Candlemas / Purification /Presentation / Our Lady of Candelaria

Candlemas / Purification /Presentation / Our Lady of Candelaria

Jewish women went through a purification ceremony 40 days after the birth of a male child (80 days after the birth of a female child) and brought a lamb to the temple to be sacrificed. According to Mosaic law, Mary and Joseph would also have brought their first-born son to the temple forty days after his birth to offer him to God, like all first-born sons, along with a pair of turtledoves.

The Presentation was originally celebrated in Jerusalem on November 21st but once Christ’s birth was fixed on December 25th (near the winter solstice), the Presentation and Purification rituals would fall forty days later, in early February when torches were carried around the fields.

First celebrated on February 14th, in 350 at Jerusalem, when it would have coincided with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, it was later moved up to February 2nd. Pope Sergius declared it should be celebrated with processions and candles, to commemorate Simeon’s description of the child Jesus as a light to lighten the Gentiles. Candles blessed on this day were used as a protection from evil.

This is the ostensible reason given for the Catholic custom of bringing candles to church to be blessed by the priest on February 2nd, thus the name Candle-Mass. The candles are then taken home where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters, much like Brigid’s crosses. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer, February 2nd is called Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman. In Poland, it is called Mother of God who Saves Us From Thunder.

Actually this festival has long been associated with fire. Spicer writes that in ancient Armenia, this was the date of Cvarntarach, a pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

The motif of fire also shows up in candle processions honoring St Agatha (Feb 5) and the legends of St Brigid (Feb 1). The fire represents the spark of new life, like the seeds blessed in northern Europe on St Blaise’s Day (Feb 3) and carried home to “kindle” the existing seed.

The English have many rhymes which prognosticate about future weather based on the weather on Candlemas Day:

If Candlemas Day bring snow and rain
Winter is gone and won’t come again
If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
Winter will have another flight.

These are all similar to the American custom of predicting the weather on Groundhog’s Day, in that you don’t want the groundhog to see his shadow. In Germany, they say that the shepherd would rather see the wolf enter his stable than the sun on Candlemas Day.

The ancient Armenians used the wind to predict the weather for the coming year by watching the smoke drifting up from the bonfires lit in honor of Mihr. The Scots also observed the wind on Candlemas as recorded in this rhyme:

If this night’s wind blow south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and snow there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man, woman and brute.

This was also a holiday for Millers when windmills stand idle. In Crete it is said that they won’t turn even if the miller tries to start them.
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999 Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman’s Press 1937, GrannyMoon’s Morning Feast

Candlemas / Purification /Presentation / Our Lady of Candelaria

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments

Candlemas / Purification /Presentation / Our Lady of Candelaria

Jewish women went through a purification ceremony 40 days after the birth of a male child (80 days after the birth of a female child) and brought a lamb to the temple to be sacrificed. According to Mosaic law, Mary and Joseph would also have brought their first-born son to the temple forty days after his birth to offer him to God, like all first-born sons, along with a pair of turtledoves.

The Presentation was originally celebrated in Jerusalem on November 21st but once Christ’s birth was fixed on December 25th (near the winter solstice), the Presentation and Purification rituals would fall forty days later, in early February when torches were carried around the fields.

First celebrated on February 14th, in 350 at Jerusalem, when it would have coincided with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, it was later moved up to February 2nd. Pope Sergius declared it should be celebrated with processions and candles, to commemorate Simeon’s description of the child Jesus as a light to lighten the Gentiles. Candles blessed on this day were used as a protection from evil.

This is the ostensible reason given for the Catholic custom of bringing candles to church to be blessed by the priest on February 2nd, thus the name Candle-Mass. The candles are then taken home where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters, much like Brigid’s crosses. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer, February 2nd is called Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman. In Poland, it is called Mother of God who Saves Us From Thunder.

Actually this festival has long been associated with fire. Spicer writes that in ancient Armenia, this was the date of Cvarntarach, a pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

The motif of fire also shows up in candle processions honoring St Agatha (Feb 5) and the legends of St Brigid (Feb 1). The fire represents the spark of new life, like the seeds blessed in northern Europe on St Blaise’s Day (Feb 3) and carried home to “kindle” the existing seed.

The English have many rhymes which prognosticate about future weather based on the weather on Candlemas Day:

If Candlemas Day bring snow and rain
Winter is gone and won’t come again
If Candlemas Day be clear and bright
Winter will have another flight.

These are all similar to the American custom of predicting the weather on Groundhog’s Day, in that you don’t want the groundhog to see his shadow. In Germany, they say that the shepherd would rather see the wolf enter his stable than the sun on Candlemas Day.

The ancient Armenians used the wind to predict the weather for the coming year by watching the smoke drifting up from the bonfires lit in honor of Mihr. The Scots also observed the wind on Candlemas as recorded in this rhyme:

If this night’s wind blow south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and snow there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north-east, flee it, man, woman and brute.

This was also a holiday for Millers when windmills stand idle. In Crete it is said that they won’t turn even if the miller tries to start them.
Blackburn, Bonnie and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames and Hudson 1987
Spicer, Dorothy Gladys, The Book of Festivals, The Woman’s Press 1937

Magickal Graphics

Lighting Fires at Imbolc

Lighting Fires at Imbolc

by Sylvana SilverWitch

If you have been living in the Northwest for long, you must be used to frigid aluminum-gray skies glistening with cold soggy drizzle. Barren tree branches scratch the side of the house as if the chill will come in, past the walls, past your skin into your very bones — and it shouldn’t scare you anymore. Clouds obscure the pale, faint sun till you can’t remember the feeling of it fiery hot on your shoulders. Darkness falls for so many months on end that every so often you must turn every light in the house on just to have some brightness in your world. Wild windstorms knock out the power for hours and days at a time, so you have to use candles for light and heat with the fireplace.

It is the time of year that, for me, best reminds me of how things were, way back when. It is the time of year that I can best appreciate the contrast between cold darkness and warm light. I am ready for change! I am ready for the return of the light to my world!

Seattle winters are dreary, and by the time we get to Imbolc, we are all more than ready for a little lightheartedness and to leave the darkness behind, at least for a few hours. We are ready for purification from the heaviness of the long winter months, and we are ready to celebrate, if not the warming of the land, at least the hope that the heat will soon return and we will yet again bask in the sunshine.

There are many traditional ways to celebrate Imbolc or Bride. These include decorating natural springs and sacred wells, leaving wishes tied on the branches of trees and making corn dollies in honor of the Celtic goddess Brigid (another name for Bride). Making Celtic crosses or Bride’s crosses from wheat straw and braided cornhusks and making and charging (or blessing) candles are other traditional tasks for this time of year. The holiday is also known as Candlemas, this name taken when the Christian church adapted the pagan holiday and made it a candle blessing and the feast of Saint Brigid.

In this culture, most of us were raised to go outside on this day and look for our shadow. If we saw it, there would be six more weeks of winter, as this is a weather marker day — also known as Groundhog’s Day. One of my sisters had the audacity to be born on Imbolc, and she’s seemingly been running from her shadow every since!

You can find more about Imbolc traditions in a multitude of published books. Following, I will tell you about some of my favorite ways to celebrate, purify and get in touch with the energy of fire, water and the earth and that of the Goddess at this time of year.

Creating Beeswax Candles

One of the things we almost always do in our coven is make candles. We save the glass containers from seven-day candles and at Imbolc wash and reuse them to make our own magickal candles. On this day, I also like to create rolled beeswax candles with herbs, oils and stones and infuse them with a specific purpose, for my own personal use all year long.

Making candles is easier than you might think. We ran an article on making your own seven-day candles last year. This year, I’ll talk a bit about the beeswax type, since you can make one, a few or a bunch with little muss and fuss.

First, you’ll want to visit some place that sells candle-making supplies, I personally like Pourette, located in Ballard, that bastion of pagan life. Pourette has been in business for a long time, and the employees there can tell you most anything you want to know about how to make candles and what you will need for a particular kind of effect. Not the magickal effects, unfortunately, but then that’s your department, right?

First, decide what magickal intentions you want to make the candles for — you can have more than one, just concentrate on one at a time. Choose colors accordingly and get a few sheets of the colors of beeswax that you want to work with. For example, if you want to work for money and prosperity, you might choose green. For healing, you might want blue. Psychic work and divination would be white or purple; for love and sex, you might choose red or pink. Look up color correspondences in the back of some of your books; Scott Cunningham has some good correspondence tables for herbs, flowers, stones and oils as well as colors and astrological influences. Don’t forget that your own associations are also important. If gold means money to you, then use that. You’ll want some kind of cotton wicking as well.

You can also include in your candles runes, little bits of paper or parchment with the purpose written on them rolled up in the candle, symbolic charms or figures representing what you want and bits of paper money (corners work well) or stones. The more thought and effort you put into creating your candles, the better results you will have.

