Reflections on Imbolc and the Promise of Spring

Feb 14th, 2016 | By | Category: Articles, Nature Mystics, Work in Progress
Rebecca Beattie, author of Nature Mystics

Rebecca Beattie, author of Nature Mystics

By Rebecca Beattie

Imbolc seemed to have come earlier than usual to the city this year. On Christmas day I was walking with my thick winter coat tied around my waist, dressed only in a t-shirt, sweating with the effort of pulling my feet out of the thick, viscous mud that sucked them down. The inexperienced oak saplings were already in leaf, while in Russell Square gardens by the British Museum, daffodils were already in bloom by New Year. Mid-January brought with it a cold snap, leaving me to wonder if we have our cultural imagery of the seasons the wrong way round. The city had a blanket of snow wrapped tightly around her shoulders, and everything was held in stillness for just one day. There was no wind, so a layer of snow still clung tightly to the branches of the trees, and even the birds were hushed. The snowfall didn’t last. It is unusual for us to get a heavy winter in this mild corner of the UK. It will always be fleeting; tempting us to walk out in it, and build snowmen, reminding us of the harsher winters of our childhood, and then disappearing within the space of a heartbeat.

Getting out early for my weekend walks enabled me to be the first pair of human feet to walk across the wide fields of white, feeling the compacted crunch beneath my feet. It was clean enough here to indulge in my favourite childhood snow pastime, of eating handfuls of the ice, plucked off the gateposts and fences, far above dog height. And I could see the evidence of those who have been here before me; a fox dragging its feather-light breakfast back to its hole, a deer picking its way delicately along the slippery path, a solitary bird hopping its way across a wooden bench, perhaps surprised by the cold underfoot. But the stillness and the quiet also enabled me to shock a few fellow walkers; a muntjac deer walking across a snow laden field, a golden pheasant flying out from the undergrowth ahead of me, crying out in irritation at being interrupted in its morning routine. Even the mere was frozen solid, the water preserved perfectly in feathered patterns of ice, with its resident moorhens held captive in the one remaining liquid corner. The visiting lone swan that was there over Christmas has departed for warmer waters, no doubt in search of some other companions. The lakes and ponds of the City Centre are far more populated by a myriad bird life than this lonely outpost in zone five.

Imbolc gives us a moment to pause and reflect on the winter just passing, and the season yet to come. It is not yet spring, but it brings the promise of spring. The snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses push their way up through the cold ground, and through the light layer of snow (if it lingers) but they do not yet reveal the full beauty of their hidden colours. They are still young, green shoots, for now.  The lambing will begin any day now, with the first early lambs waiting just around the corner. The ewes are growing fat with their young, and with birth there must be the balance of death, giving us time to pause and reflect on the loved ones who did not survive this winter. Whether it was loved ones we personally knew or the cultural icons that passed on leaving society reeling with shock. How could they die when we thought they would live forever?

This winter has brought me two funerals, both beloved and respected teachers who helped to shape how I see the world. The first funeral was for my supervisor at university – a much respected writer who was taken far too soon by a brain tumour. For years, I was too star struck to be able to speak to him, other than an embarrassed hello as I shot past him in the street, but with time, and the opportunity of getting to know him, I realized he was just as shy as me. Without him, I would not be on the path I am on now. I might still be back there, nose pressed against the window on the outside looking in, wishing I could be on the inside.  The Five of Pentacles personified – stuck in a state of wanting, but not achieving, poverty consciousness, feeling only the sense of lack. That teacher brought me in from the cold, brushed the snow off my shoulders, and gave me a mug of hot cocoa to warm myself with. He leaves me in a much better place than he found me, on the path to my PhD, writing a new novel, and with whole new worlds opening up at my feet on a regular basis.

