Hello and welcome to the final episode of January 2022. We are one twelfth of the way through this year already. How has the year treated you so far? Well I spent about two weeks of the year just absolutely sick as hell, and of course Mercury and/or Venus have been in retrograde the entire time, so that kind of blows, but we will get a bit of a reprieve next week on February 3rd when Mercury stations direct. So that’ll be nice.
We also have Imbolc to look forward to next week on February 1st, so that’s what we are going to talk about today. Imbolc doesn’t really get a lot of attention, at least compared to the more glamorous sabbats like Ostara, or even Beltane. But I love Imbolc. It’s one of the Celtic fire festivals, and it is a pagan celebration of light and growth and fertility. It takes place about halfway between Yule, or the winter solstice and Ostara, which is the spring equinox. It’s just a little reminder in these cold, gray, bleak winter days, that spring is in fact coming.
Agriculturally, this is the time of year when the sheep begin lambing and the cows begin calving, in fact the name Imbolc is thought by some scholars to literally translate to ewe’s milk. Gardeners, such as myself, will begin to start seeds for certain crops that are slow growers, like tomatoes and tomatillos. Which I will start indoors this weekend. We have also begun cleaning and clearing out the garden to prepare and plan out this year’s garden. Little indicators of spring will begin to show. Days are getting a little longer, even if it’s still brutally cold most days. It’s just a celebration of possibility.
This is why Imbolc is associated with the Maiden aspect of the triple goddess archetype. And I tend to think that the maiden doesn’t get enough respect or attention, as compared to the Mother or the Crone. The Maiden represents enchantment, inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, youth and youthful enthusiasm, and is represented by the waxing moon. And that’s something to be respected. When I think about who I was when I was like 15, 16 years old, it’s kind of easy to think of all the ways I was wrong about life.
I had so many ideas about what I was going to do with myself, how the world worked, what kind of career I would have, what kind of adult I would be, all that stuff. When we’re young, idealistic teenagers we really think we have a handle on the world, you know, we really feel confident that the adults around us are idiots, and we are going to do things better than they have done them. Rather than thinking of this aspect of ourselves as foolish or naive, or even innocent, I like to think of this as hopeful.
Because you know what? 16 year old me was not wrong. I was optimistic, certainly, but I ended up pretty close to where I hoped I would be, in a lot of aspects of my life. And if I had been jaded and pessimistic and fatalistic and said to myself, well all your plans are stupid and unrealistic and statistically unlikely and you better just do things the way your mother did them because at least you know how things will turn out, well then, I wouldn’t have had all the successes or the failures that have made me into the person I am today.
And the person I am today, it has to be said, is so different to who I was when I was 16 and of course different to what I had planned. But that’s the point. Are there things I wish 16 year old Eli would have done differently? Well, sure. God, yes. When I get in my own head sometimes and think back to some of the things I did at 16, 18, 20, 22, I want to scream. But in addition to thanking my younger self for blazing the trail that got me to where I am today, I also have to forgive her for making some really stupid decisions, too. But that is all part of the Maiden. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and the Maiden is not afraid to break some eggs.
Consider the Fool card in a tarot deck. The Fool is the first card of the deck but it isn’t card number one, it’s actually the zero card. Like, no numerical value at all, it’s a complete blank slate. It represents inexperience, but also a belief in the universe. It represents beginner’s luck, and not knowing what to expect. This is the card of innovation. These are all good qualities to have. We need to honor that, at times, we need to remember the maiden that we all used to be, and try to hearken back to that optimism.
And this isn’t a gender thing, I don’t mean to be exclusive, I am speaking of the maiden as an archetype of who every person is at some time in their life. This is the archetype of the entrepreneur, after all. Anytime we step outside the box, or go against the grain, against the mainstream, we are embodying the spirit of the Maiden. There would be no progress in this world whatsoever, without the Maiden spirit. And that is what this season, this time of year, and this sabbat are all about.