Gather all of your ingredients together, planning to make one type of candle at a time. You’ll want a clean, soft surface to work on so as not to crush the beeswax pattern; for this, you can put down an old towel or T-shirt as padding. Also, you should decide at this point how large a candle you want to end up with. I usually cut the sheet of wax into two pieces, so I have two sheets about 4 inches high each. Otherwise, you end up with a fairly tall candle. With herbs, oils and magick inside, they tend to burn very hot. An 8-inch candle can burn up rather quickly.

When you begin, you will want the room to be reasonably warm, so that the wax stays pliable and does not crack when you roll it. I commonly put down the beeswax, then cut a piece of wick the desired length, about an inch or so longer than the wax is tall. Then I get out a bit of everything I want to put into the candle. I use eyedroppers for essential oils and rub a small quantity of oil on what will be the inside of the candle after the wax is rolled around the wick (the part of the wax that’s facing up).

Next, I sprinkle a small amount of each flower or herb I am using onto the wax, so they are evenly distributed from top to bottom. I generally try to keep things simple and only use one or two kinds of herbs in any given candle. Then I include the other things: stones, symbols, paper, and so on that have meaning for me. Next, I slowly and carefully roll the candle tightly around the wick. It helps to fold the wax over the wick a little bit prior to adding the ingredients. Being careful to keep the wax level so I don’t disturb the ingredients’ distribution, I keep rolling until the whole candle is rolled around itself. During this process, I think about the desired results of my magickal candle, as if they have already manifest. I keep the purpose in mind during the whole process and put as much positive energy into it as possible.

When you finish rolling, you’ll want to gently heat the edge of the wax (a hairdryer works well for this) so that you can press the wax into itself and seal the candle, being careful not to crush it in the practice. This process gets easier the more you do it. Don’t be discouraged if your first efforts are a tad messy. You’ll get the hang of it!

When you have finished all of the candles you wish to create at this time, you’ll want to bless and charge them with energy. To do so, cast your circle and do a ritual imbuing them with your purpose. Then you can burn them in your spell work for the rest of the year. Make sure when you burn these candles that you attend them closely, keeping in mind that they should be on a nonflammable surface and being cautious that there is nothing in the vicinity that can catch on fire. When candles have flower petals, herbs, oils and paper inside them and are magickally charged, they tend to burn like an inferno. Your candle may be burning nicely and then all of a sudden flare up and be consumed in a matter of seconds. So guard them closely!

Making Bride’s Water

Another thing I like to do at Imbolc or Bride is to make Bride’s water, water holy to Brigid. We usually do this during a ritual where we invoke Brigid and raise energy for the many things that she represents to us. She is the patron goddess of wells, fire, the forge, music, storytelling, poetry, arts and crafts and much more. She is central to my artistic inspiration, and so I honor her at this time of year by purifying myself with her holy water and with fire (more on that later).

To makes Brigid’s water, we place a huge cauldron in the center of the altar, filled with alcohol and Epsom salts; when lit, it emits a beautiful blue flame. We have ready purified and blessed water in a large container, several pieces of charcoal, some long barbecue tongs and enough small containers with corks that we can each take some Brigid’s water home.

Once we cast the circle and invoke the goddess, we raise energy for Her by chanting, dancing or whatever we have determined. During the energy raising, the charcoal (self-lighting incense charcoal, not barbecue charcoal!) is lit from the fire in the cauldron, and it is allowed to burn for a few minutes until it is glowing red. At the apex of the energy raising, we chant, “Bride, Bride, Bride, purify me… Bride transform me!” Then when we all stop, the charcoal is thrust into the water with a great amount of sizzling, smoke and steam. We then file past the fire and water and are anointed and blessed with the Brigid’s water for purification and inspiration. Each covener takes some home to use much as one would any holy water, to bless and purify house, tools, self family, and so on.

Purifying with Fire

My very favorite form of purification is that of fire. It is odd to think that I — a Pisces with Cancer rising, very watery signs — would enjoy fire so much, but I do have a lot of Aries in my chart, as well as Moon in Leo. A veteran firewalker since 1984, I have a good and close personal relationship with the powerful fire elementals. They are a means to profound transformation, bringing change wherever they occur, whether we like it or not!

