So here it is, almost a week past Imbolc and I still haven’t Imbolc’d.
Imbolc is an old Gaelic word, there in the earliest of writings. It means “in the belly” and it is easy to see why this turning point in the old Celtic and Gaelic calendars was named for it. It marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Since the winter solstice the days have been getting longer, but so slowly and by such a tiny amount that you are forgiven if you haven’t noticed. From now on though the exponential growth part of the curve kicks in. It’s almost like watching a 15 year old boy grow. If you look at it on a graph, it’s the spot half way between solstice and equinox where the long flattish part of the curve turns into a steep slope. It’s such an easily noticed change that pretty well every culture in the world has some kind of festival marking it – Groundhog Day, St Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Setsubun, Vasanta, Tu BiShvat. And in the eightfold year calendar, Southern hemisphere variety, it’s Imbolc.
I find this calendar really useful as a gardener. The seasons creep up on you. Today I have the wood fire going as we pass through a cold snap on the heels of the east coast low. But in the leafy planting break coming up, I shall plant basil and molokhia and resist the temptation to whack the last of the cabbage seeds in anyhow. Planted now, they would just bolt to seed if the cabbage moths didn’t get them first, because cold as it might feel, Spring is just about here.
But I like it better than that even. It gives me a gentle nag to make time for those things that are important but not urgent, the things that get pushed aside in the busy-ness of life. So Ostara (the Spring equinox) with its rash of eggs and flowers and lambs and calves makes thinking about children and hope and future really obvious. Beltane maypoles are hot and sweaty and great for remembering how good it is to have a fit and strong and healthy body. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set on the midsummer solstice. Lammas at the end of January celebrates achievement. Mabon on the autumn equinox brings in the harvest with gratitude. Halloween remembers the ancestors and Yule reminds us that in hard times there is always friends and family and community.
Imbolc is about the still not obvious beginnings of things. At Imbolc each year I try to take a few days out to reflect on: What is there, waiting to be born, in my life? What am I nurturing, anticipating, brooding? As the first of the chooks start going clucky, I wonder, what are the eggs I’m sitting on this year?
This year, with the vocational education system in a right old mess, my “other job” has fallen out from under me. I can’t say I’m happy about it but I have a Pollyanna streak in me, and it has freed up time. I could take on a new major project. I could, I just about could, do something big and new. Maybe I should. Should I?