The Winter Cross-Quarter usually falls on February 3 or 4. It is the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring equinox. 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 Winter Cross-Quarter is (on average) 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, February 2 is traditionally celebrated in the Neo-Pagan 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. Traditionally, 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 Cosmology, 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)
“As I stand here on this celebration of Imbolc, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn and spring begins again. As my forebears did, I do now, and so may my descendants do in time to come. It is the feast of the goddess Brigid, guardian of the hearth fire and protector of the home. Patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. It is a time of awakening after the dark, cold slumber of winter. The sun has grown stronger and the days have grown longer and I see now the first signs of spring. Trees are beginning to bud, snowdrops are blossoming and animals are stirring from hibernation. The time of Oimelc has arrived – the ewe’s are pregnant, lambs are being born and milk is beginning to flow once more. Winter is over and I rejoice in the hope of the coming warmth.
“I light this candle now in thanksgiving to Brigid, the sacred hearth fires of my home. I celebrate the growing power of the sun and look forward in hope to the coming warmth of summer.”
Áine Órga sees February as a time to start fresh:
“While it is often a quiet time for me spiritually and otherwise, it is always a time of great change. Things get moving, and start coming into being. Everything begins to stir. Deep inside all forms of life, something is responding to the growing length of the days, the sun rising earlier each day. We feel the promise of Spring in our bones.
“This is a time to be bold, to take risks, to take a leap of faith. It is a time to push yourself, to set up a pattern of growth and inspired action for the months to come. There are so many months of manifestation ahead of us, and February is a wonderful time to get in there early and start manifesting your dreams for this year. …
“So this month I will get inspired, I will seize my resources, I will start tilling soil and preparing for the great creative outpouring of the Spring. This is the time of the birthing of my creativity, and I can feel my manifesting power starting to move out into the world.”
John Halstead celebrates Mid-Winter with his family as a time for new beginnings and time for transformations. They begin by gathering snow from outside and pouring it into a bowl, reciting these words:
Melt the ice that stills you,
in this season that chills you,
may the fire within you,
be lit by this hearth.
Bring the cold, cold water,
from the dark, dark well,
to the warm hearth fire,
when the ice begins to melt.
May the days grow longer,
as the fire grows stronger;
may the waking of spring,
be the light in your dark.
When the nights grow warmer,
may your heart grow stronger;
may the first melt of light
warm your dreams in the night.
They then melt the snow with four candles, colored white, green, red, and black — symbolizing the faces of the Neo-Pagan Goddess. They wash their hands in the water while thinking about something they want to start anew.