Seasonal Changes 1: IMBOLC


earthweal weekly challenge

By Sarah Connor

Welcome to earthweal. This is the first of a series of seasonal posts that will be coming out through 2021, inviting you to respond to the changes in the seasons.

I believe that much of humanity has become disconnected from the earth. In a world of central heating and air conditioners we don’t need to experience the weather. With electric lighting we can ignore the short days of winter. Living in cities, we don’t see hedgerows coming into leaf, lambs appearing in the fields, starlings gathering in the winter. Seasonal changes are integral to how our planet works.

Over lockdown, we walked. We set off from our house and walked up the lane, reached the top, turned round. At first it was quite interesting. Then it became, frankly, a bit boring. And then it became interesting again. We noticed the primroses going over. We found the florets of leaves that would sprout wild orchids — and started to check them every day. We noticed leaves darkening as summer strengthened. We saw fledglings taking their first tentative flights.

We’ve carried on doing the same walk — not daily now, but still regularly — and have enjoyed watching autumn splash red and orange everywhere, flocks of fieldfare passing overhead, the honking of geese on the move, grass and leaves sparkling with frost. The changes in weather; plant, animal and birdlife; day length; cloud formations — we’ve become much more attuned to them, and much more aware of the abundance of life on this beautiful planet. We feel more connected.

If we can all re-connect with the planet, I believe we will become more powerfully aware of the damage the Anthropocene Age is doing. We will realise that damage done to the planet is damage done to all of us — plants, birds, insects, mammals — and we will become more passionate advocates for change.

The Wheel of the Year offers a traditional framework for acknowledging and celebrating seasonal change. It’s based on the traditional Celtic calendar. The Wheel has eight points of celebration — the four solar events (winter and summer solstice, spring and autumn equinox) — and the four Cross Quarter festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain). These festivals were so powerful that the church adopted and adapted them. We still keep some of them: Yule/Christmas, Ostara/Easter, Samhain/Halloween; but others have slipped out of our collective consciousness.

Today, I want to think about Imbolc. Traditionally celebrated at the start of February, Imbolc is a festival of new life and new beginnings. The name derives from “in the belly” — the first stirrings of life, seeds starting to sprout. In Northern Europe the days are starting to lengthen. Lambs and calves are starting to be born. Snowdrops are appearing, and buds are swelling in the hedgerows. It’s a time when my stride starts to lengthen and my shoulders go back a little. The darkness of winter is starting to lift. Everything is trembling on the brink of  the explosion of life that is spring

In Celtic mythology, Imbolc was sacred to Brigid. Brigid is a maiden aspect of the traditional triple goddess, patron of midwives, blacksmiths and poets. Her name is said to derive from Breo Saighead or “fiery arrow”, and she brings fire literally (lighting candles) and metaphorically as inspiration.

The energy of Imbolc, then, is about new life and renewed life. It’s about creating light and the return of light. It’s about inspiration appearing and implanting. It’s about the start of new ideas, new projects, new creativity.

The Wheel of the Year reflects a Northern European experience of seasonal change, but I would argue that you can see Imbolc energy anywhere and everywhere. The first green shoots pushing through scorched soil — they are candles lighting for Imbolc. Fish appearing in Venice’s canals have Imbolc energy. Anywhere re—greened, renewed, rejuvenated — that’s Imbolc.

So this week, I invite you to celebrate Imbolc through your poems. After all, this is our festival as poets. Think about new life, and renewed life. Be inspired by Brigid’s fiery arrow, and write about birth and re—birth.

— Sarah