Tag Archives: Imbolc

An Imbolc Tale

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“Now the phoenix burst, as phoenixes will do,” the boy’s Nonna said, “into flame, but our hero didn’t see it.”

“Instead, he was focused on the small well to the East of his Nonna’s yard. When he had climbed down from the tree, determined to look underneath his feet, inside his Nonna’s land, and to connect with what was there, he had stopped worrying about the phoenix. Instead, he had turned his attention to the darkness at the heart of the land, trying to discern what his ancestors had brought across the ocean that gave the trolls a foothold there.

“For many and many a day our hero sat staring deep into the well. Sometimes the sun shone into the well, making sparkling jewels on the surface of the water and our hero tried to discern a message. And sometimes clouds covered the sky and the water was as dull and steel-grey as the trolls’ factories and our hero tried not to shiver too much. And sometimes snow fell from the sky, and settled on a thin skin of ice that sat upon the water, and our hero huddled into himself, wishing that he were back inside, under the covers, drinking hot chocolate, and eating chocolate croissants, and not worried about the trolls. But because he was a hero, every time that he was about to give up, he would remind himself how much he wanted to free his lands from the trolls and that would help him to stay just a bit longer, staring into the well.

“Now a day came when it seemed to the hero that sunrise came a bit earlier than it had been coming. And it seemed to him that the sun warmed him a bit more than had been its wont of late. And it seemed to him that the local fox hunted with a special urgency that almost smelled of kits deep inside a den. And it seemed to him that he could see some movement at the bottom of the well. He blew into his hands to warm them and he watched as the tiny white blossom of a snowdrop opened up at the base of an old maple tree.

“‘Been here long?’ the strong woman asked. Our hero almost jumped, and he did stand, quickly, as he had been always taught to be respectful, and he touched the knitted cap upon his head and answered, ‘Yes, Lady. I’ve been sitting here since Yule, since the shortest night of the year. And I’m not sure what day it is, but I do know that it’s been a long time because the days are starting sooner and the snowdrops are opening.’

“‘What would make a fine young person sit outside from Yule to Imbolc?’ the Lady asked, and our hero noted that she carried a small flame in her hand and that a young lamb suckled at her breast. He felt warmer as she came nearer to him and he could see more snowdrops opening in her footsteps. Her footsteps sounded as if a hammer were striking a musical anvil somewhere far away, maybe deep underground. And each step brought her and her warmth closer and closer to where he stood beside the well.

“‘I want to free my land from the trolls and their factories and evil mimes,’ the hero said. ‘And an old man told me to find the phoenix because she could tell me. And the phoenix told me to look into the heart of the land to find out what my ancestors brought with them to this land that gave the trolls a chance to work their greedy magic. And I’ve been sitting here, looking into this deep well, all Winter, but all that I’ve seen has been sunlight, and clouds, and ice, and snow. And sometimes I wanted to go inside and get warm, and eat, and drink, but I don’t want to leave until I know the answer. Can you help me, Lady? Please?’

“The lady smiled, and said to the hero, ‘You don’t remember me, do you? I was there when you were a day old and had jaundice. I have an interest in newborn children and I was there when they had to prick your heel with a needle to test your blood. Do you remember at all?’

“Wait!” the boy said. “Nonna, that’s just like me. Remember you told me how I had jaundice, which means yellow, and how you were there when they stuck a needle into my heel? And how the nurse from England swaddled me up so it wouldn’t hurt too much? Remember?”

And Nonna said, “Yes, the hero was just like you in that way. And perhaps some others.” And she continued:

“And our hero wasn’t completely sure whether he remembered it of his own doing, or if what he was remembering was from the time that his Nonna had told him about it, but he did, somehow, remember the pinprick in his heel, and a sense of warmth that helped him through that, and, just now, he could feel a tingling in his left foot. ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘I think that I may remember it, a bit, and I am grateful to you. My Nonna told me how happy my mother was to finally bring me home and how my father, who later taught me to hike the mountain, smiled when they put me into my mother’s arms to go home. Because Nonna was there and she saw it all, and somehow, maybe you and my Nonna are mixed up in my memory, as if she would sometimes try very hard to bring your energy into the room, but, well, really, I don’t know . . . . Can you help me to save my land?’

