It's our way this year. It's all about the pull of spring and the return of the warmth. Winter is ebbing now and seed buying, garden planning, burning the greens of Winter Solstice, cleansing the home a bit, filling our bellies with delicious feasting food, and acknowledging the return of the sun is Imbolc in action.
With Imbolc, on February 1, we usually begin the night before with preparing a family feast and light up the home after a good cleansing This holy day is the actual marking of seasonal change where the first pull of spring is felt and the return of the sun is noted. We honor the successful passing of winter and the rebirth of the Sun. It is also a day of celebrating the Celtic Goddess Brigid, whose name literally means 'she who rises'. Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Protection, Wells & Water, Midwifery, and she is strongly associated with Oak trees. If you can make it with your hands, Brigid rules it. She is a triple Goddess, so we honour her in all her aspects. This is a time for communing with her, inviting her in with graitude for her protection and guidance so needed at the start of anything. At this time of year, many light multiple candles, white for Brigid or your Divine, yellow or red for the Sun returning, and I love a midnight blue one for gratitude and release of the past year and to remind us of the passing of winter and the entrance into spring, the time of the Sun. This is a good time for initiations and birthing new ways. It is also a festival of light and of fertility in many cultures, and so I also honor the Goddess Amaturasu of Japan as a bringer of Light in spring.
So the hard work of beginning another year occurs at Imbolc. Possibilities are endless and eternal at this time. The whole year stretches before us and we have the power to mold it into whatever we desire. Imbolc is a good time for gaining inspiration, releasing more of the old to bring in the new, getting more realistic about those New Year's resolutions that I rarely bother with, creating and increasing the warmth and love within a household-relationship-family (since we are most likely still cooped up together), creating prosperity, and welcoming personal growth.
Each year our family picks 'a something', an action, a sharing, and a feast to honor this sacred time of Imbolc as the fire of spring begins to return. It's not as grand as the Equinox in expression for us. There's more of an intimate, quiet acknowledgement as we continue to move through; much like birth is at it's best. Here are a few ideas our family enjoys:
~Bake something outrageous or so comforting on Imbolc. Feasting with friends and family is part of each high holy day. Traditional foods for this holy day, called a sabbat, include bread and dairy. I've got my eye on making bannock in honor of my Scottish ancestors. Cheese making is another we have enjoyed to honor the flow of milk from the birthing mothers of the animals we humans tend for their milk. There are some goat cheeses and yogurt cheeses that can be made overnight. Straining ricotta over night and sweetening with lemon zest and honey is one I love!
~Check out your candle supply and take note of what you're running low on. Our holiday this year was enjoyed with many candles and I already did some of this.
~Do a little 'spring' cleaning, and open the windows for ten minutes to let some fresh air in. Smudge the house and play loud, sacred music you love while you clean to break up the stagnant energy and cleanse the space. Wash windows and mirrors. Seek out dusty cob webs. One hour of this makes an incredible difference in how our homes feel. We do this as a tribe and it goes quick with all hands in motion.
~Plant and seed catalog shop by the fire. Bless the seeds you've chosen for your spring garden for beauty, food, or medicine. Plan a new garden with diagrams and all. When will you start some seeds? Now is the time to plan. What plants are calling to be near you or want to be moved around this year? Now is the listening and visioning time as we await warmer days. Gardens are live paintings, art in action, never done and always changing. They have a collective voice or an essence you can connect with.
~Brew a pot of herbal tea from last summer's bounty and enjoy it as you reflect on the personal goals you've accomplished in the past year. What's nudging you this year and deeply on your mind for manifesting in 2016? Good thoughts become and need our time, right?
~Light a gathering of candles on Imbolc to inspire the Sun and Spring to return. I'm trusting your always safe and tend your candles. Clean out your fireplace and get it blazing if it's still chilly. Burn the Holiday/Yule greens to send winter on its way with gratitude for not only being here but for trusting it will come again.
~Make a new altar in honor of Imbolc. Tiny is perfect if space is limited for it's all about your planning and feeling when created. This altar can be a source of support right through to Spring Equinox. Include items with deep meaning for you, and have family add to it over the next few weeks.
~Hang or refill birdfeeders. Food gets scarce now for the birds at this time of year. The bears are not awake yet so hanging suet and seed is a perfect Imbolc gift for those of us that move in and out of dreaming daily.
~Honor your Divine. Brigid is the Celtic triple goddess of fire, healing, protection, and poetry, and is often celebrated on Imbolc. Read or write poems, or read from your favorite author by the fire with a medicinal brew or a special herbal cordial.
