Just when it feels like the snow will never melt and your blood will never warm, Wicca provides a Sabbat and a month to remember that the Wheel of the Year will always turn.
Imbolc, celebrated on February 2, is a Sabbat with a variety of names, depending on which culture and location you’re looking at. In the Irish Gaelic, it’s called Oimelc, which translates to “ewe’s milk.” It’s a precursor to the end of winter when the ewes are nursing their newly born lambs. Spring and the planting season are right around the corner.
The Romans Celebrate
To the Romans, this time of year halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox was known as Lupercalia. For them, it was a purification ritual in which a goat was sacrificed and a scourge made of its hide. Thong-clad men ran through the city, whacking people with bits of hide. Those who were struck considered themselves fortunate indeed. This is one of the few Roman celebrations that is not associated with a particular temple or deity. Instead, it focuses on the founding of the city of Rome, by twins Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf — in a cave known as the "Lupercale."
The Feast of Nut
The ancient Egyptians celebrated this time of year as the Feast of Nut, whose birthday falls on February 2 (Gregorian calendar). According to the Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle.
Christian Conversion of a Pagan Celebration
When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the goddess Brighid as a saint — thus the creation of St. Brigid's (Brighid) Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name.
Purification and Light
For Christians, February 2 continues to be celebrated as Candelmas, the feast of purification of the Virgin. By Jewish law, it took forty days after a birth for a woman to be cleansed following the birth of a son. Forty days after Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is February 2. Candles were blessed, there was much feasting to be had, and the drab days of February suddenly seemed a little brighter.
Love and Courtship
February is known as a month when love begins anew, in part to to the widespread celebration of Valentine's Day. In some parts of Europe, there was a belief that February 14 was the day that birds and animals began their annual hunt for a mate. Valentine's Day is named for the Christian priest who defied Emperor Claudius II's edict banning young soldiers from marrying. In secret, Valentine "tied the knot" for many young couples. Eventually, he was captured and executed on Feb. 14, 269 C.E. Before his death, he smuggled a message to a girl he had befriended while imprisoned — the first Valentine's Day card.
A Celtic Connection
Serpents in the Spring
Although Imbolc isn't even mentioned in non-Gaelic Celtic traditions, it's still a time rich in folklore and history. According to the Carmina Gadelica, the Celts celebrated an early version of Groundhog Day on Imbolc too – only with a serpent, singing this poem:
Thig an nathair as an toll
(The serpent will come from the hole)
la donn Bride
(on the brown day of Bride (Brigid or Brighid)
Ged robh tri traighean dh’an
(though there may be three feet of snow)
Air leachd an lair
(On the surface of the ground.)
Among agricultural societies, this time of year was marked by the preparation for the spring lambing, after which the ewes would lactate (hence the term "ewe's milk" as "Oimelc"). At Neolithic sites in Ireland, underground chambers align perfectly with the rising sun on Imbolc.
The Goddess Brigid (Brighid)
Like many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection as well, although it wasn’t celebrated in non-Gaelic Celtic societies. The Irish goddess Brigid (Brighid) is the keeper of the sacred flame, the guardian of home and hearth. To honor her, purification and cleaning are a wonderful way to get ready for the coming of Spring. In addition to fire, she is a goddess connected to inspiration and creativity.
Brigid (Brighid) is known as one of the Celtic "triune" goddesses — meaning that she is one and three simultaneously (Triple Goddess: Maiden, mother and crone). The early Celts celebrated a purification festival by honoring Brigid (Brighid), or Brid, whose name meant "bright one."
In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. Brighid was also a warlike figure, Brigantia, in the Brigantes tribe near Yorkshire, England. The Christian St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptised by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare, Ireland.
In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brigid (Brighid) is viewed as the maiden aspect of the maiden/mother/crone cycle. She walks the earth on the eve of her day, and before going to bed each member of the household should leave a piece of clothing outside for Brigid (Brighid) to bless. Smother your fire as the last thing you do that night, and rake the ashes smooth. When you get up in the morning, look for a mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid (Brighid) has passed that way in the night or morning. The clothes are brought inside, and now have powers of healing and protection thanks to Brigid (Brighid.)
