First Imbolc in the Nemeton

I will start off by saying, while I deeply love Imbolc now, and have for two decades, ’twas not always so. In fact, when I was a fledgling Witchlet, back in Toronto in the 80s, I found everything about Imbolc…weird, impossible to connect with, and frustrating. Last week, in preparation for the first Imbolc in my new home, I reflected on my first Imbolc ever, and it was both hilarious and bittersweet. I was living in downtown Toronto, King and Dufferin area, in a warehouse with a loft, that doubled as rehearsal space, and had recently discovered the Occult Shop, Ben Abraham Books, and the Fifth Kingdom – all stores catering to the needs of people such as I, interested in/practising some form of magic or esoteric spirituality. It was the classic case of “coming home” – feeling like I wasn’t alone after all – for many years I’d been reading everything I could on astrology, had been gifted with clairvoyant dreams and was said to have a “mystical” connection with other species (this last one always baffled me, I couldn’t understand how anyone DIDN’T feel what I felt from other creatures). I’d always been said to be a Witch, with my blazing red hair in a dark haired/olive skinned family, my visions and familiars, but it felt like a very lonely thing to me, not a badge of specialness at all, just proof I was a freak. Childhood was lonely, but saved by my weekend trips to the forest, or helping my veterinarian father in his clinic, or just reading my stacks of books on insects, dinosaurs and birds.

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me, very excited to be going to see some puppies

Puberty hit, and my need to fit in swelled to incredible proportions, with a temporary abandonment of all the mystical stuff. Still, I think I was 15 when I found my grandmother’s Big Book on astrology and was completely smitten. When I look back, well before I found the Occult Shop and all those books and..others like me, the current was there. But once I did find it – there was no turning back, the long journey had begun.

And so, February 1 1985, I set out on a frigid Toronto night to hike my ass all the way down to the lake, with a bag of candles, an offering or two and a heart full of excitement and hope.

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ye gods, how did I ever live there?

It all went a bit sour as I crossed the bridge towards lakefront and the freezing rain began. A hasty retreat, hot tea and an offering/candle in my loft window had to suffice. What I find so endearing about this… earnest, if misguided effort is, I truly did not know what Imbolc even WAS, it’s meaning on the Wheel of the Year or relevance to modern life…just that The Book told me this is what one does. And as is my way, I tried to “do it right”. Getting things done properly has always been a sort of Grail for me, and it’s a double-edged sword – leads both to a laudable focus on excellence, and a painful tendency to set the bar so high I can never relax into feeling truly accomplished about anything. Unscrupulous people can smell this on me and know just where to ram the knife when they go on attack, calling me a poseur, a fake and all the things that people with my perfectionism fear most. Learning that nothing makes those claims real, that they are projections of the Wound of the Other, and that setting the bar too high is a form of self abuse, have been profound experiences for me the past few years. But, in the early days, as (to some extent) now, I wanted to “get Imbolc right”. I was relieved not to have developed pneumonia for the effort.

Nowadays, I still try to follow the Old Ways while incorporating authentic new traditions, but I worry less about things “being correct”. I live the Wheel in a way that honours the ancestors and the Old Gods, as well as invigorates and expresses my own experience of the Solar Wheel and Inner Mysteries. So yes, my very own Imbolc involves dairy foods, leaving my prayer shawl and ribbon outside for Brigid to bless, it involves a little altar and some Inner work – there are candles in windows, bannock, and white flowers(if I can find any). I don’t know if I’m “getting it right”..but it comes from both head and heart, knowledge and emotion – so I think the Old Ones are ok with that. And three decades later, I find Imbolc one of the dearest of the Festivals to me – given its association with the goddess Brigid, and my personal affinity for Her. At Imbolc, I reaffirm my dedication to healing, to the work I do with animals, to the creative fire that keeps me whole. It is a pause after the gorgeousness of Yule, a moment of quietude and rest in the depths of Midwinter, and a time of reflection. For me this year, that reflection centered on my recent move, my new home, and the power of grief paired with hope and vision. I set an altar in the livingroom, on the mantle of our fireplace, I made rosemary bannock (from the Gather Victoria site) I decided against my usual decadent noodle kugel, as it evokes memories too painful to revisit just yet. Alex bought me a small potted heather plant, which I adore, in lieu of cut flowers, likely pesticide-treated, and I spent a quiet day in the woods.
And then, on the 1st, this happened.

A cutting I brought from the Ark in Rupert, and nurtured all last fall, brought forth a bloom. Ten days later, it is still intact.

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The Wheel turns, the light grows.
Happy Imbolc, everyone.

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Further reading

http://www.chalicecentre.net/february-celtic-year.html
http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2012/01/the-festival-of-imbolc/
http://www.goddessandgreenman.co.uk/imbolc-candlemas

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