Being Our Seedling Selves for Imbolc

Imbolc, that Celtic holiday marking the very beginnings of the new life of spring, always seems to be among the more popular and awaited seasonal celebrations.  Perhaps this is because we, especially here in New England, are more than ready for an end to winter by February whereas other seasonal celebrations usher in the itchy heat of summer or the chill of fall and winter. This year, our winter has been kinder than usual, so maybe that’s why Imbolc brought contemplations of new ways of thinking of how to celebrate this moment of the year rather than simply a longing for a warm breeze.

This Imbolc, I’ve decided to mine my soul for wildness.  By “wildness” I don’t mean  going beyond society’s mores or walking away from domesticity, but rather being one’s true self in the same way that a mushroom coming up through the soil will always be a mushroom and an elephant will always seek a watering hole because that’s what elephants do.

Spring is a particularly good time to look for that essentialness – who you really are – because this is the time in nature when the plant shoots and newly-birthed beasts are most purely themselves.  On a walk I take most days, I pass a twisted tree – it looks as if a hand had grabbed the top of the tree and started twisting the trunk round and round.  I’ve been told that this tree is really several trees that came to grow round one another. While they are stronger together and the form is beautiful, the infinite possibilities of “treeness” that each seedling was during the spring it was born have been narrowed down to the twisted shape by the elements. And just so are we also changed and molded by our experiences, sometimes in ways that may be good but are still more limiting than they might have been otherwise.

As long as we don’t blow over in the wind, what does it matter who we started out being?  Sometimes if we do not remember who we most truly are, it is far too easy to be a tree that is pretending to be a rock or a river.  We may be naturally strong and sheltering and giving of seeds, but still act as if we are hard and unmovable or always moving downstream and never taking root.

When we go back to our seedling selves, perhaps by remembering what and who we loved as a child or what our earliest aspirations were or what creative work we always found ourselves doing, we come back to that birth instant of infinite possibility.  We gain a new perspective that can take away, even if just for a moment, those limitations on ourselves that come with disappointment and others’ expectations and assumptions, especially about who we should be and what we should do, and our own weariness. If we can become adept at going back to ourselves as we were at our beginnings, could  we not go even farther back, as a species and remake ourselves to be the compassionate, peace-loving, creative,  respectful people we are in our greatest visions?  Perhaps the coming of spring each year is a reminder from Nature that there really is no reason why, if She can begin anew every year, we cannot also.

Celebrate Imbolc with Snow Ice Cream

Imbolc, the Celtic holiday celebrating the first stirrings of spring, is almost upon us. One reason I love Imbolc is that it isn’t widely celebrated, so we can more easily make our own celebrations that are meaningful to us. Also, anything that promises spring is welcome in the middle of a New England winter. I just learned this year that February 1 actually does mark the beginning of the solar spring, the time when the sun shines long enough during the day that the Earth begins to warm and the snow to melt. On February 1, there is no sign of spring in New England, so I always believed that the Celts just had a different climate with an earlier spring than we did. It’s nice to know that the Celts actually were celebrating an astronomically-significant event; they were so smart!

This year I have decided to make snow ice cream for my Imbolc observance. If you have never made snow ice cream, here is how you do it. When the snow starts falling, put a bowl out to gather the fresh snow. You can, theoretically, scoop it off the snowbank, but I don’t trust it to be really clean unless it has just fallen. Mix about 6 cups of snow with 1 cup milk, ½ cup sugar or equivalent sweetener, and a little flavoring of your choice. The snow will quickly become much less than 6 cups. You can freeze it and then it will have the taste and texture of Italian ice.

To me, eating snow is the perfect way to celebrate the first twinklings of spring because snow is like winter’s harvest. It is so beautiful and so abundant, like grains of wheat or rice. Each flake is unique and spectacular, even though very, very few will ever be seen and appreciated. How much Gaia must love to create for us to make snow. What a spring-like gesture of plenty snow is.

Making snow ice cream is a connection to our younger, “spring” selves, at least for those of us who made it as children. I love the idea of doing something at Imbolc that I did as a child, when the world really was new and every day was an adventure. What a deep way to connect to the youthful spirit of spring, that is all potential and growth and enthusiastic optimism!

