Imbolc is a time to ‘wake the Earth’ from her slumber. For many, it is also seen as the Return of the Goddess from her trip to the Underworld that started at Samhain. Traditionally, Imbolc is the Sabbat celebrating the passing of another winter, and the start of the agricultural year. For Pagans who celebrate the Triple Goddess, Imbolc is the point where She transitions from Crone to Maiden.
A big part of Imbolc for me is the celebration and honoring of the Goddess Brigid. Brigid is a Triple Goddess, and so gets honoured in all of Her aspects. Though technically Imbolc is the beginning of Maiden energies, as a mother, the Goddesses of Fertility, Birth, Midwifery and Motherhood feature prominently in my practice since that’s where I am at this stage in my life. Brigid, being associated with midwifery, would naturally fit, along with Frigg, Hathor, Nephthys, Hera, Artemis, Bast, Diana, Hekate, and Juno, among others. With the birth of the Sun at Yule, I love the imagery of the ‘baby’ Sun nursing from the Goddess’s breast. Now that my kids are older, I sometimes miss the (admittedly sometimes frustrating) nights awake with just my baby to keep me company and Imbolc is a time to honour not only the Goddess and Her Son, but also my own.
Brigid is the Goddess of things you make with your hands, and in the aspect, as an artisan, appeals to me greatly. Imbolc is Her day; a festival and Goddess figure so important to ancient Celtic peoples that is reflected in the Christianization of Her into St. Brigid. The Church couldn’t eradicate Her as they did with other deities, so they adopted her. Craftsmen and women invoked Her in the crafting of everyday items, from clothing to farming or animal husbandry equipment, to poetry and art. I keep a mini Brigid offering dish in my kitchen window in remembrance of how essential and influential She is in daily life, and usually keep my Brigid devotional candle lit while I am crafting.
I am part of a Flamekeeping Cill for Brigid, Cill Willow, and have been for several years now. Every 20 days, each of the 19 people in our Cill takes a ‘shift’ tending the eternal flame, saving the last day for Brigid. Though I participate in the flamekeeping vigil during my appointed shift, Imbolc is also a time for communing with Her and tending Her sacred flame.
After the dearth of Winter, Imbolc is a celebration of Light – the return of the Sun and celebration of its returning power. The God may be visualized as a lusty young man, spreading his warmth and attention to the Earth (Gaia), fertilizing and encouraging the growth of the early Spring flowers and vegetation. The connections to fertility are obvious; so fertility rituals and the ‘rekindling’ of everything – activity, agriculture, the birth of animals and babies. The connection to warmth and heat and light and Fire is and important on for me. There are several ‘fire’ associated traditions that appeal to me; the snuffing and re-lighting hearth fires. We don’t have a fireplace, but have found that ritually re-lighting candles symbolizes the same. Other traditions include sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new, filling the house with the smell of baking bread, making corn dollies filled with intentions for the year, and other such ‘Spring Cleaning’ activities that set the tone for the coming season.
With the kids, taking time to celebrate the beginning of the calendar year, recalling seasonal and Sabbat Lore to strengthen their connections to their paths is always a focus. Though I don’t seek to indoctrinate my kids into any particular pathway, offering various Spring seasonal stories, recounting traditions and coming up with ways to honour that passing of season to season is important to me; much more than cementing a particular belief system is just the recognition and honoring of the Turning of the Wheel. Since this is a devotional Sabbat, it re-affirms my own path, and helps me maintain my focus for the coming year, and whatever my children take from that to form their own path works for me.
I have said in the past that I feel a special affinity for cross-quarter days (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh & Samhain). These ‘in-between’ times are times of change and examination. This is when I evaluate, and make adjustments when needed, to my path or journey towards a goal. I update my journals, Shadow Books, make changes and consolidate information, and occasionally add a new Shadow Book or section in my existing Books if I need to. It’s a time of ‘housekeeping’ and organization in both a literal and symbolic sense.