“‘Well, as to that,’ the Lady said, ‘I am She Who Attends All Beginnings and, so, of course, I was here when your ancestors came to this place. And I saw what they brought with them, off of their ships, and I have watched how some good came, and some evil came, and how, as is always the case, there have been Unintended Consequences. There’s a history that is the focus of this month. But what I could tell you wouldn’t help you; you must find out the truth for yourself. And I must know if you are true of heart and can work for your land and not be overtaken by greed. So, look, now, deep into the well and tell me what you see.’

“And the Lady held her flame directly above the well, and our hero looked as deep into the well as he had ever looked, and there, below the surface of the water, pictures began to take shape. Our hero saw flat pictures of ships, ships smaller than the one his hoary ancestor had sailed, ships that slipped between waves, heading ever towards the West. He grew sleepy, watching those ships, and finally, warmed, at last, by the Lady’s flame, he fell asleep, dreaming of ships and lands to the West. And just as he fell all the way asleep, he saw deep into the holds of the ships and cried out in despair, while a jazz riff played softly in his ears.

“And now,” the boy’s Nonna said, “it really is time for sleep.”

“Wait!” the boy said. “What did he see? Did he save his land from the trolls? What happened?”

“That,” Nonna said, “is a tale for a warmer day.” And that was all that she would say.

Picture found here.

A Story for Imbolc

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Christmas, it seemed, had been a long time ago. So many days, at least so it seemed to him, had gone by since the boy went with his family to Nonna’s for Yule, the holiday that she had instead of Christmas, and Nonna had told the story about the glittering eggs, and the Viking ancestors, and the phoenix bird in the magnolia tree, and there had been presents. It was still cold and the days still seemed short, although, as Mommy pointed out on the drive home from his school’s after-care, the days were getting longer because they could now see sunsets most of the way home, instead of driving home in the dark. “Mmm-hmm,” the boy said, playing a video game on Mommy’s iPad from his car seat in the back.

That weekend, after the basketball game, Daddy drove him to Nonna’s to spend the night.

Nonna was sure to have some art projects in her art drawer and some card games to play. And she would certainly order in Thai food for supper. In the morning, he and Nonna were going to go get waffles at the diner and then see the new Hobbit movie. “Smaaaauuuuuggg,” the boy liked to say. He said it exactly the way that the announcer said it on tv when there were ads for the movie. Even though it was PG13, his parents let him go with Nonna since she wanted it so much and the orcs never scared him.

After breakfast at the diner, and after seeing Smaug (which, of course, included a big plastic cup of root beer, and some popcorn, and some Twizzlers, and the 3-D glasses), and after a trip to the neighborhood toy store for Pokemon cards, and after several games of Uno and several games of Chinese checkers, almost all of which the boy won and Nonna just barely lost, and after they went down to Nonna’s basement and played a game about fishing for River Monsters, and after a treasure hunt that the elves had left for the boy to discover, and after a warm bath where Nonna let the boy mix lavender oil, and olive oil, and almond oil, as much as he liked, because it was winter and everyone’s skin gets dry and everyone wants to smell something nice, and he felt a bit like a doctor, or scientist, or (this was one of Nonna’s words) an alchemist — it was, despite his best efforts, time for the boy to go to bed. And, of course, Nonna read a chapter from their latest book, and set the night light that made a pattern of the solar system on the ceiling, and told a funny story about when Daddy was a boy, and sang the song about hoof and horn.

And, then, just as Nonna was about to smooth the extra covers that the boy liked to have Nonna put on his bed and go, the boy said, “Nonna, what happened when the phoenix in the magnolia told that hero to connect with what was in the deep dark at the heart of his land to find the cure for the trolls? Did he figure out what his ancestors brought across the ocean that let the trolls get established on the shores of the Chesapeake and the Potomac? You never finished the story when we were here for Yule.”

And so, as you will see in a day or so my beloveds, his Nonna told some more of the story. She began by saying, “Once upon a time, there was a young man. He was older than seven, but younger than twelve, as heroes often are.”

“No, I know that part,” the boy said. “The hero was older than seven and younger than twelve, and I’m going to be eight in just over a month. Tell the part about what happened when he climbed down from the magnolia tree.”

“Well,” his Nonna said, “I’m getting there. Just wait a tiny minute while I freshen up my mug of tea with some more hot water. I’ll be right back, my love.”

And it was hot water, mostly, that Nonna added to her tea. And then she began in earnest . . . . And, of course, you, you brilliant readers you, you know that she said, “The boy climbed down to the ground. And, suddenly, the phoenix in the nest atop the magnolia tree burst into flame . . . .”

