Here we are at the Celtic fire festival of new life and pregnancy ~ Imbolc! Unlike the Airts or four timeless winds whose ancient guiding energies prevail for a whole season, these cross-quarter festivals between the solstices and equinoxes are very powerful doorways, open for about 3-4 days.
They provide an opportunity to do some potent magic depending on the intention of the festival.
For the ancestors, Imbolc (or Oimolc, Imbolg) sometimes translated as "first milk" or "in the belly," was the time when the ewes were pregnant, bringing hope after the long winter and opening the door to the renewing energies of Spring.
Fertility & Virility
Two of the deities I celebrate on my spiritual path at Imbolc are Brighid and Oisín. Brighid, also known as the "bright one" or Mary of the Gaels, is an ancient feminine energy known and celebrated from Austria and all across Western Europe. She represents the transformation of the old Crone of Winter, reborn into the fertile maiden. More than a deity however, she is the energy of Spring, fertility, and the power of our Mama Earth as she begins to push forth new life.
Oisín, (young deer or fawn), was connected to the Sidhe (luminous ones), and Tir na nÓg (land of youth) who grew into a legendary poet (shaman) and warrior. For me, he represents the virility of that new life that Mama Earth is birthing.
Naturally, we have each of these forces within us,
so Imbolc is a wonderful time to reflect
on what you are pregnant with,
how you are preparing to birth or fly from the nest,
and what you need in place to support and care for all that is new.
Protection for the New
Part of caring for that new life, is protecting it! In most cultures, there are numerous ceremonies of protection for the newborn. Whether the wee ones are smoked by the fire or blessed by holy waters, protection for the new is crucial in order for it to maintain its virility. One such ceremony on Imbolc eve is that of the Bratag Bride (brah-tock bree) or the mantle of Brighid. This is where the woman of the house would lay a piece of material or shawl outside on a bush. It was believed that during the night, the goddess of Spring would roam with her white cow and bless the houses as she passed by touching the cloth. This same cloth or shawl would be placed outside every year and as time passed, it became more and more powerful and sacred. It was believed that the Bratag Brid insured safe childbirth, and the midwives of Ireland ensured their cloths were blessed by Spring every year and then used them to catch the babies as they were being born.
Sometimes the cloth was cut or torn into small pieces and these smaller pieces were called Brat Brid (braht bree), and were distributed among the family as a protection symbol, and sewn into the clothes of the children to insure that they wouldn't be lost.
A Ceremony for You
Tonight or tomorrow night, I encourage you to lay out a special piece of cloth. Maybe this is something you have inherited, or been gifted. Hang the cloth on a bush and ask that the Spirit of Spring bless your cloth, and bring protection. Decorate your altar with spring colours, and light a candle to welcome the virility of the growing sun. You may also like to give your home a spring clean and through meditation connect with the energies of Visioning and the Ancestral Hearth. These energies teach us to create a safe place or hearth, where we have strong roots laid down which will support the dreams we are visioning so that they don't get lost in the winds but rather manifest and take hold.
If you know how to do a shamanic journey, you can journey or even do some journal writing with these intentions or questions...
How can I mindfully tend to all I am breathing new life into?
How can I bring fertility to my new projects, ventures, or dreams?
What decisions do I need to make about boundaries, support, or protection for my new dreams?
What kind of space do I need to create in order for a successful birth?
Each year, I lay out my Medicine Hearth cloth, as well as another piece of cloth which I cut into little Brat Brid and share with those I love. I usually carry a number of these in my Medicine Hearth and whenever I come across a person, place, or animal friend who is vulnerable and needs protection, I give them a Brat Brid or leave one as a Clootie or offering to the Land Spirits.
I am really looking forward to this coming Saturday and the Imbolc Festival & Shamanic Circle where I will have a chance to gather with community to celebrate the Spring, as well as welcoming in some new young women who are celebrating their Rite of Passage with a ceremony for their First Moon (menarche.)
In the meantime,
may the fertility of Brighid,
and the virility of Oisín
reignite the fire of your spirit,
encircling you in protection,
and enfolding you in love.