Spring …….or not
I’m sitting writing this shortly after Imbolc. The wind has been howling, seas are wild, tides high and villages, towns and cities are under water. This morning our power went off and we were literally left in the dark.
Imbolc in the Celtic tradition is when we see the first signs of spring and in Ireland it is still taught in schools that February 1st is the first day of spring, although the term Imbolc is unlikely to be used. Many is the year though that the weather has had other ideas, although none as bad as this one.
Having lived most of my life in England where 1st March is more likely to be considered the first day of Spring, with it being the start of the three Spring months, March, April, May, the annual disappointment that February brings rain, winds and very occasionally here, snow, has taken some getting used to.
So why then is this belief so out of line with the seasons and the Gregorian calendar?
Imbolc marks what is in the Celtic calendar a cross quarter day, a fire festival and the time that the crone gives up the icy grip she has on nature to make way for the maiden. Traditionally it falls mid way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox although nowadays it usually settles around the 1st or 2nd February.
The pagan goddess associated with Imbolc is Brigid, the Celtic fire goddess but when Christianity reached these shores she was appropriated by the church and her mantle passed to St Brigid, born in Co. Louth, who founded a monastery in Kildare and lived out her days there. Imbolc was then renamed as St Brigid’s Day.
A St Bigid’s Cross has since become a well known symbol of Ireland. It is made from a specific type of rush and the making of it is still taught today. Many homes especially in rural areas would have a St Brigid’s cross hanging in them to protect from fire. When I first came to live in Ireland I was taught how to make one and told that I should make a fresh one each year to hang in the rafters of my house, that way it would be sure never to burn down. I still have a St Brigid’s cross hanging in my home.
So where am I in all of this, brought up with the Gregorian calendar but living with the Celtic?
I’m caught in the middle and like many hedge my bets. I celebrate Imbolc by sowing the seeds of what I wish to grow in the coming year, working with fire and water to assist me. This year standing out in the garden with a gale blowing around me I also called upon the element of air. But I find it very hard to ever think of this as Spring.
For me this is the time when the earth begins to wake up, stirring occurs and yes the crone loosens her icy grip although she often doesn’t entirely loose it. I like to think of the maiden as a seed being sown under the mantle of winter with all the protective covering that winter brings, a bit like the seeds I have just sown. I see her cosy there, protected, warm and safe, given time and nourishment by the earth so that when March comes she really is ready to step forth and become Spring.