My second funeral was also for a teacher, my grandmother High Priestess, and the woman who introduced me to NLP during my early years as a newbie. She bewitched and carried me away during pathworkings to the temples of Bastet and Sekhmet, and wrote the most beautiful invocations. I recently found my notes from a talk she gave in 2004. I was in my fledgling days on the pagan path – I had been solitary for several years but was then in need of a real life teacher, and by luck, I wandered onto the path laid out by her. The teacher I found was taught by her, and was lucky to join that line. I can clearly see the hallmarks of her tuition on my own High Priestess, and she will leave her indelible marks on me too. This is the real meaning of lineage in the craft – the teachers who stand at our shoulders, speaking through us in unison. Their voices joining through ours, their legacy carried on forwards into the future through us. Aside from my own mother, these are the women who have shaped my adult life more than any others. They have taught me how to live in the world, how to retain compassion and kindness, and how to question everything.

Both of the teachers I lost this winter will be recalled with affection and gratitude by many besides me, and we are all left wondering about our own legacy. What will we leave behind to be remembered by? How will we have each shaped the world a little differently by our passing? This winter we have travelled deep to the cavernous realms of the Underworld, exploring the darkness without boundaries or restraint. Now we can look to the coming of spring, and seek signs of life in the outside world. The ground ivy sprouting its delicate leaves, the spring flowers beckoning to us from the gardens and the parks, the trees are at least showing signs of being in bud, promising us green leaves in the weeks and months to come. A very early blackthorn has just burst into flower, although the hawthorn is not yet in leaf. The spark of the light of life has flared up in the darkness, the match is struck, and the flame is kindled.

Imbolc has its roots in Celtic traditions, the church may celebrate it as Candlemas, and indeed, in my line of Wicca it is still sometimes called that. The grandmother High Priestess, whom we celebrated last week, was not a fan of lightly affixing Celtic names with a view to making something sound more authentic. Under her tutelage, this was still Candlemas, and Halloween was still Halloween. In Christian traditions celebrating their version of Candlemas, new mothers and their babies might be presented in church, commemorating the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and it is still marked as the feast of Saint Brigid. In the UK, our other name Britain is thought to be a derivation of Brigit, or the tribe of the Brigantes who worshiped her, and she leaves a trail of different place names in her wake, all across the UK and Europe – Brittany, Bridewell, Brent, Britannia, to name but a few. But just who was Brigit?

In Scotland she is Bride, to the Irish she is Brid, to the Welsh, Ffraid. In the Celtic languages, her name translates as the fiery one, or the bright one, and she is a solar Goddess of many faces. The daughter of the Morrigan, and the sister of Ogma, who invented the Ogham alphabet, Bride is the Goddess of Blacksmiths, a patroness of healers and of poets and of seers. In other words, her bright spark is the creative one, inspiring creators to make their arts. While my own pantheon of choice tends to be the Egyptian or Greek gods rather than the Celts, I can at least relate to this aspect of her. And by inspiring smith craft, poetry and healing, she also becomes a threefold goddess. She rules the element of water, and specifically of sacred springs, which then inspire healing, and poetry and psychic ability. She is, then, the lady that colours our associations of Imbolc, the bright spark that lights our circle once more, as we return from the dark half of the year.

In circle we meditate on the Moon card of the tarot, the intuitive power that releases the wild part of our nature, revealing the hidden depths and truths that we may not be consciously aware of. We also look to the willow tree for inspiration, which Culpepper notes as being ‘owned by the Moon’ in his Complete Herbal. The willow is also sacred to Hecate, and, like Bride, is the bringer of intuition and inspiration, growing, as it does, so close to the water. I can be drawn away in my imagination, to my old mother Willow tree on Dartmoor, draped over the banks of the Wallabrook, waiting for more dream time with me when I return later in the spring.

We also ponder the act of weaving in circle, either of willow withies or of yarn, and we are led back to the association with the new born lambs or their mothers. Milk becomes a theme, nourishment of the newborn, and traditionally a relief after the hardships of winter. And also the newborn spark of creation. With the passing of the old year, our harvests were reaped, and we are left fruitless once more. Now we must contemplate what gifts we will wish to harvest in the year ahead. What will we create? What will the work of this year be? If the seeds are not sown now at Imbolc, there will be little to gather in the harvests to come later in the year.

