushes. They visited her sacred wells and collected water to bless their homes.
A huge community fire honored Brigid and celebrated the coming light and warmth. In return, she protected houses and livestock, especially sheep who give birth in spring and produce the first milk. She was celebrated with feasts and taught her devotees the arts of healing and prophecy, including a weather divination with echoes of Groundhog’s Day. In 2023, for the first time, Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland.
Imbolc means “in the belly,” the belly of the earth. Under the forest floor, seeds swell and quicken. In homes, it’s time for deep spring cleaning to remove winter’s death and prepare for new beginnings. It’s time to gather seeds and care for the vulnerable. Imbolc brings me back to a childhood joy of bottle feeding orphaned lambs in my grandpa’s flock.
The light returns, lambs are born, and another cycle of life begins. In a few weeks, Marge and I will check the pregnant bellies in the herd and celebrate this time of promise and hope for those of us in northern lands.
Do you see signs of a changing season in your world? For some, the days are growing shorter and in Western NY, days are growing longer. It’s still winter cold here, but the sun keeps moving north over the forest and the days will warm. What’s the weather report in your world? For other posts about the seasons of my world see Welcoming the Dark Time. Since it’s still cold, I’m also glad to think of the goddess Hestia in Home with Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth. My friend Marge is an example of a woman who knows how to tend the hearth.