What we realised when we came to discuss Imbolc, in January, is that it seems to be the most elusive of the major Sabbats to understand. It is the first festival of Spring happening in an environment (2nd February) that is still very much immersed in Winter, and suggests new growth without the blatant connotations of celebrating fertility as the festivals immediately following it do, so how do we pin down the occasion we’re marking?
For those at the moot this month, Imbolc seems to represent a strange liminal period between winter and spring. A time to prepare to emerge from hibernation, but not quite come out yet. A time of planning and preparation – in agricultural terms, for planting and nurturing, not being hasty about results but instead being thorough in assuring they will happen. A focus on potential, and hope.
Practically it is when we have a tendency towards spring-cleaning, and decluttering – reassessing the basics and seeing and appreciating your environment anew, leaving the darkness of the winter behind. In that vein, we all seemed to call up personal reminders of a lot of fire imagery – not the blazing bonfires of Beltane, but candle light, sparks, the beginnings of warmth, and a sense of purification.
Also mentioned was the pre-Roman (possibly rooted in ancient Greek) festival of the Lupercalia, once celebrated in early February to purify the city to allow in new health and fertility. Pan or his equivalent was worshipped and the carnival-esque traditions included the priests of Pan wearing goatskins and enacting playful scourging/flagellations (a long-held symbol of purification) on those celebrating… it is suspected by some that such behaviour may have been the origin of the legends of the werewolf!
Modern Pagan understandings among us at the moot however were largely Goddess-centric. Most of us saw it as a quite gentle but feminine festival, with the female principle truly in a maiden aspect – deities we associated with it tended to be virgin goddesses, and if understanding the sabbats as times for different rites of passage for the dual divinities, then perhaps an association to menarche? One stage of preparation towards impending fertility and impending Spring promise.
As far as observing the season, early February did seem to have an uncanny synchronicity with the appearance of snowdrops – nature’s calendar reminder?