Picture found here.

Just Two Weeks to Imbolc!

Tuesday Poetry Blogging

Snowdrops in Late Winter

Snowdrops in Late Winter


The Crone’s Song

~ Doris Henderson

She gave to me a witching ring,
a wraith of clouds, a song to sing,
a whispered voice in the leafing tree,
the melting waters of an ice cold sea.

The winter is gone, the hills are bare.
The rabbit wakes from her darkened lair.
My heart is hungry and my soul is free –
O Goddess, give a sign to me.

A bird in flight, so black of wing,
across my path in the early spring.
She casts her eye, she holds me fast;
I see her shadow in the tangled grass.

O Hecate pale, your call I know;
my hand grows cold like the nettle’s sting:
the blackbird turns, and lets me go.
She gives to me another spring.

The chilly wind a-rushing free,
the pale green veils of the willow tree,
the circling hills, the melting snows,
the sheltered rock where the crocus grows.

The Beltane fires will burn once more,
like fifty summers I’ve known before.
The icy blue sky, the falling rain . . .
She gives me back my life again.

Poem found in Casting the Circle: A Women’s Book of Ritual by Diane Stein

Picture found here.

Saturday Night Poetry Blogging

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Leeks

Two sticks in drifted snow
mark the trench where I laid the leeks
in cool dirt in October.
Now I dig down through old
frozen crust to damp dark hay
to the thick grey green leaves
of the leeks and pull them
from the piled earth and
shake dirt from their white
hairy roots. They come up
like creatures from under
the ocean. In the half-cold,
half-light the odor of earth
gone all these long months
wraps around me, and it is as if
these leeks have come from
a world where there are great
pleasures of the body, where
the mind grows smaller, where
libraries mold in the dark,
where worms in purple and brown
rule the streets, and the corridors
of power are moist and rich
in a way that radio voices
can’t conceive of, and the talk
is of the thick trunk
of seasons, the nose
of rootedness, the eye
that works its way through,
hair that feels its way,
the skull that follows,
the toad of desire, the beetle
of bone density, the grub
of grief, the larva of longing,
the moon coming up and the quiet
at the end of February.

I pick up the pile of leeks
and carry them to the kitchen.
I wash them clean. I chop them
on the old board. I cook them
in oil and salt. I taste
their great sweetness. I remember
that the earth will hum into spring.

~ Abbot Cutler

Picture found here.

Eighth Annual Poety Slam

This year is the Eighth Annual Brigid Poetry Slam, organized by Anne Hill in honor of Brigid, the Goddess of smithcraft and poetry.

I love so many poems; it’s difficult to pick just one. But this year, I think that I will offer Rilke’s The Swan:

What Beth Owl’s Daugher Said

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Absolutely great post about Hecate and Imbolc.

Picture found here

Imbolc: When the Changes Are Still Mostly Invisible

Lots Going on Underground

Lots Going on Underground

Here in the magical MidAtlantic, the period just around Imbolc is when Nature is very busy, but almost all of the work is done out of sight. A quick scan of the horizon shows trees that still look dead, ice on the Potomac, and leaden skies. Yet, in the mountains, mother bears have given birth to their cubs and are no longer hibernating. They’re staying in their caves, but there’s activity there. Foxes are building dens for the kits that will be born in a few weeks. Bulbs underground are growing green shoots that will soon pop out of the Earth and then begin to make buds. Trees and shrubs are covered in tight little buds. You can see them, if you look carefully, but it’s difficult to imagine that, come September, that hard bit of stuff will be, for example, an apple or a fig, much less that it will be a blossom in May.

And it is often the same way with our own growth process. We may have been working with our Word of the Year or List of Goals for a month now, but it can be difficult to see much progress. And that’s when it starts to seem as if it might just be easier to forget the whole thing.

Here’s a good post (hat tip to: @druidjournal) that provides some outstanding advice for exactly this time of year. For example:

Of all the skills I’ve learned in the past 7 years of changing my life, one skill stands out:

Learning to be comfortable with discomfort.

If you learn this skill, you can master pretty much anything. You can beat procrastination, start exercising, make your diet healthier, learn a new language, make it through challenges and physically grueling events, explore new things, speak on a stage, let go of all that you know, and become a minimalist. And that’s just the start.

Unfortunately, most people avoid discomfort. I mean, they really avoid it — at the first sign of discomfort, they’ll run as fast as possible in the other direction. This is perhaps the biggest limiting factor for most people, and it’s why you can’t change your habits.

