IMBOLC: CELTIC TRANSITION FROM WINTER TO SPRING
February 2nd……………………Transition from Winter to Spring
Origins: In Ireland, where green first appears after the long winter, Imbolc (or
Oimelc) was a pastoralist’s holiday celebrating the first new lambs, their
nourishment and growth–with a thorough spring cleaning and rekindling of the
hearth fires. Imbolc is especially sacred to Bridgid, the Goddess of healing,
poetry, smithcraft, warmth, fire and the sun! Today, Imbolc, Candlemas or
Groundhog Day is a welcome chance to call back the green of springtime in the
darkest stretch of winter.
All alone in the far paddock, near the pig pen where I can hear the excited
feeding of a sow, the countryside is absolutely bleak and gray in the cold early
light. The brown mud underfoot sparkles with frost, and crusts of snow cling
onto every desolate surface. I couldn’t imagine what I might be expected to see
in the garden now! All of a sudden I could feel a little hand in mine, and
looked down to see a pink cheeked, red headed toddler in a pale green snowsuit
smiling up at me. He pulled on my arm, so I followed. He was new at walking,
so we slowly, slowly made our way toward a lonely plateau ringed by granite
rocks. Someone had deliberately placed them into a circle. The baby went on,
and I wondered whether I should take him back to the homestead, when he stooped
down and called to me…”See?” He said, and pointed with his little fat hands
to a slender, supple, bright green stalk that had pushed up toward the sun
on the warm side of a stone. Amazing.
Imbolc Rocks…Late Winter Nature
February Foods Of Pigs and Potatoes
Brigid and Cerridwen
Crafts of Imbolc Links to the Earth
Late Winter Nature
For Euro-Americans such as myself, stone circles, along with Merlin and the
Druids, hold a major franchise in the collective unconscious. We can’t help it
or deny it. There is a quality about stones in sacred arrangement that speaks
particularly–though by no means exclusively–to the European soul. Circles,
dolmens, cromlechs, and mysterious stone passageways into the earth are among
the oldest signatures of our culture. For centuries our ancestors entered the
dark, stone linteled passageways much as Hopi elders enter their kivas: to fast,
to commune with ancestral spirits, and to awaken to the fire deep within Mother
Earth. And on other ritual occasions they went to the stone circles. The
circles are the ancient “medicine wheels” for Europeans: they mark carefully
the cardinal directions and lunar and solar alignments for ceremonies we can now
The standing stones speak to me of the union between Earth and Sky my ancestors
knew, long before the cathedrals came. These stones are deeply rooted in the
earth as they mark the turning of the seasons and the patterns in the stars
above. And their very alignment with one another generates a powerful dynamism.
Their oldest names attest to this: Stonehenge is “the Giant’s Dance,” and the
little circle near Killarney is “the dance of the seven maidens. Island by Jim
Mullin-Norgaard in Orion Magazine, Spring 1996.
Oh, long, long
The snow has possessed the mountains.
The deer have come down and the big-horn,
They have followed the sun to the south
To feed on the mesquite pods and the bunch grass.
Loud are the thunderdrums in the tents of the mountains.
Oh, long, long
Have we eaten chia seeds
and dried deer’s flesh of the summer killing.
We are tired of our huts
and the smoky smell of our clothing.
We are sick with the desire for the sun
And the grass on the mountain.
Paiute Late Winter Song
The purest essence of the energy of the heaven-earth world coalesces into rock.
It emerges, bearing the soil. Its’ formations are wonderful and fantastic.
Some with cavernous cliffs, revealing their interior; some with peaks and
summits in sharp-edged layers…The images of all things appearing in
appropriate likenesses. Within the size of a fist can be assembled the beauty
of a thousand cliffs…Confucius once said, “The humane man loves mountains,”
and the love of stones has the same meaning. Thus longevity through quietude is
achieved through this love.
Kong Chuan, from The Book of Sacred Stones, by Barbara G. Walker
Fudge Topped Brownies
Brownies taste warm and nourishing and reflects the damp, sweet earth. In fact,
according to Martha Stewart, the healthiest soil looks very much like chocolate
? 1 cup butter, melted
? 2 cups sugar
? 1 cup flour
? 2/3 cup powdered cocoa
? 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
? 2 eggs
? 1/2 cup milk
? 1 1/2 and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract…Mix together butter, sugar,
flour, cocoa, powder, eggs, milk and 1 1/2 t. vanilla.
? 1 cup chopped nuts, optional…Stir in nuts and spread into a 9X13″ pan,
bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
? 1- 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-14 oz. can sweetened, condensed milk…before brownies are done, melt chips
into sweetened milk and add 1 1/2 t. vanilla at the end, then remove from heat.