~Make something in honor of Imbolc like a Brigid's Cross, a dream pillow, or a new medicine pouch.
-Visit a greenhouse or arboritum! I need this and make it a regular weekly thing come February thanks to a local garden center that has a massive yearly functioning one for our community. My soul jumps up and gets rejuvenated when I go in there with the plants. I worked in greenhouses all my teenage years and the memories are priceless when winter feels too intense.
There is only your way.... Celebrating this is all about your desires and your way. There is no right or wrong so allow your creative fire to emerge. Recognizing such holy days is much like walking a compass for the year and staying synchronized with what is moving around and affecting us. There are eight holidays each year with six weeks in between each; Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Fall Equinox, Samhain, and Winter Solstice. These are globally recognized and root into all cultures. I don't know about you but I'm all for more holidays in this culture. If you look close enough you'll see that some we do have are synchronized with this ancient compass; such as Groundhogs Day and Candlemas... yes, Imbolc.
Beer Bannock - Our Bread for Imbolc
The flatbread ‘cakes’ of my Scottish ancestors were oatcakes and barley bannocks. Wheat bread, although aspired to, was very uncommon. Ordinary households did not have ovens and baked on an iron girdle hung over the fire right into the 19th century. This replaced a bakestone placed on the embers directly in the fire, which had been the method of making bread since prehistoric times. Wheat was seldom grown until late in the 18th century, for oats and barley were more reliable crops. From a flatbread that was an everyday staple, the traditional bannocks of Scotland have changed much in character over the years.
The ‘old method’ relies on heating up milk with some butter and salt, and adding the barley meal (flour) when it's hot. This swells the meal and makes a pliable dough. If you don’t have a girdle, the bannock can be cooked on a heavy frying pan. It should be crisp on the outside and just slightly moist within. It was eaten hot, thinner than the version I am making here, and crispy. Think of traditional barley bannocks as a Scottish version of the many flat breads from India made entirely with local ingredients.
I love following the tradition of embellishing the "plain", bannock in this case, with sugar, spices, dried fruit, cheese, cream or yogurt, fresh herbs, and seeds for festive occasions such as Imbolc. Bringing the memories forth and infusing them into our modern experience is a form of deep honoring, right?
Beer Bannock Recipe
3 cups flour; you can use gluten free and add 1 tsp of xanthum gum powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 stick of butter melted and cooled a bit; any fat/oil you prefer will work here too.
1/4 cup sugar, honey, or maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12oz beer; homebrewed with herbs is my first choice; locally brewed and dark is my second
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS: First of all, it's great plain so you can start there.
1/3 cup raisins, minced dried apricots, or dried cranberries , 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, 1 teaspon caraway seeds - any or all
1/4 cup minced scallions, 4 oz. gorgonzola, cheddar, or goat cheese, sprinkle of pepper (pic above)
-this is a campfire recipe I adapted to the kitchen; if on a campfire you flip after 10 minutes to finish each side.
-otherwise preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-place flour, baking powder, salt, and your sweetener of choice into a bowl, mix in about 1/2 of your butter and it will be a bit lumpy.
-stir in the beer; mix to a soft sticky dough; now add your additions if you like some.
-warm a 9" cast iron pan on the stove and add some butter to coat; coat your palms with butter and gather the dough up and transfer to the pan patting it in place; you could also rustically roll them like scones.
-Bake 20-25 minutes; check for done with toothpick as usual. Start checking at 15 minutes if shaped individually. These are delicious with stews, soups and a fresh salad. Oh yes, and more butter or soft cheese for serving, if desired. Enjoy and Happy Imbolc from my tribe to yours! xo-Jen
Interested in deepening your knowledge of the medicine plants and developing earth medicine skills?
Please Note: the 10% Discount on Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons on-line course ends today.
Me too. I always think about the skin as our first line or boundary marker. It's like the line drawn in the sand where the landscape changes from what is outer to what is inner; what all can see to what no one can see. What rules these inner and outer landscapes changes too. Boundaries are so important, yes? So we can start with the physical level. What we eat and drink, how we rest and exercise, and more all make a difference in our skin quality. These choices we make are actually the easy part when it comes to boundary work! Keep it simple and turn to chemical free care of body and home. There are so many cosmetic and cleaning chemicals isolated in cancerous tumors today for the body has no idea how to break these substances down. Yes, I read labels or make products I can't find to fit this way of being. All you need are some very basic kitchen skills.