Think about this: many people don’t eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste. We’re not talking about soul-wrenching pain here, not Guantanamo torture, but a taste that’s just not something you’re used to. And so they eat what they already like, which is sweets and fried stuff and meats and cheeses and salty things and lots of processed flour.

The simple act of learning to get used to something that tastes different — not really that hard in the grand scheme of life — makes people unhealthy, often overweight.

I know, because this was me for so many years. I became fat and sedentary and a smoker and deeply in debt with lots of clutter and procrastination, because I didn’t like things that were uncomfortable. And so I created a life that was deeply uncomfortable as a result.

The beautiful thing is: I learned that a little discomfort isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be something you enjoy, with a little training. When I learned this, I was able to change everything, and am still pretty good at changing because of this one skill.

Master your fear of discomfort, and you can master the universe.

The entire post is well worth a read.

And it’s true, isn’t it? Lots of growth does feel a bit uncomfortable, especially at first. Change isn’t always easy. And when the change is still happening underground and outside our field of vision, the discomfort can seem to be a lot greater than the reward.

One of my tried-and-true tactics for dealing with the kind of discomfort discussed in the post is (no surprise here) breathing, grounding, centering, coming back to my true self. When I do that, it’s much easier for me to remember why I’m putting myself in an uncomfortable situation in the first place. A second strategy is to personalize the discomfort. Give it a name, an appearance, a personality. And then talk to it. Invite it in. Acknowledge it. Ask for its help on your journey (you did read fairy tales, right?)

For one of my goals this year, my discomfort is the Woodwose from the Wildwood Tarot. We’re developing quite a relationship. I wouldn’t call us friends, exactly, but I do think we have a healthy respect for each other. I’m learning to recognize him even when he hides as my tiredness, busyness, appetites.

What does your discomfort look like? What does s/he say when you invite hir to come in and sit down? Is it easier when s/he doesn’t always have to hide?

Picture found here.

Imagining Imbolc

Daffodils

Daffodils

VII.
Daffodils are up, my God! What beauty
concerted down on us last night. And if
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder
blossoming, the symphony smashing down
hothouse walls, and into the world: music.
Something like the birds’ return, each morning’s
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,
colors unfurling, petals alluring.
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy
of spring. My God. This beauty. This, this
is what I’ve hoped for. All my life is here
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—
only now, in spring, can the place be named.

~Camille Dungy, from the poem, “What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison” from the book, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison.

What are you hungry for?

Picture found here.

Pre-Imbolc Poetry & Meditations on a Swiftly Tilting Planet


It’s the end of January.

This morning began with a downpour and a thunderstorm. We never have thunderstorms in January; they’re a feature of Summer here in the mystical MidAtlantic. But we had one this morning, just as I had to grab a cab (it takes magic to get a cab in the rain in DC; luckily, I know a good spell).

Then, within the hour, the rain cleared out and it was sunny and windy, a perfect March day, here at the end of January. I walked to lunch holding onto my scarf for fear it would blow off between my office and my lunch meeting at Morton’s.

This evening I drove home along the banks of the Potomac River and Spout Run watching salmon and purple clouds run ahead of the wind. There’s an exquisite fingernail of a crescent Moon hanging low in the West.

Global climate change is turning everything topsy turvy. Nothing knows when to bloom anymore. This week, the USDA released the new hardiness zone map (Zone 7b! Represent!) for the US, clearly showing zone creep. There’s sadness, indeed, in watching Gaia heave and moan, trying to give birth to a new equilibrium. She’s indeed, at the moment, a swiftly tilting planet. But it’s also a gift, to be present at this limbic time, this moment of shift, this time sacred to Hecate.

In just a few days, it will be Imbolc. Sacred to the Goddess Brigid, patroness of poets and blacksmiths, Imbolc always represents a big shift along the Wheel of the Year. Days are now noticeably longer. Anne Hill will be organizing her annual Imbolc poetry slam. May your Imbolc be blessed and may you find new ways to be in relationship with the spirits and powers of your own Bit of Earth, with the animals, and plants, and microbes, and rocks, and clouds that live there.

Here, in anticipation, is a poem about February by Margaret Atwood:

February

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

What poem are you readying for Imbolc?

Picture found here. (In comments, Ruth notes that this picture is by the amazing artist Joanna Powell Colbert.)