This year, I am focusing on ‘simplicity’. Though I tend to focus on the Sabbat throughout the month, I have lately felt the need for a simplified ritualistic practice that marks the occasion on the day of. I recently found this Simple Imbolc Rite that really spoke to me, and thought I would share.
Here’s my Imbolc altar and simple ritual:
How did you celebrate Imbolc this year?
As Pagans, it’s fairly safe to say that most of us are somewhat familiar with rituals. Those of us who are heavily involved in the local Pagan community either attend, take part in, or lead at least eight Sabbat rituals, and often many Esbat rituals as well. Even if you’re a solitary practitioner, you likely celebrate the Sabbats, Esbats and other marks of the passing year with some sort ceremony. Even in other religions, there are rituals. I’ve been watching The Borgias on TV, which showcases many of the rituals associated with the Catholic Papacy (many of which are oddly reminiscent of Pagan rituals, as many know and recognize), and have always been fascinated and drawn to the ritualistic aspects of ancient religions.
Most would say that it is these rituals define the practitioner, and indeed, you can usually identify a person’s beliefs often by the rituals that one takes part in. A priest wears ritual garb, a teacher leads the class in the Pledge of Allegiance, a nurse checks your vital signs… all of these rituals tell you something about the person who leads or initiates them, or takes part in performing them.
Wikipedia says that:
A ritual may be performed on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community; in arbitrary places, or in places especially reserved for it; either in public, in private, or before specific people. A ritual may be restricted to a certain subset of the community, and may enable or underscore the passage between religious or social states.
Ritual is defined as a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. In a religious sense, for both Pagans and Catholics (and some other forms of Christianity as well), the rituals of bread and wine have heavy significance for us because of the meaning behind them – the body and blood of Christ; the union of the Lord and Lady.
As moving and meaningful as these rituals are, I thought I would discuss some of the small rituals that I perform daily that identify me as a Pagan practitioner, and some of the little rituals that I’ve helped my kids develop as they’ve grown and taken on more of a personally active role in their spirituality.
Like many Pagans, I keep a bowl of water on my altar. Sometimes it is moon-blessed water, sometimes it is sun-charged water, sometimes it is salt water, sometimes it’s Holy Water made during a Sabbat or Esbat observance. I usually press the tips of my fingers into the water, then to my forehead every time I pass it, but I often start my day standing before my altar, taking a few moments to connect with the quiet inside before going about the start of my day. I will go back again to my altar when I need to think, or chill out or meditate, sometimes with incense or chakra music or meditation music, as needed. I’ve mentioned before that we made meditation jars to help the kids learn how to focus and find their inner calm. They keep their jars in their rooms now, to use when they feel the need.
In addition to the water, incense also plays a big part in my persona practice. I make my own, but am not adverse to buying it; my particular favorites are from sandalrose and bergamot from ElvenKeep and the Hari incense from RamaKrishnaNandaStore.com. I love the way that the scents of incense permeate my house, and how the scent lingers long after the ember is gone. The I often use incense for meditation, and just to have that subtle scent that is ‘other’ to keep me grounded and focused.
My youngest child has found quite a desire for incense in his room. A year or so ago, we deemed him old enough to have access to incense, a burner and lighter in his room. He’s 11 now, and that was a responsibility that he’s taken well to. When we go shopping for incense, he’s always on the lookout for something that calls to him now.
Tea time is another big ritual for me, and for the kids. We started having ‘tea time’ when we started homeschooling – a time to relax and connect between lunch and dinner. We have the chance to talk and re-connect in the middle of the afternoon over a nice hot cuppa. This isn’t a ‘pagan’ ritual per se, but it certainly can be depending on the discussion.
Tea time can also tie into tasseography, or the art of fortune-telling through tea leaf reading. It’s a practice that I am not terribly experienced in, but enjoy immensely. I’ve been learning more and more about it over the past couple of years, and it’s been a fun journey.