Spread straightaway over hot brownies. Cool, chill, cut and store covered at
Scalloped Potatoes with Sausages
? 2 Tablespoons butter
? 4 T. flour…melt butter and add flour, stirring and cooking to make a
paste(roux). If chunky, add a little milk to loosen.
? 3 cups milk…very gradually add the milk, and continue stirring and
? 2 1/2 cups and 1 cup shredded cheese…stir in the 2 1/2 cups cheese, and
continue to cook this white sauce until cheese is combined and sauce is thick
and creamy. Season very well with salt and fresh ground pepper, and for a
spicier taste, stir in 2 Tablespoons mild European-style mustard.(optional)
? 3/4 cup feta cheese, pre-seasoned, or adding 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh
herbs, or 2 teaspoons dried herbs of your choice (rosemary, basil, thyme,
? 4 very large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8″X 1 1/2 ” slices
2 cups sliced cooked good quality sausage or whole, smoked mini-links…toss
together feta, sliced potatoes and sausage with the white sauce, and put into
9X13″ pan, sprinkling top with rest of shredded cheese, and baking, covered
with foil, for 1 hour at 400 degrees. During the last ten minutes of baking,
remove foil to allow cheese to toast.
? 1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
? 2 Tablespoons Cointreau (or similar orange liqueur)
? 1 Tablespoon powdered sugar…combine cream, Cointreau and sugar in bowl
and whip until stiff peaks form. Chill.
? 1/2 cup Irish cream liqueur
? 1/4 cup Irish whiskey
? 1/4 cup brandy…Pour into each coffee cup: 2 T. Irish cream, 1 T. whiskey
and 1 T. brandy.
? 3 cups hot strong coffee
1 teaspoon grated orange peel…pour hot coffee into each cup, garnish with
dollop of whipped cream and orange peel.
Of Pigs and Potatoes
Dearly Loved Children
Is it not a sin
When you peel potatoes,
To throw away the skin?
For the skin feeds pigs
And pigs feed you.
Dearly loved children,
Is this not true?
Traditional Counting Rhyme
Ten potatoes in a pot, take two out and eight stay hot.
Eight potatoes in the pan, take two out, there’s six to plan.
Six potatoes on the stove, take two off and four’s the trove.
Four potatoes in the kettle, take two out leave two to settle.
Two potatoes still boil, take them out before they spoil.
Pigs are wonderful creatures. They exhibit the intelligence and affection of
dogs with the independence and individuality of cats. Perhaps because they are
so intelligent, many cultures tell stories of people being turned into pigs.
Likewise, their skin is similar to humans’, and unlike grazing animals, they may
only digest what humans eat. Sows are extremely giving and patient with their
piglets, and will fiercely protect them from danger. Their sensitive noses can
burrow around in the deep dark soil to detect the rarest of fungi: truffles,
buried from up to a foot deep and twenty feet away.
Pigs are an ancient symbol of all-giving, plenty and fertility. In her Amulets
of the Goddess(1993), Nancy Blair writes, “The Sow Goddess was a seed and
vegetation protectress very early on…Her ability to fatten quickly and produce
many offspring made for obvious fertility and harvest associations.” Baltic
Pagans formerly honored and cared for a snow white sow in the early spring as an
emblem of abundance, while in late summer, the tribe sacrificed a black pig in
order to manifest a plentiful harvest and a healthy winter. Norse Frey, God of
plentiful harvest, peace and light rides a boar with a bristly coat of gold.
The Tantric Buddhist Goddess, Marici, known as the Diamond Sow, rides a lotus
drawn by nine pigs. Cerridwen, a British Goddess, can represent the goddess in
her crone aspect as a milk white sow which consumes the dead, able to transport
them under the soil to the underworld.
Southern French legend tells that Carcassonne castle was once laid siege by
barbarians. Months passed and the folk within the castle walls began to run out
of supplies, still the enemy waited for surrender. Just as the people faced
certain starvation, Carcassonne’s Warrior Queen came up with an idea: she fed
the very last pig all the rest of the food, stuffing it full. To the amazement
of all, she threw the poor pig over the wall. When it burst, their enemies
fled: fearful of such magic, seeing that the months of embargo had seemingly no
Likely, the original Mexican piñata was a pig, reflecting the Spanish relation
to the legend of Carcassonne. In Germany, pigs represent financial wealth and
good luck…thus, the piggy bank. At the New Year, marzipan pigs with clover
collars abound as good luck charms. Victorians once ceremonially smashed open a
peppermint candy pig with a hammer at the New Year. Sharing the broken pieces
symbolically spread around the wish for abundance.
