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Imbolc #1
WitchVox Community Essay Series for February 2002

Page# 1 - 2 - 3

The Maiden Awakens
by Karl Lembke

See letters policy at the end of this article.

In the waxing year, the Goddess awakens. The Maiden aspect awakens first, as winter fades into spring. Imbolc, Candlemas, and Lady Day are names given to this first of the three festivals of the waxing year.

Imbolc, literally "in milk", refers to the beginning of lactation in the farm animals, in preparation for the birth of the young. The name Candlemas traces to the practice of blessing the candles for the coming year, making way for the light to come forth. Lady Day is the name given in honor of the Lady, who returns from the underworld, bringing the light and warmth of the newborn Sun.

Imbolc is the first of three Awakenings. In the waxing year, there is a festival of Awakening for each of the three aspects of the Lady. Imbolc is the Awakening of the light, when the first signs of new growth begin to appear, and the plans for the new year are laid. Seed catalogs are purchased, and farmers ready to sow their crops when the time comes. Animals prepare to bring forth life in their turn. Even in the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, the blessing of the candles is a preparation for the coming of light. The candles are not all burned at the ceremony.

The first Awakening is the awakening to the possibilities of the new year.

In writing an Imbolc rite for the year 1998, I was pondering various themes, and was reflecting on the curious fact that the traditional date for the holiday is also Groundhog Day. In American and European folklore, the groundhog emerges from his hole on this day, and if he sees his shadow, we are in for six more weeks of winter.

Six weeks is a curious interval. It is roughly the amount of time between Festivals - between spokes of the Wheel of the Year. If the groundhog sees his shadow on Imbolc, the return of the Light is delayed until the next Festival, Spring Equinox.

In Greek mythology, we can find two stories of a person being returned from the underworld. The more famous is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, a talented and powerful bard. Destitute, Orpheus ventures into the underworld to try to rescue his wife, and return her to the land of the living. Such is the power of his music that Thanatos relents and allows Eurydice to leave his realm. But he warns Orpheus that he must not look back to see if she follows, until both are safely in the world of the living.

Orpheus, as we all know, suffers a failure of nerve and looks behind him. Eurydice is returned to the underworld, to be reunited with her husband only in another life.

In another tale, the god Dionysus, son of Zeus and a mortal woman, longs to meet his mother Semele, who died before he was born. He ventures into the underworld, and convinces Thanatos to release Semele from his realm. Dionysus is successful, and Semele is not only restored to life, but also brought to Olympus.

I quote from the outline for the 1998 Imbolc rite...

"Similarly, on the day of Candlemas, the groundhog, a creature who lives in the realm between the surface and the underworld, and who travels back and forth in his affairs, comes to the surface and opens his eyes. If he sees his shadow, the return of the light is delayed for another six weeks, and the world languishes in the cold and dark.

The rebirth of the Light heralds the start of a new and untarnished time ahead of us. This is a window of time during which we are presented with opportunities. This is the Maiden Sowing, during which we sow not seeds, but plans. All that follows takes its shape from the shadows we cast before us on this day, and these shadows will become the rows which we plant and plow. And if we choose not carefully, the ruts in which we may be trapped."

In all cases, the theme is one of the return of the light and of life from below, with a twist. If we look backwards, the light fades and its possibilities retreat from our grasp. Instead, we must walk with the light behind us, into the shadows of things to come. Only then do we approach and grasp the possibilities that are before us.

In the rite I devised, I began with a mystery play, in which the gates of snow were opened to allow Persephone to return from the underworld. But when the gates were opened, Persephone did not return. This led to a pathworking in which we passed through the gates, and descended into the underworld to find Persephone and bring her back.

We descended through a long, dark tunnel into the depths of the earth. Eventually, we came to an onyx door. It opened at our knock, and we entered a large hall with keys all over. There were keys scattered over the floor, hanging on the walls, and hanging from the ceiling. At the end of the hall was a throne, on which was seated the goddess Persephone. From her came a glow which illuminated the entire hall.

We spent some time selecting keys to take with us. Certainly, we'd need at least one to unlock the door by which we entered. The other keys we selected were the keys to our own futures. These were the possibilities -- the potentials -- that we would unlock in the coming year.

We then invited Persephone to return with us to the world above, so that the newly reborn light could shine forth on the earth again. We unlocked the onyx gate and left the hall, and proceeded up the tunnel, back to the world of the living. We followed the shadows cast before us, mindful that we must resist the urge to look back, lest we be drawn into the paths of the old year, the very paths we're trying to break away from.

Finally, we emerged from the tunnel and passed through the gates of snow, leading the way for the light to return to the world. We returned to the circle, and paused in silent meditation to consider what doors we needed to unlock for our own personal growth in the coming year.

And let the record show that this rite was held on a cloudy afternoon. When the point came where we were returning through the gate of snow, the clouds parted and the sun broke through for the rest of the pathworking. The light was back.

Write to Karl at or browse his website at Any letters sent to Karl are subject to being published on a "letters to the editor" page.

Karl Lembke

Bio: Karl Lembke is a second-degree initiate in the StarKindler tradition of the Craft, and a third-degree initiate in the Druidic Craft of the Wise. He lives in the foothills of Tujunga with two dogs on loan from a friend.

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