February Cross-quarter: Imbolc
Today is a Cross-quarter. That is, it is the midpoint between the previous solstice and the upcoming equinox. As such, it is one of eight stations in our planet’s annual journey around the sun.
For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the claws of winter are harsh at this time, even though sunlight has already started returning. It takes a while for the climate to warm in response to the longer day, so the earth remains cold. While the Winter Solstice is the time of longest darkness, the February Cross-quarter is the time of greatest cold. Yet, like a secret promise, the sun is returning.
Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group refers to the day as the Winter “Thermistice”, the peak of cold in the winter season.
In the Northern Hemisphere, this time is traditionally celebrated in the Neopagan Wheel of the Year as Imbolc. Other names include Oimelc, Brigit, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day, Brigantia, Gŵyl y Canhwyllau, and Candlemas. Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Lammas instead at this time.
Imbolc derives from Celtic traditions surrounding the goddess Brigid, whose sacred fire at Kildare was tended by virgin priestesses. It marks the season when ewes birth and give milk. It is a time of emergence, as the herd brings new life into the world, and we look forward to the coming spring. One custom to observe this is placing a well-protected candle in each window of the house, to shine the light of life out into the snowy cold (Nichols, 2009).
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian, a naturalistic tradition revering the Goddess as a metaphor for the Cosmos, recommends meditating upon emerging Creativity through the ever-new flame of the candle, the beginning of the in-breath, and the word om. It is a time for individuation, a time to renew dedication of one’s small self to the big self:
“A dedication to Brigid means a dedication to the Being and Beauty of particular small self, and knowing deeply its Source – as an infant knows deeply its dependence on the Mother, as the new shoot on the tree knows intimately its dependence on the branch and the whole tree, as the new star’s being is connected to the supernova. It is a dedication to the being of your particular beautiful Self, rooted seamlessly in the whole of Gaia.” (Livingstone, 2008)
Jon Cleland Host of the Naturalistic Paganism yahoo group suggests making snow candles – an activity especially fun for kids (see files section of group).
Meanwhile, those in the Southern Hemisphere are on the opposite point on the Wheel of the Year, celebrating the festival of Lammas and looking forward to autumn.