So. This is a good thing to remember when you’re considering maybe moving into a new career path, or starting a new hobby or a new venture, do it with the spirit of the Maiden. She believes in you. She has perfect faith that this new idea, whatever it may be, is going to work out just fine. She is so confident in you and she is behind you every step of the way. I love the Maiden. She is the supportive best friend that we all need to have in our corner, hyping us up. She is such a powerful reminder of the courage it takes to forge a new path. That’s not a word that gets used too often in describing the maiden, is it? We hear optimistic, we hear innocence, we hear naive, but we rarely hear courage. But it’s true. When you are embodying the Maiden, you are embodying courage.
Imbolc is also a celebration of the Irish goddess Brigid, who is the goddess of poetry, blacksmiths, healing, and fertility. According to scholars, Brigid was most likely a triple goddess, comprised of Brigid the goddess of poetry and wisdom, her sister, Brigit the healer, and her other sister Brigit the smith. Later, Christians would pivot her identity from Brigid the goddess, to St Brigid of Kildare, who according to legend tended the sacred eternal flame at the nunnery in Kildare Ireland.
The festivities on the feast of Saint Brigid did not begin to be recorded in detail until the early modern era, so the information we have is pretty thin and based mostly on what we can derive from the traditions that remain. In recent centuries this day was marked the making of
Brigit’s crosses and a doll-like figure of Brigid would be paraded from house-to-house by girls, sometimes accompanied by ‘strawboys‘. Brigid was said to visit one’s home on the eve of the festival. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, and items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also evoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were had, holy wells were visited, and it was a time for divination.
Because of her association with holy wells, it was and is still customary for devotees of Brigid to tie strips of cloth around the trees near these holy wells to both honor Brigid and petition her for help. I’m going to go through a few traditional activities and customs for this sabbat, and of course you can mix and match, add or subtract any of them to create your own Imbolc ritual. Imbolc begins at sundown on February 1, but the spirit of Imbolc carries all the way through the Spring Equinox, or Ostara, on March 17th.
In her earliest incarnation, she was called the Flame of Ireland, Fiery Arrow. She was a Goddess of the forge as well, reflecting on her fire aspect. Legend says that when She was born, a tower of flame reached from the top of her head to the heavens. Her birth, which took place at sunrise, is rumored to have given the family house the appearance of being on fire.
For many centuries, there were 19 virgins (originally priestesses and later nuns) who tended Her eternal flame at Kildare. These women were the virgin daughters of the Fire and were called fire-keepers. Brigid’s shrine at Kildare was active into the 18th century. It was closed down, of course, by the monarchy when Christianity took hold. Originally cared for by nineteen virgin priestesses, when the Pagan Brigid was Sainted and stripped of her divinity to fall more in line with the prevailing religion, the care of her shrine fell to Catholic nuns. The fire was extinguished only once in the thirteenth century and was relit for another 250 years or so, until Henry VIII of England set about suppressing the monasteries. Sister Mary Minchin, a Brigedian nun at Kildaire relit the flame on February 2, 1996 and the intention is to keep it burning perpetually once again.
According to the Irish Text “The Book of Dunn Cow,” Brigid’s sacred number was nineteen because it represented the nineteen-year cycle of the Celtic Great Year, the time it took from one new moon to the next to coincide with the Winter Solstice. It was believed though, that on the twentieth day of each cycle Brigid herself would tend the flame.
In Druidic tradition, Brigid is honored with a central well adorned with candles. It was common in olden times to dress the well with flowers and greenery. Often coins and other silver objects were offered to the well. Many of Brigid’s Holy Wells still exist, some sacred to Her for thousands of years. Her waters are said to heal all manner of disease.
If you are someone who works with deities, a tribute to Brigid would not go amiss. Making a Brigid corn husk doll as an effigy is a really old custom, and I’ll post a video showing how it’s done. This time I won’t forget. They’re super simple, dead cheap to make, and it’s a fun and beautiful tradition. I like to keep a Brigid doll on my altar during this time of year. And as a side note, corn husk dolls work really well as poppets for general magic, so if you learn to make them, you can use them in all kinds of magic that calls for a poppet or stand in for an actual person. They’re perfectly safe to bury in the ground or to burn, as well. You will find corn husks in your supermarket because they’re used for making tamales. My grocery store keeps them near the spices.
