The Sacred Feast of Imbolc
Many of us know that the equinoxes and solstices bore an incredible amount of importance on the ancient world. These solar phenomenons played a central role in the understanding of time and seasons.
I find it interesting that along with the four primary demarcations, many cultures also celebrated important holidays at the cross-quarter dates.
The four Gaelic seasonal festivals occur on the cross-quarter dates.
Beltane represents the victory of the light over the darkness and is in many ways similar its Germanic coutner-part, May Day. The verdant robe of mother earth has been swept across the land and fertility is renewed amongst the land. Spring is in full-swing and the Tuatha Dé Danann—the pantheon of ancient Irish deities—come out from their interior world and enter into our domain.
Lughnasadh marks the commencement of the harvest. It is a time of plenty—where hard work is met with nature’s bounty. The sun and rain have made their work upon the plants, and the fruits of the vine are at their ripest. The date is associated with the pre-christian deity, Lugh, who fought off Balor and the Formorians to usher in an era of peace as king of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Samhain heralds in the dark half of the year. The harvest is finally tucked away in pantries and larders. The fall of leaves has reached its peak and the time to journey inwards—towards the heart of winter—begins.
Imbolc marks an interesting fork in the tide of time. Whereas Beltane and Samhain separate the light from the darkness, Imbolc (and Lughnasadh) mark a balance in the forces of light and darkness. There is exactly the amount of daylight in the six months preceding Imbolc as there in the six months after Imbolc.
It is interesting to note that the Chinese New Year occurs on the 2nd New Moon after the Winter Solstice. As it is a moveable feast—with lunar patterns dictating the exact date—Chinese New Year only directly overlaps with Imbolc (which is always February 2) on rare occasion. This confluence of astrological events next occurs on Feb. 2, 2049.
With this in mind, I still feel there is a strong connection between the two ancient celebrations.
A time of balancing hearth and home in both Eastern and Western traditions. Marking the first stirrings of Spring’s eventual arrival. And so the depths of winter have passed. The light ahead of you now equals the light behind.
A balance must be struck between the light and darkness; our yin and yang.
Traditional celebrations for this season include eating special foods, the lighting of candles, and bonfires if weather permits. As Valentine’s Day can also be seen as an extension of the Winter/Spring cross-holiday as well, gestures of romance and passion are also common.
At Imbolc all of the different meridians within our body will try to reach a state of balance. It is important that we realize ourselves as wardens of our bodies and of our minds, that we may self-actualize a spirit of liberty as our guiding principle and take solace in knowing that all things eventually reach a state of balance.
Lately, I’ve been trying to get out to the trail as much as possible. Time and weather don’t always permit, but this weekend I had the chance to explore a local treasure—the Hunterdon County Sourland Mountain Preserve.
The preserve is just under three miles from Hopewell, NJ and offers spectacular views of glacial boulders fields and some rare flora.
The trails are perfect for those seeking a momentary reprieve from the commotion of modern life. Tucked away from the ruckus of the megalopolis that surrounds it, one can truly catch a glimpse of a quieter world by following the yellow blazes round babbling brooks and stands of oak.
My meeting with this idyllic scene at the crossroads of Imbolc could not have been a coincidence. As fate would have it, there I was seeking balance in nature where nature had already achieved it.
Imbolc reminds us that the road ahead and the road behind contain equal amounts light and darkness—and that it is here, in the present, where balance must be achieved. Serenity comes from being both mindful and loving in the current moment.