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WitchVox Community Essay Series for February 2002
Embracing the Groundhog: Imbolg for Modern Pagans
by The CheshireMatt
When I was first approached by another Pagan, I thought he'd sneezed - I had no clue what Imbolg meant, since I'd managed to skip over that page of my Wicca 101 book. For those of us just getting into (or getting back into) Paganism, it's an awkward place to start. There are no popular five-day celebrations in Imbolg's honor and no big Christian holiday for us to point at and say, 'See? That was ours!' Granted, there is Candlemas, but when I brought it up to my Roman-Catholic mother, her response was 'Candlewhat?' When it comes right down to it, the only memorable landmark we have to place it is Groundhog's Day... inspiring, isn't it? However, Imbolg is a time of new beginnings and new possibilities, of life's renewal, so for a seemingly awkward starting point it's really the best place to begin again.
What is Imbolg? Briefly, Imbolg is a cross quarter holiday that takes place between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and is celebrated on February 2nd. The word Imbolg literally translates from Irish Gaelic to 'in the belly', which symbolizes Spring's first stirrings in the womb of the Goddess as the world comes to life again. In plain terms the days grow longer, the winter chill thaws, and plants hidden under the snow prepare to grow once again. The seeds of the next harvest are also prepared for planting.
Now, I don't have a garden. I have trouble remembering to water the single potted plant I own, bless the resilient little thing, and many of you may be the same way. It's easy to give lip service to the Wheel of the Year and getting back to Nature, but the truth of it is that with our modern lives it's difficult to really put that into practice. Besides that, Florida is very different from the Celtic lands we adopted this celebration from, for there is no particular time when nature begins to bloom again. As those of us with allergies know all too well, something is always growing. What, then, are we supposed to do with Imbolg? How can we make this meaningful to our everyday lives?
Metaphorically, Imbolg is a time when the soil begins to thaw and with renewed fertility there is implied a great crossroads. As the dark times pass in our lives and we can finally devote our energies to something more than just survival, we can finally nurture ourselves and prepare to blossom. Before we can plant anything in our gardens, though, we've got to pull out the hardy weeds that hung on through the winter months. In other words, Imbolg is a time of throwing open the blinds and sweeping last year's skeletons out of our closets. On a practical level, clean your house and get your energy into it. Dig out the junk you've been stuffing under your bed, hiding in your closet, piling on your desk, and saving on your hard drive. Driving away the remnants of the last year is what Spring cleaning's all about, after all.
It's amazing how energizing having a clean house can be it's like the place is just full of infinite possibilities once again, like you're free to move around and fill it with whatever you will. That's because you're no longer in danger of slipping on a pile of papers and ending up face down in the litter box, but it's a nice feeling nonetheless. Taking the metaphor a step further, our bedrooms aren't the only things that can use a good Spring cleaning - Imbolg is also a great time to reassess ourselves. Are we holding on to things that have outlived their usefulness, things that we keep tripping over as we move through our lives? Is our path through life leading where we thought it would, or have we gotten stuck in a rut? If there are some deep-rooted weeds in our emotional gardens, or maybe our dust bunnies have grown fangs, this is also a good time to assess whether or not we need to enlist a 'cleaning service'. Admitting the need for a bit of help (before the house collapses) is a sign of wisdom. Dreams will also be very important during this period, so be sure to keep a dream journal if you aren't already.
Once all of our houses have been cleaned out, it's a good time to start thinking about seeds. This is an easy place to panic, for, while some of us know exactly what we want, some of us are just getting used to this nice clean house. Here we stand at the crossroads as the false dawn plays on the horizon, but keep in mind that the sun hasn't risen yet. If we don't know where we're going yet we can get lost and end up wandering back the way we came, going through last year's lessons all over again. Even if we know the way, we can't see that clearly yet and could easily be led astray by shadows. Rather than get frustrated and lost, stop and look at the stars for a while. Each seed is only just that a seed, a possibility for something that will sprout and bloom into something beautiful. They all won't bloom, though. That can be profoundly depressing, since watching a possibility fade away isn't easy, but it's also intensely liberating everything you try right now doesn't have to be a life sentence, so embrace the many possibilities available! Go vegan, eat Thai food, go to a punk rock show, take a swing dance class, seduce a stranger or surprise your lover with something 'interesting'. Pick up a new hobby, apply for a new job, consider grad school, or maybe try Kung Fu. Explore all possibilities. You're free to flit and change your mind if it doesn't ring true, but there's also the chance you'll try something unexpected and find what was missing all along. Leave the voice that's rebelling and saying 'I can't do that! That's not me!' at home, it'll just get in the way, though be sure to bring your common sense there's no sense pushing up daisies, even if it's in your own garden. Planting seeds that lead to paternity suits is also inadvisable.
Nothing is certain but everything is possible. The longest night is over, so explore, experiment, and live it up!
Bio: Born from the union of a drunken satyr and an astral hitchhiker, The CheshireMatt still awaits the return of the mother ship. In the interim he's taken up the mantles of devil's advocate and spiritual wanderer. A confirmed Catholic, an initiated Wiccan, an ordained minister, and a committed (or committable) Discordian.
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