In this century, pigs are both adored and disparaged. To be called a pig is to
be called sloppy, disgusting and greedy. Yet pigs in literature and the media
are often seen as innocent, good-natured and sweet. Babe, of the 1994 movie of
the same name, is thoughtful and highly evolved. Wilbur of Charlotte’s Web by
E.B. White is curious and nonviolent. Owners of pigs as pets are extremely
enthusiastic about pig personality. So while the dirty stereotypes persist for
pigs, we are also waking up to their fine qualities, and finding that we are not
a little guilty about consuming them.
Traditional English-baby tickling rhyme
“Let’s go to the wood,” said this little pig.
“What to do there?” asked this little pig.
“Find our mother!” said this little pig.
“What to do with her?” asked this little pig.
“Kiss her all over!” said this little pig.
face of earth
He speaks with midnight fingers
The language of eternal noon.
With unexpected dawns
In his larder of memories
In his heart
The sun sleeps
Learn Your Fortune From the Number of Eyes in a Potato
One eye: Troubles…wait and learn from your mistakes, put things right.
Two eyes: Presents…rewards, secret surprises, good luck!
Three eyes: Friends…positive partnerships, the freedom to make new friends
Four eyes: New Beginnings…finish what you’ve started and prepare for a fresh
Five eyes: Travel…changes, brand new ideas, moving forward
Six eyes: Love…deep feelings, listen to your heart
Seven eyes: Wealth…breakthrough to achievement and rewards, as if you are a
Eight eyes: Sadness…let go of something that doesn’t feel right or suit you
Nine eyes: Happiness…new energy, joyfulness, easy to release something you’ve
Ten eyes: Growing…take care, enjoy work and a great harvest is assured.
I have a hut in the wood, none knows it but my Lord; an ash tree this side, a
hazel on the other, a great tree on a mound encloses it. Two heathery door
posts for support, and a lintel of honeysuckle; around its’ close the wood sheds
its nuts upon fat swine. The size of my hut, small yet not small, a place of
familiar paths, the she-bird in its dress of blackbird color sings a melodious
strain from its’ gable.
The Potatoes’ Dance
“Down Cellar,” said the cricket,
“I saw a ball last night, in honor of a lady,
Whose wings were pearly white.
The breath of bitter weather had smashed the cellar pane.
We entertained a drift of leaves, and then of snow and rain.
But we were dressed for winter, and loved to hear it blow
In honor of the lady, who makes potatoes grow.
Our guest the Irish lady, the tiny Irish lady, the airy Irish lady, who makes
“Potatoes were the waiters,
Potatoes were the band.
Potatoes were the dancers kicking up the sand.
Their legs were old burnt matches, their arms were just the same.
They jigged and whirled and scrambled in honor of the dame.
The noble Irish lady who makes potatoes dance,
The witty Irish lady, the saucy Irish lady, the laughing Irish lady who makes
“There was just one sweet potato.
He was golden brown and slim.
The lady loved his dancing, she danced all night with him.
Alas, he wasn’t Irish, so when she flew away,
They threw him in the coal bin, and there he is today,
Where they could not hear his sighs and his weeping for the lady,
The glorious Irish lady, the beauteous Irish lady,
Who gives potatoes eyes.”
Vachel Lindsay, 1913
Late winter, and the sparkling festivity of Yule is over. Winter seems to
stretch on forever: the earth remains frozen, no green in sight. We are tired
of the barren cold. It is time to call spring back to us! Deep in the dark
soil, the baby seeds are stretching and yawning, starting to feel the pulse of
the Mother again quicken them. Soon we’ll see signs of renewed life, if we can
just wait a few weeks more! At Imbolc it is exciting to call the seeds to
sprout, and dream to life the return of the green. Especially if you have a
connection to Ireland, this is a good time of year to honor our ancestral
Emerald Isle: eating traditional Irish foods, listening to music and poetry of
Ireland, remembering the British deities that peak in strength at this time of
year. The all-giving, fertile pig is the creature of the moment, and she teaches
us to have patience, sacrifice, and the coming Spring will mirror her abundance.
Earth is the element of Winter; so stones, caves, salt are all integral to
Imbolc. See how water will wear down boulders over hundreds of years: though
yielding to the water, the rocks are patient, immovable. Waiting and not
yielding, staying still. This is the time of our greatest patience before the
season of movement and renewal. Rock circles are fun to make at this time of
year. If you live with children, perhaps you’ve seen little rock circles they
have made outdoors, with offerings of flowers and weeds inside. Place eight
large stones equally paced in a circle to reflect the Wheel of the Year.