So here's one solution that works in our house. One quality I love about massaging this Shea Butter Plus into my moist skin after bathing is that it's not greasy at all. After a few minutes the skin drinks this deep into the lower layers of our protective barrier and you are left with a silky soft skin texture. The Rosemary is an anciently rooted skin healer meaning we have known for a long time that it will soothe chapped irritated areas, protect open areas from opportunistic microbes looking for an easy ride into our bodies, and strengthen the barrier structure of our skin so it can repair and do as it's designed to do by staying intact and protecting our inner landscape.
Shea butter comes from a nut from the African Shea Tree and is an off- white or ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of this tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). It’s highly revered globally as a skin protectant and healer which began with the people who are profoundly fortunate to live among these trees. Shea butter is honored among drummers and dancers for protecting the integrity of overworked and overexposed skin. When blended into this butter, this can be massaged all over the body. This works for wherever you need it from tired, sore drummer-gardener-farmer-stonelayer-baker-worker hands, to massaging as a hair pomade into the scalp and hair, to massaging on tired feet from long hours of walking and working, to chapped cheeks from too much cold or wind or saltwater swimming skin.
Here's to nourishing your skin.... xo-Jen
Shea Butter Plus
4 tablespoon rosemary infused olive oil
3 tablespoon shea butter
1 tablespoon beeswax
1 tablespoon cocoa butter
1 tablespoon coconut oil
30 drops lavender essential oil - or any essential oil you love (this is optional - this salve can stay unscented too if you prefer that by just leaving this out).
1. Make your rosemary infused olive oil. Easy - warm fresh rosemary from the healthfood store or your garden in a double boiler with gentle boiling water underneath. Add 4 tablespoons of fresh leaves to 1/2 cup of olive oil and warm, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 hours. You can chop up the leaves too and this will allow the medicine to come out more quickly. Carefully strain and pour into a glass container, label with the date, and store in cool shaded area. You will have enough for a two batches of this recipe now.
2. Wipe out your double boiler and re-set on the stove with a pan of simmering water underneath and add all your ingredients to the pan and warm until all is just melted.
3. Pour into a wide mouth jar and allow to cool. Make a funky personal label and enjoy! Yield 5oz. which is enough for one winter.
Interested in deepening your knowledge of the medicine plants and developing earth medicine skills?
I have to say that when your throat is on fire, a good cough drop can save the moment!
There is the issue of sugar when making these for we know too much sugar can suppress the immune system. We cannot live without glucose and our brains will actually seize up and die fast without it. I had to get okay with some quality sugary sweet products, seek quality sugars, and realize that it’s like water and the sun, too much will kill us. We still need them all, right? Sweetness is part of the chemistry of preserving the medicines we make and it just improves flavor for some situations.
Here’s an easy recipe for honoring what White Pine can offer us when we have fiery throats, lots of mucus, and coughing from ailing lungs. Honey does not have the chemistry for this to work. I tried with poor results and hate cooking honey most of the time. I do have an old canning book that uses honey exclusively for making jams and they are delicious! Yes, you loose some of the benefits of raw honey but you never sacrifice flavor or health benefits.
So let's visit White Pine for a moment. Many forget to tun to this tree when we have colds and flus. White pine is usually right outside or near, depending on where you live, and you can simply pinch the tips with much gratitude for her greenery in the winter! This tree has a strong mothering kind of energy when we are sick and needing help. Making tea for drinking or pouring into the bath are ancient practices available to us for addressing infections and flus deep in our respiratory system and for keeping mucus fluid and flowing outward. This is the body's way of healing itself. Decongestants dry us out and will only compound the problem of making mucus too thick to move and then the bacteria have a perfect world to thrive in and secondary infections begin, such as bronchitis, sinus, or ear infections. Think rest and fluid, rest and fluid.
I added Thyme to this for I had so much from the summer abundance! Thyme is a fantastic immune supportive herb, is a potent bronchodilator, meaning opens airway passages for better air movement, and has much to offer for antimicrobial strength too. Why do you think it made it into our food so long ago? It was for these very reasons when we were without refrigeration and still learning about germs, right?
These are a hit in my house and they're pretty easy to make and delicious too. Bringing the outside in and remembering that winter does end, so enjoy the now, is good medicine this time of year. White Pine in the belly works for me!
Mama White Pine, Lemon & Thyme Cough Drops
ElderMoon School of Herbal Medicine and Earth Awareness
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine