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
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Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine