Imbolc is acknowledged and celebrated as a pagan festival and is associated with the heralding in of springtime. It is a time when the goddess is said to leave her footprints upon the cold, snowy land and each clump of sprouting snowdrops is said to trace the footprints of where she has walked upon this earth. There are many myths and legends that connect to Imbolc and each path has their own associations. Within my own path, I do not work with the wheel of the year as such, for that is of the earth plane only.The path I follow pre-dates modern paganism, but I do acknowledge the Sabbats from a universal perspective where a deeper meaning can be discovered. So here I have tried to share some alternative viewpoints on the season, also sharing some of my own experiences of paths I have followed. As always the paths and journeys trod aforetime by any of us will always lead us to where we are now in our current time line. It is said that we all endeavour to tread the path towards the Light, but will the Light actually choose to reveal to us?
Imbolc is celebrated on the 1st of February and within the Gnostic Cycle of 21 festivals, is known as a celebration and understanding of the Goddess being celebrated on the eve and into the 1st February. At this time it is recognised that the Lilly Leaf will assist us upon our journey as the light begins to awaken. Praise is given to the light returning to the earth and to nature continuing its everlasting cycle or re-birth. The blessing of the union between two souls is at this time. Correspondences of the Serpent Priesthood for Imbolc are: Strategy: Sulphur. Stone: Obsidian. Planet: Sun. Tool: Sword/Amulug (goddess). When one thinks of the Sabbats one naturally thinks of the ‘earthly cycles’, but the true meaning of the Sabbats is of a more universal nature for they connect to planetary alignments, when times of practicing magic were and are, most favoured. A small snippet from an ancient scripture concerning Imbolc/Candlemas sacred rites, states:
“Evoke the terrible Hastur (i.e. Safian) on Candlemas Night, when the Sun is in Aquarius and Mercury in row”
So I would suspect that in times gone by the celebrations were less about the localised seasons and much more about the planetary alignments as a whole. One can therefore hazard a guess that the days of celebration and the Sabbats do go way back and connect to a time when universal energies and interactions were acknowledged as the correct times for deep magic rather than of the local seasonal cycles.
Imbolc is often known as being the ideal time of the year when folks cast out into the universe their dreams and hopes for the coming year; a good time for doing the spells and workings for that which they wish to materialise during the year; a kind of magical statement of intent; a time to let the universe know what they want, an ideal time for letting their gods know of their intentions for the burgeoning year.
For a few years I did follow a modern ‘druid’ path inspired by Bobcat (Emma Restall Orr). Druidry has been referred to by some who follow the path, as the indigenous priesthood of these lands and yet to this day a great many of the rites often remain a mystery and lie embedded within oathbound family or Craft bloodlines. I did attend many open Druid rituals and the Imbolc rites often involved the honouring and welcoming of the burgeoning light. Personal challenges were often given that forced one out of ones comfort zones, together with the planting of metaphorical seeds that were imbued with whatever the individual needed for growth in the coming year. The rituals could be very profound and deep because these seeds contained within them, the hopes and dreams of the individual’s future and were fleeting glimpses through a window into other people’s lives. But like real seeds, these dream seeds too had to be tended and fed in order for them to become reality and to manifest in the real world. If left alone unfed, they too would perish and die, as would real seeds left uncared for. Also as part of the druid path we would often plant seeds or saplings at Imbolc, or find other ways of nourishing the earth as a way of sustaining our connection to the natural world and giving back to the planet a much-needed resource.
So then, what about the real witches I thought? Would the real witches of old have acknowledged this Sabbat and if so just how would they have celebrated it? I like to think that those who followed “The Old Crooked Path” would no doubt have had an appropriate spell, curse or dark rite for this time of year and I would like to think that this would have been an ideal time for conversing with old Lucifer, the Light Bringer, himself. I can certainly imagine that they would have smeared their bodies with dubious herbal substances as they paid homage to “Old Horney” and planted their seeds in ways that I shall leave entirely up to your own imaginations. I was very keen myself to find a ‘real’ connection from the past that led me to this time of year. So after diligently sifting through various old books on witchcraft, I came across this fascinating and interesting account. It is a confession by a one Isobel Gowdie who lived at Auldearn in Scotland and I guess that some of you are probably already familiar with parts or all of the story. Of course we have no proof if she really was a disciple of Satan as she claimed or just a girl with an over vivid imagination or one who just buckled under pressure. But the tale does give one a sense of the period and beliefs of the times and gives account of the fact that Candlemas was indeed a time of a celebration that pre-dates the modern ‘wheel of the year’. It is written that she confessed freely, without torture and the part that is applicable here and I quote what is said to be part of Isobel’s confession at her trial in April 1662:
“We would go to several houses in the night time. We were at Candlemas last in Grangehill, where we got meat and drink enough. The Devil sat at the head of the table, and all the coven about. That night he desired Alexander Elder in Earlseat to say the grace before meat, which he did; and is this “We eat this meat in the Devils name” (etc). And then we began to eat. And when we had ended eating, we looked steadfastly to the Devil, and bowing ourselves to him, we said to the Devil. “We thank thee our Lord for this – we killed an ox, in Burgie, about the dawning of the day and we bought the ox with us home to Auldearn, an did eat all amongst us, in our house in Auldearn, and feasted on it”
“Before Candlemas we went to the east of Kinloss, and there we yoked a plough drawn by frogs…John Young of Mebestown drove the plough, and the frogs pulled like oxen. Traces by which they were harnessed were made of dog grass. The blade in front of the plough-share was made from the horn of a ram. Twice round in a circle we went, praying to the devil that the fruits of the land be blighted, and that briars and thistles might grow there…”
Mmm….. so no kindly wishes of growth and fertility upon the neighbour’s land there then, and certainly no sign of any pretty little snowdrops! The whole article contains many gems and insights into a life very different from the modern kind of Wicca often practised today; very different beliefs in fact. Some folks think we are sadly drifting too far away from the older practices….
For a few years I ran a Dark Moon Grove; we too did not celebrate Imbolc in the conventional sense either, as we worked with deities that connected to the Dark Moon and some how Bride or Bridget had no role for us within the grove. However, we did work together to establish an inner reconnection with our gods by sowing the seeds of growth deep within us. Thus we were accessing the dark recesses of our physic, fertilizing and nurturing those parts of our inner souls that lie beyond the reach of the mundane world. So via the guidance of our dark moon goddesses, any seeds we planted would have been the seeds of regeneration that at the time enabled us to open up the magical and subconscious spheres of this realm and beyond. So, it was still about planting and growth but very much from the deep and dark inner realms. Within the Dark Moon Grove we would kick start the year in the company of our dark sister Hecate, a later version of Inanna, in fact. Hecate is often depicted as a torch bearing moon goddess wearing a gleaming headdress of stars, bringing illumination to our subconscious realms. For those of us who follow a slightly unconventional path, who like to dive head first into the dark, it is Hecate or Inanna with their torches and stars of illumination, lighting the way for us deep into the Underworld, whom we turn to at this time of year, rather than Bride with her circlet of candles lighting up this earthly realm.
Within the early degrees of the Serpent Priesthood, it is Inanna in her pure white gown who is indeed the fore runner of Bride, Bridgette or Hecate, for the colour associated with Inanna is most certainly white. Inanna did indeed journey deep into the darkness of the underworld, to find the Light, to re-invent herself. Her tale is a wonderful tale of alchemical transformation and one we can all learn from, for it is within the acknowledging of our shadow side (our humanity) that we do find the ultimate light of truth. So the colour white associated with Imbolc can be traced way back to Inanna and it could be suggested that on a pagan level, it is indeed Inanna wearing her beautiful white gown, who has always heralded in the light at Imbolc; the light of Spring on the earthly plain. Yet more importantly, it is also Inanna in her magnificent and wondrous battle attire who heralds in the Light of the great universal ‘Future Yet To Come'; the dawning of the new times, maybe even to herald in the foretold ‘End Times. And like Inanna it is in the company of lions we stand with the healing nature of rebirth.
Candlemas is also said to be the day when Mary, the mother of Malak (Jesus) presented him at the temple, forty days after given birth but the day would probably not have been known as Candlemas in those times. One must remember that Malak and the earthly family he was born into would have practiced an older religious tradition, for of course they were not Christian at all as Christianity had not come into being at this point in time and would not for many, many years after the murder of Malak; Malak himself, as an adult, was a practitioner of the ‘Egyptian Mysteries. It was a custom of the times for women to be ‘purified’ after giving birth and it would have been very likely that it would have been by candles in the temple, but it was also customary for the wafting smoke of incense (frankincense) to be used during purification rituals. So one can imagine the cleansing taking place and Mary introducing her son; he who would become know as the ‘Light of the World’ and a future messenger of the G.O.D. on this earthly plain. This is where the scriptures do get confusing though as Makak (Jesus) is now known to have not been born in December at all, so who or what was presented at the temple at Candlemas; an older Malak maybe? I believe there are still lots more to be revealed here in respect of the meaning of this Sabbat and more related to celestial activities than those of the earthly sphere. The set times and days of the week would have been very different in those days, in those eastern lands, from how they are perceived in the west today, so maybe the ‘events’ did run in a sequence but not from the perspective of our present day calendars. As always in the ‘tales of old’, much remains hidden and the true meanings remain an enigma; the scribes of old, especially those who wrote the bible have left many clues but also many, many false trails….
However we percieve our personal Gods and Goddesses though, is it not a fact that it is the actual ‘universal energies’ that we are tuning into and are perceiving? We are tuning into the great law of the universe, the law of physics, the law of the ‘All’. Maybe somewhere buried in the dark underworld of our subconscious minds, as we embark on our own personal and wonderful journeys of the year, we instinctly know how to tread the circle of the year. We still have the power and the knowledge to take hold of the spirit thread, that great universal energy that binds us all to the truths of the ‘Old Ways’, to our ‘kin’ and to our ‘gods’ and hence to all that has gone before. The L.i.g.h.t. will indeed lead us into the future if we open up our inner eyes and allow it to; the ‘lantern’, the beacon shines for us, for all those who are enabled to see……
‘Light of the World by William Holman Hunt
Article written and researched by yours truly
Isabel Gowdie’s Confession from
“Tales of Witches & Sorcery” by Ken Radford
The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, 1921, V.5.
Quoted in Margaret Alice Murray,
Scriptures of The Serpent Priesthood
A Warrior of the Serpent Ways questing upon the temporal sphere; sharing the L.I.G.H.T. with those open to receive.