Neophyte Notes: Spring Cleaning
While I was doing some research recently, I was greatly surprised when I read, “February was when the people of old saw the first stirrings of life,” supposedly in which lie the origins of Imbolc, one of the fire festivals of the pagan year. I looked out my window, watching the snow falling, the wind blowing and the ice crusting around my window, thinking that those Europeans were (and still are) one craaaaazy lot.
Imbolc, or Candlemas, is centered around a theme of fertility and of purification. Doreen Valiente says that the Romans called this time “Februarius mensis,” the month of ritual purification. This is when they would celebrate the Lupercalia, when the bare-assed priests of Pan, the Luperci, would rampage through the city with thongs made of goat skins, using them to slap women (especially married women) on the hands, ensuring their child-bearing powers for the coming year. So infamous was the Lupercalia that even Shakespeare, when writing Julius Caesar, made mention of how Caesar’s wife had gone out to participate in the revelries in hoping that it would cure her infertility. Later, when the Lupercalia was banned due to its deterioration into wanton licentiousness and, naturally, due to the Catholic Church’s influence, the purification aspects were still carried on in the form of spring cleaning. In Northern Europe, everyone would gather up the boughs on their mantels and the wreaths they made at Yule and burn them, not just throw them out. This was very important, since the underlying premise to all this was getting rid of the past and looking forward to the future. (And yes, this is why you are supposed to leave the Christmas tree up until February.)
A light went on in my head, as I made the connection, which was later confirmed by further research that spring cleaning, the annual insanity that claims more bodies than the bubonic plague ever did, was an integral part of a nature ritual that is still strong today in Western lands.
There was one thing that continued to nag at me: I don’t know anyone in the Pacific Northwest that does their spring cleaning in February. Nope, usually it’s late March or April (do I hear May?) before most people even consider opening their doors to follow their lemming-like instincts to the cliff of cleaning. So, I wondered, in keeping with the spirit of Imbolc, how could I observe a purification rite without crucifying myself on a broom-and-mop cross?
Our bodies as temples
I remembered that a wise man once wrote that our bodies are temples. Reasoning on that point, I decided that if it was too early to do a proper spring housecleaning, it certainly wasn’t too early to cleanse the temple of my body. I made it a point to go get a physical exam (healthy as a horse, stubborn as a mule, thank you), get my tetanus booster, and receive the first of three inoculations against hepatitis B. Also, I asked my doctor to suggest a nutritional program for me since I am approximately 30 to 40 pounds too comfortable. Regular exercise is something that I have dutifully neglected and actively nonparticipated in, so now I am looking into taking Karate lessons to tone and discipline my body, develop agility and, you betcha, defend myself. Dental and vision exams are coming up, too. (Man, it sure is great to finally have a job with insurance….)
Of course, I knew that polishing the pews is nice, but even after things are all bright and shiny, they can still look kinda bare and even shabby. So, to round things out, I’ll be getting a haircut and a few new items of clothing to get February off to a running start.
Our bodies as tools
One of the teachings of the tradition I practice tells us that we are born with all the tools of the Craft. If we are born with all the tools of the Craft, it is an easy stretch to say that our bodies, then, are tools of the Craft and should be treated as such. My opinion, of course.
In a few traditions that I’m aware of, mine included, before a witch, wizard or whatever uses a magickal tool, he or she will cleanse and bless (or consecrate or dedicate) the item, in effect to remove any residual energies from previous handling and to imbue them with the power and energy she or he desires to reside in them. It also sets them apart as special, to be regarded differently than just an ordinary piece of hardware. Have their physical forms changed through all this? Not so much as a molecule. So what? It’s a spiritual transformation that occurs within the item.
Taking all this into consideration, I could see that to repair and renovate my body is fine and dandy, but the true spirit of Imbolc lie in a spiritual spring cleaning I had to implement.
So I sat down and made a list of things that have been hanging around as loose ends in my life and started hacking away at them. I paid two huge bills that I had been ignoring. About two years ago, I discontinued my association with a Christian religion. Finally, I drafted a letter of resignation to the congregation I had been a member of, asking them to remove me from the lists of enrollment. I’ve started working on a letter to my mother to clear up family matters that have been sitting and molding on the shelf for 10 years. Also, I finally hunkered down and started on certain papers that I need to write to complete my Outer Grove obligation.
Unless you’ve done this kind of introspection and personal inventory before, you can’t imagine how much energy it frees in your body. Just to get those bills paid… what a relief! Exhilarating! Liberating, even. I feel generally more cheerful and have a little less dread of the future.
Don’t be fooled, though. All this I’ve done or am doing is not painless. No way! Even though I quit in fact about two years ago, formally resigning from the church was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. I lost many friends in the process who will never speak to me again. Paying those bills strapped me for money big time (can you say “Top Ramen?”). Not to mention that dealing with my darling mother is about as fun as deep-throating a live grenade.
I feel fortunate that I accepted at a young age that growth is an intense process that may necessitate a degree of personal discomfort. (Yeah, you read it right, that reads: hurt, pain, sorrow.) For me, it’s okay, because I adopted an attitude toward growth work that the modern Chinese hold toward secular work: “Suffering for one year, happiness forever.” Not a bad trade-off, if you ask me.
It’s only once a year
After all this, I look at Imbolc and all its associated trappings exactly the way I do my own spring cleaning at home. I grumble and grouse all the way, more often than not down the path of procrastination, to throw myself into my work with an absolute madness while I sweep, mop, dust, scrub, etc. During all that, I lose myself somewhere in the Zen of it. Then, when it’s all done, I sit back with some iced lemonade looking at my beautifully clean home and say, “Gods, I love living here.”
Now I can say, after having swept away a lot of the dead and decaying garbage of the previous year, “Praise the gods! I love living here, in my body, with my tools, in my temple.”