Many of my friends celebrate New Year’s as a perfunctory holiday or as “amateur night,” because the calendar year is a creation of modern times. Pagans and Witches alike view Samhain or Halloween as the “Witches New Year,” despite varying opinions. For me, the new year actually takes flight on the eve of Imbolc (February 2nd) and St. Brigid’s Day on February 1st. One of the 4 main festivals with Celtic origins in modern day Wicca, Imbolc is the midpoint between two starkly different equinoxes, a fire festival celebrating the lengthening of the days and the awakening of the goddess from her wintry slumber, nursing the Sun God, aware that spring is almost within reach. January has been filled with peaceful bouts of silence. With every passing year, my experience of January has turned into a respite of sorts, rather than a reason to cannonball wildly off the diving board towards the oncoming year. Using the brilliant cold as the perfect excuse to stay inside, go inward and reflect on “inner visions,” to quote Stevie Wonder, I’ve savored any opportunity to be alone, enjoying moments of quiet solitude, sketching out ideas as I watch bare branches swaying in the grey skies. What aspect of the Goddess do I need to summon from above, below and within to spring forth with clarity and creativity as I stoke the fires of Imbolc?
This holiday has an added dose of magic this year, with us earthlings experiencing a Supermoon/Full Moon/Lunar Eclipse in passion-filled Leo opposing cool as a cucumber Aquarius on the final day of January, the 31st. Mercury will also scamper into Aquarius and there sure will be much to ponder as we enter the cerebral, big vision air sign, representing the collective conscious of the future. I am always dumbfounded with awe when the magic of timing works in the most spectacular of ways. On January 31st through February 2nd such an auspicious time awaits, gifting us with an opportunity to combine the traditions of Imbolc to map out a course of personal action (Leo) in order to benefit the greater good. (Aquarius) With so much interest in what it means to be a witch and the power of magic, this astrological moment really begs the question, what can I do for the world, not what can the world do for me? Macro versus micro level magic. While I wish I had the brains to cure cancer or even out wealth inequality, everyone practicing witchcraft works with nature for a desired outcome, no matter how noble or trivial the intention may seem. With each magical act, the question of ethics should always be considered. Rather than looking at these opposing energies as clashing, what can the lion teach the mad scientist? What intrinsic wisdom can they supply to each other?
Speaking of seemingly opposite energies, history can be murky in regards to how and if Imbolc influenced the Christian holiday of Candlemas, since Candlemas appears to date back to 4th century AD. Also known as the presentation of the Lord, Candlemas is one of the oldest holidays, a time when Mary presented herself to the temple for a purification ritual 40 days after Christmas and giving birth to Jesus. Saint Brigid’s Day which falls on February 1st was most likely Christianized to appease Celts who revered and worshipped the grande dame of a goddess Brigid.
In the Celtic pantheon, her triple goddess mythology isn’t limited to a mere traditional maiden, mother, crone aspect as there are multiple aspects of Brigid all revealing a rich, complex lore that weaves among Irish towns and tales.
As a saint, goddess, or divine inspiration, Brigid’s talent for poetry, crafting, fertility and divination all fall under the category of traditional “womanly work.” The word itself, Imbolc or Imbolg in Gaelic roughly translates to “ewe’s milk,” and on January 31st when the moon is at her fullest, I will be soaking in a bath of milk and honey visualizing the transition from the winter crone towards the emerging maiden of spring. The Goddess has given birth to the God which reflects the longer days of light reminding us that springtime is just around the corner. After this bath, it’s time for a proper evening of bonfires and quiet yet focused crafts and divination. If one feels extra crafty, use corn husks to create a doll of Brigid or a cross or set up a Brigid’s bed on your altar. This can be made from an old shoebox, with soft fabric or dream pillows added — anything comfortable to welcome the Goddess into your home — bestowing it with blessings and protection. Like all potent magic, don’t focus too much on the external, rather the intent of not only blessing your hearth and home but your friends, neighbors and all those less fortunate who need shelter and food. Go through your cabinets and take unused cans to food pantries, along with coats and any clothing you no longer need. Purification can take many forms.
This time of year can feel more like a rude awakening than sleeping beauty awakening to a gentle kiss. Like all the cross quarter days, it’s a dramatic shift and energetically in Aquarius season, we can all feel the axis tilt. As the first flowers poke their heads up along with groundhogs, all weather prognostication aside, there’s not much time left to hide under the cloak of winter. Use the last moments of winter to shed these layers and visualize yourself one with the world, co-mingling with greater, perhaps unknown purposes, all for your and their highest good.