Candle magic is another ritual that I engage in almost daily. From lighting my altar candles, my devotional candles (even if for only a few minutes), to lighting spell candles (what some might view as ‘prayers’), candles play a central role in my daily practice. Fire in my element, so connecting with primal elementals helps me keep my focus, even when things are hectic and life gets chaotic. Oddly, this is one of the first things that I tend to stop doing when things get busy, and one of the things I most enjoy picking back up when I realize how much I am neglecting my spiritual path.
One of the amazing things about rituals is the calm and comfort that comes from the performing of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed or scattered, and been able to fall back on established habits and rituals to find myself again. Whether big or small, rituals help me be the best that I can be as a practitioner.
I was poking around WitchVox the other day and came across an article called ‘Living Your Religion Every Day‘ by James Bulls. In it, he writes about moderation:
As it concerns living your religion everyday, the loud dramatists advocate set rules and habits for life: meditate for an hour every day; read cards every day; exercise every day; never eat this; never drink that; always perform the quarter, cross-quarter, full-Moon, and dark-Moon rituals; and so on. And so the misguided accept one absolute after another into their spiritual devotions until all their time and energy is devoted to planning for the next event.
The trouble with living your religion in terms of absolutes is that each of us is fallible and will fail to satisfy an artificial schedule and arbitrary definition of “spiritual perfection.” Absolutes invite failure, failure invites discouragement, discouragement invites dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction invites mediocrity. This “mediocrity” of which I speak is the ball-and-chain, which prohibits daily expression of one’s religion…
The article is wonderful, and I highly recommend reading all of it, but I especially agree with the last big. Holding unrealistic precepts for yourself is a sure way to burn out. Instead, I choose to focus on what I am able to do, and enjoy each thing fully. The more I appreciate and find joy in what I can do, the more I want to do. The more I want to do, the more I make time for. And when I start expecting too much of myself, then I find joy in re-establishing communion with my deities in more simple ways.
I’d love to see how you make and re-make those connections if you’d like to share!
“When celebrating the Wheel of the Year, you can interpret it many ways. You can see it as symbolic, agricultural, astrological, etc. You could even do a combination. How do you find significance of each holiday in the modern world we live in? For example, during the fall season, the holidays relate strongly to the harvest. In this day and age, most of us don’t live on a farm harvesting grain and ensuring the following year’s crops. How do you stay in touch with the roots of the holy days we observe when some times we are so far placed from them?
How do you interpret the Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year and make it fit the modern world around us?”
Litha is also when my local Circle celebrates our anniversary. We formed in 2011, and Litha was our first Ritual as a group, so each turn of the Wheel to Litha is another year that I celebrate in fellowship with the members of my Circle. We celebrate 3 full years in 2014.
This cycle is the sixth; I am amazed that it’s already my shift again. After my last shift, I wanted to make a devotional candle to burn during my shift – one that was specifically for Brighid. This is what I ended up with – I love how it turned out!
I used a white glass 7-day candle that I found at the dollar store, some craft necklace chain, wire and beads from my jewelry-making supplies. Then I found a picture of Brighid that I liked, and printed it, then ran it through a sticker-maker so that I could attach it to the candle.
This particular candle is one that came without any pre-printed decoration. The glass was clear, so I only had to remove the price sticker and clean the glass before putting the sticker on. I also created a sticker for the back with the history of Cill Willow and my upcoming shift dates. Upon reflection, I should have checked my dates more carefully; I made a mistake in the counting of days and was off, so I had to fix the dates. I’m going to end up re-printing the back sticker.
For this shift, I started the day off in a sour mood. I woke up late, my phone was acting up (I could hear people, but they couldn’t hear me), my modem was acting up (randomly turning itself off and refusing to re-load correctly), the kids were acting obnoxious – it just wasn’t a good day. As the evening crept closer though, things started to get better – in tiny, almost immeasurable increments, but they did start getting better.