Anyway. In addition to a corn husk doll, lighting a blue candle on your altar in her honor would be a beautiful way to remember Brigid. The simple ritual of pouring out a little milk onto the earth to honor the origins of the name Imbolc is also something to consider. If you don’t happen to live near a holy well, as unfortunately most of us probably don’t, sprinkling a few oats into any small body of water in honor of our ancestors is traditional as well.
I attended an Imbolc ritual years ago and the host filled a good sized cauldron with water and that’s what we sprinkled oats into in memoriam of those loved ones who are no longer with us. When the ritual was over, the water and oats were poured over the garden. So since then, that is how I do it too, for my own Imbolc rituals at home. To reenact the tying of cloths around trees at holy wells, we cut strips of cotton and whisper our petitions into them, and then tie them loosely around a tree near the cauldron for the duration of the ritual.
Imbolc is a fire festival, so lighting a ritual fire in your cauldron or outdoors in your fire pit is a lovely way to honor Brigid and the sabbat. Tossing a few sprigs of rosemary or sage along with your strips of cloth into the fire is a powerful way to carry your petitions to the universe.
If you do have any petitions to bring to her, especially anything pertaining to fertility, pregnancy or childbirth, healing, marriage, manifestation, success, beauty, and creativity, Brigid is a powerful ally to have at your side. And if you yourself are a poet, a writer, or a communicator, Brigid is a goddess to honor at all times, not just at Imbolc. Close out your ritual with a piece of oat cake and a toast of Irish cream, I like Bailey’s. Leave a piece of cake and a shot of Irish cream on your altar, and thank Brigid for coming.
In our own lives and to our own edification, a ritual bath is wonderful (anytime, really I am always down for a ritual bath, but especially at Imbolc), given Brigid’s association with holy wells and holy waters. So light some candles, and fill your tub. Add some dandelion, some blackberry leaves, or maybe a little cedar or willow to the water. Toss in some epsom salts as well, and maybe a nice piece of amethyst. Pour yourself a glass of wine and just sink in. Let your mind wander for a while, allow your thoughts to come and go.
Once your mind begins to grow calm, start to visualize or imagine where you intend to be in your life next Imbolc. Visualize your personal goals for the idealized state of your relationships, your career, your financial situation. Plant the seeds in your own mind of what you want to grow this year. If you notice your mind beginning to ruminate on negative thoughts or memories, acknowledge it. Don’t judge it or get frustrated with yourself, just recognize those thoughts, and then bring your mind back to focusing on what you intend to create and manifest.
Follow this ritual bath with a nice round of Spring Cleaning. Make room for new energy and new beginnings in your physical space by clearing out old, stale stagnant energy and getting rid of things you don’t need anymore. Things that are taking up space but not adding anything of value to your life. Donate what you can, have a yard sale or post things on Craigslist or OfferUp, and whatever you can’t sell or give away, recycle it or throw it out.
We have to purge the old to make room for the new, and it really does help to reflect the desired mental state in our physical living space. The Maiden season comes right on the heels of Crone season, so it follows that we need to part ways with old, outdated modes of thinking about things and doing things in order to focus on the fresh new energy we’re trying to manifest. So, keep what serves you and leave the rest behind. And if you’re not in a space right now where you are trying to make big, new moves in your life, that’s ok. You can’t force that kind of thing. It happens when it happens.
Just be ready to recognize it when it does. And in the meantime, use this fresh, new year energy to at least cleanse your house and get rid of the old, dusty, musty crap you’re holding onto. Box it up and store it away, and please take down those Christmas lights for god’s sake; it’s almost February.
Please write me and tell me what you do for Imbolc. You know I love learning about new rituals and traditions. Reach me on Facebook or Instagram at @middleaged witch or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be back again next week to talk about Tarot. My name is eli, and this has been the middle aged witch podcast.