“Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other breaks into pieces.Henry David Thoreau
February 1, is Imbolc, also known as Candlemas or the feast day of Saint Brigid. First, was Brigid, the pagan Goddess of the flame, the hearth, healing, creation, and poetry. Then came Saint Brigid of Ireland, patron saint of poets, healers, and midwives. Imbolc marks halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Its significance has been traced back to Neolithic tombs. It is a time when the frozen ground begins to thaw, bulbs break through the snow, lambing begins, poets are inspired, and hope springs eternal. In Kildare Ireland, the town square hosts a perpetual flame to honor the Pagan and Christian concepts of Brigid. Starting next year, Imbolc/Saint Brigid’s Day will become a national holiday in Ireland.
Images of Imbolc and Brigid are closely tied to Sheep’s Milk and Fire. The first milk of the season warranted a spring cleaning as dwellings had filled with soot over the winter. Everything was taken outside to clean while the home and hearth were polished and a new fire was lit. With fresh greens, garlic bulbs, and sheep’s milk a feast was in order, and dancing around the hearth would follow. Fresh reed crosses were made and tied with colorful ribbons to decorate the clean hearth and invite Brigid’s protection. When it came time for bed an article of clothing would be left out for her blessing. Here are some fun rituals to help you mark the shift.
- Candlelit Milk Bath: Make the recipe below, add to your tub, and it fill with warm water, light some candles, dim the lights, and soak to your heart’s content.
- 1 cup of powdered milk (sheep, cow, oat, or coconut)
- 1 Cup of Epsom salt,
- 1 Tablespoon of dried kitchen herbs (thyme, lavender, chamomile, or mint)
- 1 Handful of fresh rose petals
- Decorate your Hearth: Create an ode to the coming of spring with fresh herbs, and daffodils on your hearth or in your kitchen.
- Visit a Farmer’s Market: Tune in to the seasonal offerings where you live – get inspired to make a feast of early spring greens or a sheep’s milk cheesecake.
- Listen to Spell Songs: I love the series by the “Spell Songs” ensemble and all they do. It began as a book of poetry and became a movement in response to words from nature that were dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.
- The list of lost words included acorn, adder, bluebell, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter, and willow. Among the words taking their place were attachment, blog, broadband, bullet-point, cut-and-paste, and voice-mail. These poems are referred to as spells, as they are designed to be spoken (or sung) out loud and bring these creatures back to life in our hearts. Feel free to listen in your milk bath, while decorating your hearth, or cooking your feast!