Correspondences for the Sabbat
Animals/Mythical Creatures — Firebird, dragon, groundhog, deer, burrowing animals, ewes, robin, sheep, lamb, other creatures waking from hibernation
Gemstones — Amethyst, garnet, onyx, turquoise
Incense/Oil — Jasmine, rosemary, frankincense, cinnamon, neroli, musk, olive, sweet pea, basil, myrrh, and wisteria, apricot, carnation
Colors/Candles — Brown, pink, red, orange, white, lavender, pale yellow, silver
Tools/Symbols/Decorations — White flowers, marigolds, plum blossoms, daffodils, Brigid wheel, Brigid’s cross, candles, grain/seed for blessing, red candle in a cauldron full of earth, doll, Bride's Bed; the Bride, broom, milk, birchwood, snowflakes, snow in a crystal container, evergreens, homemade besom of dried broom, orange candle anointed in oil (see above)can be used to symbolize the renewing energy of the Sun’s rebirth.
Goddesses – Virgin Goddess, Venus, Diana, Februa, Maiden, Child Goddess, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Vesta, Gaia, Brigid, Selene (Greek), Branwen (Manx-Welsh)
Gods — Young Sun Gods, Pan, Cupid/Eros(Greco-Roman), Dumuzi (Sumerian)
Essence — Conception, initiation, insight, inspiration, creativity, mirth, renewal, dedication, breath of life, life-path, wise counsel, plan, prepare
Dynamics/Meaning — First stirring of Mother Earth, lambing, growth of the Sun God, the middle of winter
Purpose — Honoring the Virgin Goddess, festival of the Maiden/Light
Rituals/Magick — Cleansing; purification, renewal, creative inspiration, purification, initiation, candle work, home and temple blessings, welcoming Brighid, feast of milk and bread
Customs — Lighting candles, seeking omens of Spring, storytelling, cleaning house, bonfires, indoor planting, stone collecting, candle kept burning dusk till dawn; hearth re-lighting
Foods — Dairy, spicy foods, raisins, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, poppyseed bread/cake, honey cake, pancakes, waffles, herbal tea
Herbs — Angelica, basil, bay, benzoin, celandine, clover, heather, myrrh, all yellow flowers, willow
Element/Gender — Earth/female
Threshold — Midnight
February 2, 8:31pm — New Moon
This year the New Moon in Aquarius on February 2, coincides with Imbolc, the date on the Celtic calendar marking the beginning of spring and the return of the light. For those of us who live in the northern latitudes visibly longer days are reason enough to celebrate.
Aquarius is noted for a quirky approach to life, usually more interested in looking ahead than dealing with the boring routines so dear to its fellow fixed sign, Taurus. They are extremely good at seeing trends in the collective but need to post reminders to take out the garbage and feed the cat. And they do usually prefer cats to dogs because cats are far more independent minded . . . just like Aquarians.
A New Moon in Aquarius encourages everyone to consider their next step and where they would like to be down the line. This New Moon looks quite good for that with a supportive trine from Saturn in Libra to help keep the focus on the practical side of things, reining Aquarius’s tendency to go for the idealistic solution no one can afford. An energizing conjunction between Mars and the Luminaries is wonderful for firing up enthusiasm for new projects, especially those that benefit the collective. If you have planets or Angles from 12 to 15 degrees in the fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius), you are likely to get a boost from this lunation.
Uranus, Aquarius’s ruler, is still in Pisces forming aspects to Mercury in Capricorn, Venus in Sagittarius and Neptune in Aquarius creating an exciting blend for producing innovative thought and sparking the imagination. Hopefully pragmatic Mercury in Capricorn will take notes before Venus drags Uranus and Neptune off to the nearest party. This configuration will affect everyone with planets and Angles from 26 to 29 degrees in all the signs!
Speaking of Venus, she is footloose and fancy free in Sagittarius and the square to Uranus in Pisces just underscores her need for autonomy. The sextile from Neptune to Venus turns on the romance and is wonderful for creating atmosphere. This can be lots of fun for those already in committed relationships looking for a little something to rekindle the romance but not so good for those out looking for their soul mate. After her extended stay in passionate Scorpio, Venus just wants to enjoy the moment and flirt to her heart’s content, not get into deep discussions about whether or not you know each other from a past life.
