By no other agency than my own incompetence, I missed my Grove’s Imbolc ceremony today as I had written into my diary that it was tomorrow. I felt more than a little disappointed as I always enjoy our meetings and last year the ritual was beautiful, a small nemeton created in one of the city's remaining pockets of ancient woodland and a gentle yet powerful ceremony which crossed dusk leaving us praying in only the light of a ring of candles we had placed around our altar of natural and found objects. My soul needed the nourishment that my friends in the Grove provide and I have been too long out of their company this year.
I had a good long walk across the heath to the Observatory this morning, feeling and smelling the first fecund hints of spring and, mindful that I had felt strangely disjointed last year when I hadn’t made time for my seasonal observances, looking forward to feeling that connection. In the early years of my pagan path, Imbolc was a festival I didn’t really ‘get’: it seemed strange and dare I say it, only there to make up the numbers. As the years have passed and I have shared a deeper connection with certain aspects of the dark half of the year, Imbolc marks an important midway point in this season. It is full of contradictions, as is the Goddess with whom I now associate this time. It is the first glimmerings of light and growth and warmth, yet within that comfort is the sure knowledge of the brightest days of brittle cold and the darkest days of bleak lethargy that are still to come before Proserpina fully re-ascends.
In thinking of how I would mark the day instead, I turned to the pages of my journal and found my account of my solitary experiences of Imbolc two years ago:
In my sanctuary, I speak the name of my gods. Witness me, guide me, strengthen me. The last name thrums on my lips, over and over I sound it with the beating of the drum. Softer, louder, softer, louder until I know that I stand in Her presence. Today has been Her day – she has ridden the Siberian storms and swept deep white drifts over us all, snow and ice and wind, smothering our land and making mockery of the hubris of man. Hers is the deep cut of winter’s icy knife, She is the one who will use her staff to blast away the first shoots of spring.
Bringer of the White.
Bringer of death.
I stand before her and she before me, swathed in white and wreathed in snow I know Her. But She knows me better.
“That which is weak must die.
You must be the man you know you can be.”
Her harsh words scythe through me. Again I think of Her blasting away fragile green shoots. Those were the shoots that were not strong enough, then better that the winter takes them. There will be other, stronger shoots to follow, for Springtime has never not come. Something falls away as I beat my drum again, dying back so I can leap forward. Whatever is now gone was not strong enough to survive. I remember that in the midst of the white this morning I saw a space had been cleared and a strong green shoot was growing through the snow.
Looking back, that year Imbolc was surely what it should have been: a day of snow and chaos; rules upturned and giddy excitement – a festival! I had a journey through the harsh and unforgiving white but I came out stronger the other side. For alongside the heady joys of that unexpected snow-day, there had been disappointments and, for me, the light and bitter taste of a betrayal revealed.