My dad called and invited us all to dinner and the boys to watch the football game, so that eliminated the need to cook dinner. I also got to spend some time with my dad, which was nice. Then I left the kids at his house for a while and went back home. I had a couple of hours to myself; I got out my jewelry-making supplies and played with my beads for a bit while listening to the ever-soothing Lord of the Rings soundtrack. I’m a huge geek, and LotR just pushes all of my buttons, so that was utterly enjoyable!
The the men-folk came back home, so I retired to my bedroom to re-decorate my altar for Samhain (it was still decorated for Lughnasadh – I seem to have skipped Mabon altogether, which is unusual for me, but I just wasn’t feeling it). I lit some amber/sandalwood incense that I found at The Witchery in Galveston (that stuff has become my new favorite incense – I burn it all the time!) and just took my time cleaning my altar and putting the old decorations away. I cleared off some of the things I’ve been keeping on it for a while, and pulled out some things that I haven’t used in a long time; it’s nice to see those things again. I used a purple silk altar cloth and brand new purple candles, which is different; I usually use more neutral colored candles. I also cleaned out my ‘magic trunk’ and organized my herb jars under my altar in neat rows. I’m really happy with how it looks, and am breathing easier now that my trunk is all clean and organized. There’s definitely truth to the old saying about physical clutter being linked to mental clutter.
At bedtime, I put the flame out (my LED candle needs batteries), and re-lit it this morning for a few minutes before I extinguished it so that the kids and I could meet up with some friends. When we got back home this afternoon, I re-lit my flame and went to take a nap before we had to leave again, and had the flame next to my bed. I fell alseep quickly, and dreamed, but can’t remember what about now; something about my sister and I in an SUV going somewhere, I think.
This shift was odd in a way; while I was focused on making a connection, I didn’t feel particularly connected to Brighid. I feel like her influence was there, as both the inspirer of creative pursuits was there, as well as her role as a Goddess of the Hearth, but I didn’t feel like She was as attuned as I have in the past. Not that I expect her to be all in my face or anything, but I feel more like I was reaching out more and in the past She was reaching for me.
In any case, it was a lovely shift. It was just the thing I needed after a very chaotic day yesterday, and a busy day today.
Once again, it’s my shift to tend Brigid’s Flame with Cill Willow. This is the fifth cycle – I am amazed that we’ve been doing this for so long now. I actually missed one of my shifts; I somehow messed up my calendar and realized it the day after my shift was to have taken place. I was kinda bummed about that, and I didn’t write-up Cycle 4 here (though I did re-cap it in the Cill Willow group).
This cycle, I lit my flame late in the evening; I take a class with my family on Tuesday evenings and could not have a flame there since I would be otherwise occupied and unable to mindfully tend it. So I waited until I got home and this children were in bed so that I could devote myself to my flamekeeping duties for a while. As I type, my candle is next to my left hand, flickering happily in its little jar.
I thought I would write about some of the things that have been on my mind of late.
One of the things that’s happening right now is a communication breakdown in a couple of areas of my life. They don’t stem to me directly; but they both affect me profoundly. In some ways, this is a good thing. Anytime a situation like this happens, then I think that it ultimately can lead to a more open and honest place within the relationship or group. It seems that in the beginning, people are willing to overlook minor irritations and eventually it gets to the point where it can no longer be brushed off… and even then, people try to bottle their feelings about it up in order to keep the peace. But that only ends up with resentment and in-fighting, and ultimately leads to divisions and even greater hurt feelings. Since both of the areas of my life that this issue is currently affecting have people genuinely concerned with the well-being of both groups, I am hopeful that things will come to an amicable resolution.