Yet, for all its springlike reflections, snow ice cream is still made of snow with all its somber and cold qualities. Winter’s peace and sanctuary, to me, comes with the first silent snowfall. When we ingest snow, we are bringing this element into ourselves, acknowledging the essential ending phase of life’s wheel. Yet, we are remaking it into something joyful and pleasurable, nourishing that part of us that is renewing ourselves as we wait for the sun’s warmth and the growth that it will bring.

On Imbolc, may you enjoy a nice, chilly, tasty bowl of snow ice cream and observe all that is happy and hopeful about this moment of the year!

Preparing for Imbolc: The Kitchen Mysteries Celebration

Winter seems to be the time for celebrations.  All over the world, people focus on festivities around both the Winter Solstice and then the Spring Equinox.  These are the celebrations of the Great Mysteries — the coming of the Light, the birth of Diety,  magnificent miracles, overcoming death – that happen in the realms beyond our everyday senses, in the great cosmos, as we watch from below in awe and wonder.  I enjoy these holidays, but they always seemed a bit too far above my day-to-day life for me to really understand and be an essential part of.

Imbolc, which falls between the two celebratory seasons on February 2, always seemed to me to be a somewhat outdated holiday.  In the Celtic cultures in which it was celebrated, it was the early spring holiday when the lambs began to be born and the first plants began pushing up through the soil.  Where I live, it occurs in the deepest of winter, when the snow is three feet deep and the first crocuses are almost three months away.  

But, if we look at it differently, perhaps it could become a third holiday that celebrates the Mysteries that occur in everyday life, the “kitchen mysteries” that do not originate in the heavens, but on earth; that we help create with what we always do after getting up in the morning everyday; that are not celebrated with global festivities, but at our breakfast tables and in our gardens. 

Though I cannot see the seeds of rebirth preparing to bud, it is happening all the same in this most basic manifestation of the Great Mystery of the coming of the renewal of life, of light’s return, of the earth and Divine joining to make the world anew.  This coming back to life or into life occurs each day as our children grow from babies into full-grown adults with lives, spirits, and personalities of their own.  I see it in all of our creative endeavors that begin with the smallest of ideas and transform into books, paintings, quilts, organizations or businesses, and so many things.

Perhaps we can make Imbolc a time to celebrate those Mysteries in our everyday lives the same way we do the other holidays, with decorations, foods, and activities that symbolize the message of this time.  Just as we begin to prepare for those other holidays for weeks, I plan to get ready for Imbolc starting now.  What might we do to honor those seeds of so many things that are the bridge between the winter and spring, a wasteland and abundance, the old and the new?

I have already begun watering a planter full of crocus bulbs and their little heads peeked through the soil yesterday.  If I had enough light in my house, I would plant more seeds for flowers, vegetables and herbs.  What can you begin to plant?

We can make an Imbolc mix of seeds, nuts, and dried fruits to put out for snacks during these weeks ahead.  We can serve meals to ourselves and our families that are high in nutrients, full of the life of the seed as it prepares for its journey to the upper world, and that are full of the spirit of the earth.  These might include more seeds, lentils, beans, root vegetables and, to celebrate the coming abundance, grains.

We can read or listen to a retelling of the story of Innana. This story is, to me, a perfect Imbolc tale because it recreates the journey of soul to the underworld where she is purified and made wise so that she can re-emerge into the earth better able to serve. 

We can find ways to nurture children and help them bring forth their own inner powers. We can spend more time with our own children or others for whom we have caregiving responsibilities, asking more questions about their interests and dreams. We can volunteer or donate to organizations that work for children with special needs, education, or other similar causes.  We can share our skills and experience to benefit children who may come across our paths at this time and throughout the year.

We can spend some time doing at least one creative project that has lain dormant for whatever reason.  It may be writing about a subject that scares us.  It may be trying some new media – if you are a writer, paint; if you bead, make something out of clay; if you are a singer, try cooking.

This new kind of Imbolc is a holiday that you can make your own.  What does it mean to you and what would you like it to be?