The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Ms Faith

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Celtic Imbolc - Groundhog's Day - The first of spring!

Happy Imbolc Greetings,

Today is officially our Sabbat of Imbolc. This is a spring celebration that hearkens from the ancient Celtic peoples and today it is primarily celebrated with the American holiday of Groundhog's day.  How did this holiday get started and why do we consider the beginning of February the beginning of spring?  It certainly doesn't look like spring out there, but let's discuss this interesting subject, shall we?

The Celtic, over 1,000 years ago,  followed the Julian calender, and the spring/ vernal equinox fell on the 16th of March.  February 1, is exactly 6 weeks prior to the equinox and as we've discussed before, the Druid's revered all things 'in-between'. They had two sides of the year, the light side and the dark side. Summer and winter. Each half celebrated one solstice, either summer or winter and three other Sabbats, either spring or autumn.  If you pay close attention, you'll see there is a delicate dance that occurs around the wheel of the year.

As Yule is the winter celebration, Imbolc would be the first spring celebration.  Imbolc is an ancient Gaelic word, also known as Old Irish, which has been translated as "In the belly", and 'ewes milk'  a reference to the cattle in the fields going into estrus or heat, and becoming impregnated.  The first spring lambs and calves are to be born soon, and  it's important to note that the weather in Great Britain and Ireland is a bit warmer due to the ocean currents even though it is the same time of year, than here in New England.They have spring blossoms and a warming of the ground a few weeks before we do, even though we are on a similar latitude.

I compare what we do here in New England with the history of the Celtic people in Western Europe because my witchcraft has its roots in those origins. It may not feel like spring with the storms we've been pummeled with and as I write this, there's a lovely winter storm happening.  Yet, it is true. Our spring has just arrived. How do I know this? Look around you at the signs of nature.

The Canada geese have begun flying North again, if you pay attention you'll see them in the skies. As cold as it is, the rivers have started to run faster, the squirrels are much more active than they have been for a couple of months, and the Blackthorn tree is in bloom at this time of year.  If you are fortunate to have cyclamen plants under your shady shrubs and larger trees, you can remove the snow at the ground level, and their beautiful pink, red and white blossoms are visible!!

I know my cylamen are blooming under the snow, as they do every year, yet I won't be attempting to wade through 4 feet of snow to disturb their private, quiet party. If you'd like to see blossoms first thing in February, then this summer plant cyclamen plants in your yard. Give them a nice home in the dark fertile soil to be found under larger plantings such as border shrubs, rhododendrons, azaleas, or evergreen shrubs. just make sure they have 8 to 10 inches of air space between them and the overhanging branches or fronds they are planted beneath.  The overhanging branches also provide a bit of a snow break so the plants underneath aren't under feet of snow, but merely inches.
Cyclamens are a low growing ground level plant with pretty blossoms, that when planted within the protective shelter of a stronger, larger tree or shrub can bring so much excitement and delight in the apparent midst of winter, with their happy blossoms.  Here are some pictures of cyclamen, now available in many colors,  thanks to modern horticulture.






  Plan your winter garden in the spring and summer when the plants you need are readily available.  So is it spring yet? Well I leave it up to you to decide if you can sense the delicate, subtle energies of spring. But no worries, just a few weeks from now we will be feeling the warmer air, hear the constant gurgle and drip of melting ice and snow and bemoaning the wet and the mud.

A few things of interest concerning our Sabbat of Imbolc.  It is the Sabbat where we traditionally replace all of our ritual candles with fresh new candles. If you still have plenty of wax in your old candles, burn them as atmospheric candles, or even annoint them with some oil and the green can be burned in combination with some incense for money magick. The same goes with the other candles. Red can be burned during a love spell, blue to help with communication and understanding between people, and yellow to help sharpen your intellect and to bring truth into a situation.  These are not burned as spell candles, but in conjunction with spell candles just to add a bit of ummph to your spellwork.

 Imbolc is also a traditional Sabbat that is known as the witches initiation. This is primarily a day for witches to declare their path or dedication to the world of magicks and mysteries. Of workyou intend to do with the Goddess and serving her as she desires you to. It is typically a self initiation and you can do this simply by lighting a candle and speaking your intent to the Goddess. She will hear you. It needn't be formal and stuffy.

Imbolc has in ancient history been observed on the first of February, as the Greater Sabbats were at one time all observed on the first of their respective months. Over many years, with the introduction of Christianity into the Pagan world, the Pagan celebration of light, Imbolc, became Candlemass in the Catholic church which in turn moved its observance to February 2nd. This was a common tactic employed by the Catholic church, to absorb a Pagan holiday and add days around it, such as Samhain (October 31st, which became All Hallow's Eve, November 1st, Hallows or All Saint's Day and Nov 2nd All Soul's Day).  As if the naming of a new celebration would erase the tradition followed by a civilization for thousands of years.  Imbolc was turned into a Christian celebration of light, not much different from what the Pagans had observed for millennium. Candles, as the name implies, played a great role in this celebration. 

Now, to discuss Groundhog Day.   Groundhog Day is an American holiday that seems to have been developed amongst the Germanic immigrants of Pennsylvania in the 19th century.  It is believed that it has its origins in the ancient winter-spring nature observances from Europe, primarily the Celts and Romans.  Except the European version had a badger as the animal of honor.  The legend goes that on the day in question, the groundhog or badger comes out of the ground, out of the womb of mother earth and by the lack or presence of a shadow, predicts whether the winter will soon end or will continue for several more weeks.

Interestingly, if its a sunny day and the groundhog sees his shadow, the winter will be prolonged an additional six weeks, and spring will be delayed until the spring equinox,Ostara.   If it's an overcast or sunless day, and there is no shadow, the groundhog predicts an early spring.  As this storm that is presently raging has obliterated any hint of sunshine, and will continue for at least another day, it seems unlikely the groundhog will see his shadow tomorrow.   So looks like spring is coming early, yeah!

The etymology of the word February means expiatory offerings. Expiatory means atonement. So an offering  or a sacrifice for the purpose of atonement, is the root of this month's name. Hmmmm. Isn't this fascinating?


Happy Imbolc,

Peace and Happiness





© 2010 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see www.enchantmentsschool.com or go to the title of tonight's discussion and click, it will link you to my school's website. 

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