My daily absorption in nature continues, and the signs of new life are evident, even in the city. From my daily underground commute to work, I see a pair of herons, sitting side by side on a tree branch. Pairs of birds are visible everywhere; magpies and wood pigeons in the garden, robins in the hedgerow, crows in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nesting, they collect their twigs and moss to line their warm beds, homes for their eggs to dwell in, ready for hatching in the coming weeks. In my own life too I am planning the weeks ahead; meetings and projects at work, courses to squeeze in at University, talks to be given and visits to family members to reconnect to my own roots. The world is alive with the possibilities of what might be. It is time to decide my plans for this year, and like the clay soil beneath my feet, the future is there to be moulded and shaped, polished and then fired with the flame of creativity.


An Exercise – the Magic Miracle Box

Take a box, any old box. A shoe box will do. Decorate it in any way you like. Mine is covered in gold wrapping paper, and lined with cards from Cheryl Richardson’s ‘Grace Cards’ Deck. I love the images on these cards, and the positivity of the messages. (They are not called ‘Grace Cards’ for nothing!) In my box I have put the cards for Vision, Gratitude, Connection, Gift and Ask. They are there to remind me that it is alright to ask for things, and to have goals, and desires. Without them we would remain stuck. However, don’t feel you have to rush out and buy this deck especially – you could also use relevant tarot cards (like the Sun, or cards that are suggestive of success, like the Seven of Pentacles, or the Ten of Cups) or indeed any oracle deck you are drawn to, or photographs that speak of success to you.

The Magic Miracle Box is an expression of you, and works a bit like a vision board. It’s there to remind your unconscious mind of the things you want to achieve this year, so that it can crack on with the task at hand while you go about your daily life. That’s the thing with your unconscious mind, it’s a clever stick! It makes use of something called your Reticular Activating System, or RAS. This allows your unconscious mind, which can process thousands of bits over information every minute, to work a little like a filter or radar. Have you ever wondered why you sometimes go through phases of only seeing one thing once it has been drawn to your attention? For instance, you decide you are hankering over a particular food like pizza, and then everywhere you go you see pictures of pizza, or you see someone driving the black mini you have always hankered after (and all you see are black minis everywhere you go) or, if you decide you really want to go to Morocco, suddenly everyone you speak to has just come back from Marrakech. That’s your RAS working. The Magic Miracle Box makes use of that handy tool.

On the outside of the box I write messages of gratitude, in expectation of the wonderful things it will bring, and if you prefer to use a magical caveat, on the inside of the lid, you can write something along the lines of ‘In accordance with our highest good, so mote it be’. Then I put crystals in the box that I am drawn to, ones that are associated with drawing good things to you, or loving thoughts. I have a chunk of rose quartz, some green calcite, some malachite (to speed things up) and a few sea shells I have picked up on beaches I have loved. Add a little sprinkling of gold or green glitter. The key with good spell craft is to use what you are drawn to – the colours and the images are there to guide your unconscious magical mind, which communicates in images and feelings, not words like your conscious, thinking mind.

Next comes the goal-writing exercise. On small slips of parchment, you write your goals for the year(s) ahead, but they must be stated in the present tense and in the positive (as your unconscious mind doesn’t understand negatives or the concept of time). I will give you an example. ‘It is the 15th February 2018, and I have just sent the final proofs of my novel, Looking For Mary Webb to my publisher’. For those of you familiar with the language of corporate land, we are working with SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound, as these also fit best with harnessing the power of the unconscious.

If you prefer to seal your magical workings with an extra layer of intent, one way to activate the Magic Miracle Box is to also burn a charged candle on top of the box (in a suitable fireproof candle holder to avoid sending your goals up in flames!) Lucya Starza’s Pagan Portal on Candle Magic (published by Moon Books this month) is a great book if you want to explore Candle Magic in more depth, and she gives a good range of candle magic examples – from a simple tea light spell to more in depth examples. You don’t have to add a candle to this working, but I often find it helps.

Once you have completed your goal-setting and popped the lid on your box, from time to time it is good to check in with it, and revisit your goals. Do they still hold true? Don’t leave it in a corner somewhere to gather dust, as the energy will grow stale and stop moving. And once your goals have been achieved, you can either bury or burn the slips of parchment with a thank you, before making a new set of goals for the next period coming.

Happy magic making!

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