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While most of the country is still deep in snow, the days have grown
noticeably longer since the depth of Winter’s darkness. In California
along with brighter days the first flowers of the year are already
blooming. In this strange winter a few flowers never stopped blooming,
with the domestic roses confused, trying to go dormant on one branch while
gamely blooming on another. A
strange and up to now wet winter.
But just in the past couple of weeks our ubiquitous wild mustard is
beginning to cover fields in yellow. During a walk I took this week I saw
them really bursting forth. A few
eager natives are beginning to add streaks of bright orange, a tiny hint of the
spectacle to come. In most of the rest of the country longer days
are the major hint that change is in the air and winter’s end us at hand.
My own bias is to try and link our cross quarter Sabbats with what is
happening around us. The solar
ones are universal (at least in each hemisphere) but the others carry a
different meaning. To “make them
oiurs” and root them in our place and time is a counterpoint to the
universalism of the solar Sabbats.
It is how we can become sensitive to the spirit of the land within which
we dwell. In much of the country
this time is characterized by the returning light, with snow everywhere. Here we can add flowers and green
hillsides. Florida will be
For these reasons I prefer the name Brigid (or some alternative
spelling) to Imbolc. One of Imbolc’s major early meanings was to
celebrate ewes’ beginning to lactate.
But for most of us this meaning and symbolism is far removed from our
experience. There are sheep near
where I live, out closer to the coast, but I rarely see them. Perhaps the slow
swelling of the first buds are northern California’s equivalent to lactating
Brigid is another matter.
Brigid is a fire Goddess, and one of the very few with whom I have had
a personal encounter. It was at a
Reclaiming Brigid ritual some years ago. I’ve never forgotten that encounter.
It seems strange that a fire Goddess provides the alternative name for
Imbolc. Brigid is also closely associated with milk, the milk of cows and
in Her Christianized form, as Christ’s wet nurse. But this seems not one of Her
main ancient attributes. According
to Ronald Hutton, She is more closely connected to poetry, learning, healing, prophesy,
smithcraft, and perhaps even war.
Given my own work in healing, love of writing and research, and felt calling
to be a kind of warrior against the forces of darkness around us, I guess it’s
fitting that She made contact. But I think She lends Her name to this time in
California for less personal reasons.
Looking around at our rushing streams, growing moss, standing pools of water, and foggy, leaden skies, one could scarcely guess that much of California’s landscape is
dominated by fire, and has been for millennia. Fire is essential for the health of many of our forests. Some of our pines require fire for their
cones to open and scatter seeds, and even our giant sequoia only reproduce on mineral soil
such as has been burned. Our
chaparral evolved with fire, flourishes with it, and invites it. (Building a home in the middle of chaparral is like building a home surrounded by thousands of beautiful cans of kerosene.) California burns regularly, and dousing the burns simply
guarantees they will be worse and bigger when they come again. And come they
Left to its own devices, or employed carefully as the Indians used to,
in California fire is a force for life and renewal. In its wake the seeds
of future growth are planted, and now, when fire seems farthest away, the
growth that will feed future blazes is stirring. No winter rains, no late summer
and fall fires, no fires and many forests decline, the land is over grown with
brush, and vitality declines. We
owe the kind of spring we love out here to fire.
Imbolc is not a solar Sabbat.
It is one of the cross quarter ones, and as such has its roots in the
Celtic agricultural and grazing cycle. This means the symbols of its meaning is
local, not universal. Any
readers on the east coast will chuckle when they think of Brigid as the start
of spring. In most places the
coming Spring Equinox, Ostara, is well suited to its symbolism of the triumph
of the sun and powers of growth and regeneration. Yule, our previous
cross-quarter Sabbat, celebrated the Winter Solstice, and the wealth of meaning
it carries symbolically and experientially. Both are Solar, and the sun
‘s cycles are the same everywhere in this hemisphere. Beltane to follow
is, well, it’s Beltane.
But Brigid? Most of our country is not linked to fire as California
is. Most of our country does not
quarter candles and perhps altar candles as well. Like Mabon, it is a lightly thought about Sabbat. I think as we integrate ourselves and
pur celebrations into the place we live, this may shift. On the other hand, in upstate New York,
maybe another date is far more appropriate for what Brigid celebrates and
honors. But at least out here I
think its relative invisibility may be fitting. The first sprouts of new
growth are invisible to those who do not look carefully, and sometimes even to
those who do.
I am curious as to what readers who have striven to integrate this
Sabbat with the place they live have done. If you want please share your experiences. And for all,
May Brigid’s Blessings be Upon You.