Consult sundials or information on medicine wheels/circles in order to make it
? geology, rocks and minerals
? germination, gestation
? Britain, Ireland, Celtic culture
? domestic animals, animal husbandry
? iron work, smithing, mining
? cleaning, purifying
? verse, poetry
? crafts: bulb and seed planting, creating protective talismans,
candlemaking, metal working and soldering, rock tumbling to make jewelry.
Olivia and I made a rainstick and we planted paperwhite bulbs, and set cress,
clover, mustard and lettuce seeds to sprout. After a few days of nothing, they
came to gloriously well, stretching their tiny leaves toward the sun. We
decorated the altar with lots of pigs, a chartreuse cloth and pale green and
lemon yellow candles. We shared a Celtic family meal of baked ham, green onion
potatoes, mushrooms with green beans, buttermilk bread pudding and dark
chocolate–like the earth–brownies planted with green m&ms. Is it any wonder
they are supposed to enhance desire and fertility? We played much Irish music:
The Chieftains, The Pogues, Sine d O’ Connor, Enya and various ambient mixtures.
We drank lager, laughed much and planted seed wishes in a deep pan of rich soil!
The Charge of the Goddess
She says, whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month,
and better to be when the moon is full,
Then shall ye assemble in some secret place:
To these I shall teach things that are yet unknown
And ye shall be free from all slavery.
Keep pure your honest ideal, strive ever toward it,
let nothing stop you nor turn you aside.
Mine is the cup of the wine of life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen.
I am the mother of all living and my love is poured out on earth.
I am the beauty of the green earth, the white moon among stars,
And the mystery of the waters, and the desire in the heart of woman.
Before my face let thine innermost divine self
be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite.
Know the mystery, that if that which thou seekest thou findest
Not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee,
For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning and I await thee now.
by Shan from the House of the Goddess, adapted from a recreated charge by
Cerridwen is the all-giving sow goddess. From her cauldron bubbles forth
I sing of the cauldron of knowledge,
whence the law of each art is dispensed,
which gives boundless treasure,
which magnifies each artist in general,
which gives each person its gift.
Amairgin’s Song of the Three Cauldrons, translated by Caitlin Matthews
Brigit is the central Irish Goddess. She is known as Brigantia in England and
Bride in Scotland. She rules metal work and smithy, fire, poetry, midwifery and
martial arts–but is primarily known as a major Mother Goddess. Brigit is a
face of the Triple Goddess, and able to see all–often represented by an ever
watchful eye. The three heart-shaped leaves of the shamrock recall the magical
Celtic number of three, as well as the number of Brigit’s faces. From nine to
Nineteen priestesses once tended an undying fire in her name at Kildare. Brigid
is so central to Ireland that the newly converted people would not give her up,
so her name metamorphosed into St. Bridgid, who in Irish Christian myth acts as
tender and supportive friend of Mary and as the midwife at Christ’s birth.
Barbara G. Walker writes that to the Irish people, however, she continued to be
a Queen of Heaven and the mother of all the deities of the new religion. As the
Saint, she also matched wits with St. Patrick, who is as mythical as she. At
times they seem to be consorts, at others, adversaries. It cannot have helped
their relationship that Patrick is known for ridding Ireland of snakes, and
since Bridgid the saint descended from a pagan goddess and priestess persona,
whose sacred healing totem is the snake. So when St. Patrick says he is
ridding the isle of snakes, what he means is he is ridding it of pagans.
Nevertheless, Patricius and Bridgid were often considered the primal Mother and
Father, and were supposedly buried together at Derry Down.
Crafts of the Season
Wake up early in the morning, take up all the noisemakers you can: pots and pans
and whistles, go outside and joyfully make noise to wake up the sleeping Mother
Earth. Bang away, wake her up! Little kids love a reason to let loose. Even if
she hits the snooze button for several more weeks, you can work up some energy
to awaken springtime inside.
Plant paper white bulbs in a clay pot. They take but three or four weeks to
grow into fragrant, delicate harbingers of Spring. Bulbs cost about $1.00 each,
and three will fit snugly (1/4 inch apart) into a 5 inch wide pot, filled with
potting soil, and loosely covered with soil up to where the stem will sprout.
Place them in a well-lit but cool window and water occasionally. To keep them
going all winter, plant a new one every ten days.
Grown-ups, carve a potato into the shape of an abundant Earth Mother. Let her
reflect the plentiful body that Springtime will manifest. Pauline Campanelli’s
indispensable book, The Wheel of the Year (Llewellyn Publications, 1995),
illustrates such a carving for harvest time. Children might like to make an
Earth Goddess out of clay.