I was thinking about how Brigid is the Keeper of the Hearth, and I feel like the groups and activities I am involved in are the ‘hearths’ of my soul – my involvement in the various activities I enjoy define me as a person. They are the things that drive me; the spark that keeps me going. They light my inner fire. I find both inspiration and fulfillment in my activities and hobbies and associations with them, and so even if it’s not a literal hearth fire, I feel like Brigid can be called upon to help.
I have also recently begun my third altered art book journal. Basically, you take a book – any book (I usually choose hard back books that have been withdrawn from the library and are sold super cheap with neat covers) – and make it into a journal. I generally leave the outside cover in tact, though I have covered one and painted it. One of the books I have is a books about movie monsters and the cover has a bunch of old movie monsters on it – Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and a few others. I also usually tear out some of the pages – a page or two every four or five pages. Since I collage and paint, doing that gives more room for the book to expand as I add to it so it doesn’t break the binding later on. Then I gesso some of the pages (or just use white acrylic paint), watercolor or otherwise start decorating backgrounds… or I just start drawing. I’ve done all kinds of things with them. Currently I am working on drawing, so that’s my focus at the moment. I’m not very good, but maybe I will get better!
Some of the recent ideas I have had have been more spiritual in nature – I like the idea of an ‘inner flame’, so I will probably work on that concept some this week. Maybe I will post a picture if it turns out well. I keep two journals – one for my practice/spiritual endeavors/meditation and dream records – and one that’s just a catch-all for whatever idea I am struck with today. One of my friends is very into meditative mandalas, so I have been working on some of those as well.
My sisters with Cill Willow have completed a full cycle and started on our second. I started my second cycle a bit late – my husband and I were on a date when the sun set, then we went to pick my children up from my parents and visited with them for a bit. Even though the flame was technically not yet lit, as Brigid is a hearth-goddess, spending time with family is always honoring her.
Once we got home, I lit my candle and put it on the table next to me while I worked on some signs to direct traffic – we hosted a party for our dojo to congratulate our newest black belts. It was odd; I noticed that when my mind was on lettering, my flame would go out. I would re-light it and continue. This happened several times – until I finished with the signs and brought the candle into the living room where my attention was not as divided.
For bedtime, I turned on an LED candle, which has been on my altar since my last shift; I tried putting it away, but it felt wrong so I left it there. Both nights of my shift, I slept soundly, and don;t recall any dreams. I woke up fairly early for a day filled with family activities.
I wasn’t feeling well Saturday afternoon, so I went to lay down, fully intending to practice reiki and do some meditation – perhaps the intent was enough as I fell asleep shortly after lying down and woke feeling refreshed and much better. I woke in enough time to see the end of my shift through with a real flame – a white candle in thanks and honor of Brigid’s healing energies.
Overall, I am less happy with how this devotion went. I feel like I made more of a connection last time, but I also realize that life has a way of mucking up the best of plans. I am working on being flexible, and the realization that there is always a way to make the connection, even if it wasn’t ‘on schedule’. Since I didn’t get to craft much during my actual shift, I have been working on Lughnasadh amulets as gifts for our Circle’s Ritual next weekend and am making a Brigid’s Cross from some of the leftover wheat stems from the amulets. I’ll post pictures when I finish it!
Saturday, June 30, 2012 8:22PM CST began my first shift with Cill Willow to tend Brigid’s Eternal Flame. I have ‘shift 4’ in a 20-day cycle (with 19 Flamekeepers and one day that Brigid tends the flame herself, then the cycle starts again). Each shift starts at sundown and continues through the night and following day, until sundown, when you pass the duty off to the next Flamekeeper.
I posted about this a few weeks ago, and I wanted to come back and talk about what the experience was like; document what I did and how I felt.
I lit my flame just after sunset. I also lit some incense that I made. I plan to make another blend specifically for tending my flame (possibly with the sisters in my Cill), but this time, I used a blend that I made in Circle with my local group last year at Mabon. It’s one of my favorite blends and since it was made in Circle, I thought it was appropriate.