Jupiter is revving up his engines in Aries and enthusiastically extolling the benefits of taking action and hitting the road. This is a huge blessing for all you fire signs out there and I hope you are starting to feel like life is worth living again. However, the waxing square between Jupiter and Pluto in Capricorn (exact on February 25). When these two were square last summer, Saturn in Libra was on hand to keep their combativeness in check and tone down the rhetoric – something Jupiter in Aries is full of. This time around, they will be going at each no holds barred. If you have planets or Angles from 4 to 7 degrees in Cancer or Libra in particular, you might find yourself embroiled in a heated discussion or two. Cardinal types who enjoy confrontations will be fine but more sensitive types may want to maintain a low profile for the duration.
The overall tone of this New Moon will be set by Saturn in Libra due to Saturn’s role as leading planet in the Bowl Chart Pattern, aided by the trine to the luminaries. Those who choose to compromise rather than confront will find Saturn can be a good friend and supporter. Brushing up on the old listening skills is also highly recommended rather than getting locked up preparing more arguments. Libra seeks healthy debate with ALL sides represented before reaching an equitable decision. Please keep in mind the result benefiting the greatest number of people will seldom make those at the far ends of the bell curve happy.
February 3 — Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-year cycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the! household and the family ancestors. The sacrifice to the ancestors, the most vital of all the rituals, united the living members with those who had passed away. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the fortune and glory of the family.
According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2011 is the Year of the Golden Rabbit, which begins on February 3, 2011 and ends on January 22, 2012. The Rabbit is the fourth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 animal signs. The Rabbit is a lucky sign. Rabbits are private individuals and a bit introverted. People born in the Year of the Rabbit are reasonably friendly individuals who enjoy the company of a group of good friends. They are good teachers, counselors and communicators, but also need their own space.
According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves. It is a time for negotiation. Don't try to force issues, because if you do you will ultimately fail. To gain the greatest benefits from this time, focus on home, family, security, diplomacy, and your relationships with women and children.
Make it a goal to create a safe, peaceful lifestyle, so you will be able to calmly deal with any problem that may arise.
Not many people know that the Rabbit is the symbol of the Moon, while the Peacock is the symbol of the Sun, and that together, these two animal signs signify the start of day and night, represent the Yin and Yang of life. It is said that anyone making supplications for wishes to be fulfilled are certain to get what they want... and in the Year of the Rabbit, the wish-granting aspect of the Sun and the Moon combined is multiplied. The Moon is YIN and this is the Yin of Heaven, signifying magic. Thus on each of the Full Moon nights of this year, go out into your garden to gaze into the Full Moon and visualize plenty of Moon dust and Moon glow flowing into you, filling your whole body with bright white light and granting you fearlessness, love and courage. This will not only strengthen your inner "Chi" energy, it will also bring wisdom into your life.
February 14 — St. Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day Card Spell
Supplies: Valentine's Day Card, Pen, One Candle — Red (for passion) or pink (for romantic love)
Write the name and your desire onto the Valentine's Day card. Take the candle and drip wax to seal the envelope with the card inside. Place this special spell in the same drawer where you keep your underwear. Within four months you should hear from your beloved and of his/her intentions!
February 18, 2:36 am — Full Moon
Moon of the Guardian Sphinx
The Sphinx, a composite human-lion creature, symbolizes this Leo Full Moon. Sphinxes guard passageways by posing a riddle the traveler must answer to gain entry. Pirvate groups create sphinx-like barriers with passwords, secret handshakes, and marked tokens. When a coven gathers, casting a sacred circle creates further protection. members may safely reveal their magickal identities by sharing a true name.
As this Full Moon nears, the solitary practitioner may develop personal emblems and passwords. Design a unique magickal glyph to use when signing petitions or boons. If one has not yet ben found, seek a true name.
For a coven craft, design or choose an emblem. Make clay disks for each member and one extra. Poke a hole for a string, and inscribe the group emblem. Bake or fire the disks and string as necklaces. Hand a disk-amulet to each member. Place the extra disk on the altar, on or near a focal statue or Goddess candle, to indicate the coven is divinely protected. If a member has chosen a true name, confirm the new identity with a ceremony. Discuss methods to protect the group, and strengthen the circle-casting ritual.
~A portion of the above is adapted from: Llewellyn's 2011 Witches' Datebook
— Danu's Daughter