I chose a white candle to burn for Brigid. White corresponds to spirituality, cleansing, purity, perfection, innocence, integrity, healing, freedom, opportunity, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is also a color of simple power; white carries the powers of all the colors and can be directed towards almost any use. In this case, I specifically wanted to channel spirituality and cleansing. White helps eliminate negative energy and creates inner peace, which I found to be very true in this instance. It also corresponds to the Maiden form of the Triple Goddess, which is Brigid incarnate.
I was able to spend four hours in mindful tending this evening. I listened to songs and stories and even watched a documentary on St. Brigid of Kildare. Some of my favorite music devoted to Brigid is Lisa Theil’s Song to Brigid, Isaac Bonewit’s Hymn to Brigid, Brighid’s Kiss by Triniti, Chalice & Blade’s I Hear You Calling, and Kelliana’s Brighid.
During that time, to honor Brigid’s call to creativity and her affinity for healing, I created a flat woven beaded panel that features a Native American Medicine Wheel. It didn’t turn out all that great; I had no idea how many beads it would take and ran out of the ones I started with and then the others were too small. I ended up editing the design once it was in-progress and it just… yeah – not so great. It looks nothing like the original design, but I am relatively happy with it (for what it is – call it a ‘proof of concept’). But the effort was there, and I plan on getting more beads to make a ‘real’ version of the panel. If it turns out well, then I will make another panel and sew them together for a ‘Medicine Bag‘. I very much enjoyed the process of beading. I am considering getting a loom, although flat bead weaving wasn’t too bad.
I will keep a natural flame burning for some time yet and when I go to bed I will switching to a LED candle. I would prefer a natural flame to burn the entire shift, but safety comes first and leaving a candle burning while I sleep wouldn’t be safe. I would also worry that the flame would go out while I slumber; an LED flame will be burning bright until I wake.
One thing that this experience has taught me is that I am not connecting with my deities deeply enough lately. I plan to spend some time over the coming weeks and months devoting my practice to a particular deity, rather than just honoring the Gods in general. I also found that I need to schedule more devotional time into my day. Though four hours is a bit much to expect on a daily basis, perhaps once a week would be feasible.
Something I would like to comment on before I go is meditating with children around. I have two children, both active boys, and my husband has been home this evening. They’ve been in and out of the kitchen (where I was meditating and beading), and asking me questions, commenting on my handiwork, turning the TV up too loud – all while I was in my makeshift ‘sacred space’. I decided before I began that trying to retreat to my room to practice in solitude and relative silence would be an exercise in futility, and so I adjusted my mindset. I knew that I would be needed (probably more than usual since my mind was to be elsewhere), and so I went into this evening with that in mind. Instead of being resentful or annoyed at interruptions, I looked at my divided attention as honoring the Mother aspect of the Goddess – caring for my children and family as She answers us when we are in need of Her attention – even when there are others who need Her more. Even though I was interrupted countless times over the course of the evening, my peace was undisturbed. I am relaxed and my mind is restful – I enjoyed my evening very much.
If you have young children, I wonder how looking at tending your families needs as part of your practice might work. When my children were younger, I felt like I didn’t have time for devotions, because I was so needed all the time. Looking back, I wish I had more of an open mind about how my daily practice should look and feel. I also wish that I’d been more open to incorporating my boys into my practice when they were younger. I actually have mixed feelings about that, as I don’t want to ‘indoctrinate’ them into any religion – I want them to know about and explore other paths and find the one that’s right for them. That said, I do wish I’d taken more time with them in spiritual matters when they were younger – for that matter I wish I had taken more time for spiritual matters myself when they were younger! Oh well, done is done – time to focus on the here and now. My youngest did come craft next to me while I was beading. He is sculpting a little man figure from clay; we sat together and enjoyed some of the music I lined to above with me. A mother can’t ask for more than that!
I may write more tomorrow – I will have a full day of Flamekeeping to fill. ‘Till then, have a blessed night!