I have been working with fire for so long that it takes me by surprise when people are irrationally afraid of it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a healthy fear and respect for what fire can do if I am not careful! I have seen people badly burned, and when I lead my coven in firewalking rituals, I admonish them to be very, very afraid. But I add that if you allow fear to stop you in life, you’ll never do anything worthwhile. Don’t be careless with fire, though, or it will most definitely teach you the hard way!

With this in mind, I offer my version of purification by fire. You can do this as the first part of the former ritual or all on its own; it is very powerful all by itself! If you want to do a combination, do the water ritual second, as a blessing after purification by fire.

For the fire purification, you’ll need a cauldron full of 90 percent rubbing alcohol and Epsom salts, which you will light. You can also use 151-proof rum for the alcohol content. Use alcohol and salts about 50/50 by volume; the alcohol should just cover the salts.

Be sure to take safety precautions, such as having a number of wet towels and a fire extinguisher available within reach. Move all furniture out of the way and pull back the drapes, or just do the ritual outside, away from anything flammable if you can. Take off any loose clothing that could catch and tie up your hair if it’s long. It helps if the participants are skyclad, or at least topless, as it is easy to accidentally catch clothing and extremely difficult to put it out! Then get ready for an intense encounter with fire.

Depending on whether you want to in fact light people on fire (very temporarily, and safely) or just allow them to experience the energy of fire, you’ll need one or two torches — one torch if you’re not lighting people, two if you are. If you are not lighting people, you can pass the lit torch slowly over various parts of the body so that the fire just touches the skin. It is instinct to pull away, and it sometimes takes a few moments for people to allow the fire to interact with them. That’s okay. Take time and go slowly, and you will have better results.

If you do want to actually light people on fire, you’ll need a couple small torches. You can make these by wrapping cotton batting around a wooden rod that’s about 10 to 12 inches long and small enough around to be comfortable in your hand (see drawing below). Wrap the cotton around the rod five or six times, then follow that with a complete wrapping of plain gauze. Wrap the gauze around the cotton six to ten times until you have covered it all, and you have a good torch. Finish the torch by tying it with cotton thread wound around the handle at the top and bottom and around the middle several times, so the thread goes from the bottom up, around and ends up back at the bottom. The thread winding ensures the torch stays together.

To light people on fire, you’ll need 70 percent rubbing alcohol. Do not use a higher concentrate than this, or you’ll really burn people! Put the alcohol in a small spray bottle with a mist capability. Before working with a whole coven, it’s not a bad idea for you and a friend or two to try this out yourselves first, just to get familiar with how it works, timing, the feeling it has on different body parts and so on.

During the ritual, you’ll want to have a person or two who do nothing but “spot” people and be ready to put them out if necessary. You put the fire on skin out by using a petting action from the top down, smoothing out the fire. Don’t allow any body part to burn for more than about 5 to 10 seconds, or it may scorch the skin, and you’ll end up with a sunburnlike burn. Be sure and go over the safety procedures before anything is lit! If anything gets out of hand, use the wet towels on people, the fire extinguisher on objects.

When you are ready, the cauldron is lit and the chanting or music begins. Whoever does the lighting holds two torches, one to spray with alcohol and apply to people’s skin, one to remain lit.

To light the ongoing torch, spray it generously with alcohol, being very careful not to drip or get any alcohol on anything else. Then, light the torch from the fire in the cauldron. Next, spray the second torch with two or three mists of alcohol. You’ll then use this torch to apply alcohol to the body part to light.

The safest body part to light is the hands. Have participants hold these out, palms up very flat and together. When you apply alcohol, make sure not get ritualists’ hands too wet or to let alcohol pool on their hands.

After you have applied alcohol, light it with the lit torch, saying something like: “Be transformed!” Let the flame burn for a moment or two and then have the ritualists clap or rub their hands together to put it out. Don’t let them shake their hands in the air while lit; that just makes the fire burn hotter.

The fire will go out of its own accord fairly quickly as the alcohol burns away, but it is more empowering for people to feel able to control it and put it out on their own. The first inclination will be for them to want to put it out right away, as soon as it’s lit. Let them try it a few times, and as they learn that it won’t hurt them, they will be more inclined to allow it to flicker for a few seconds. Suggest that they put their hands on a body part that they want purified by the fire energy, such as over their heart, but only after the fire on their hands is completely out!

We have done this ritual many times with only minor incidents. One year, when we were doing symbols on people’s backs, one man who had said he only wanted to light his hands changed his mind and wanted us to light a symbol on his back. He had longish hair that wasn’t tied up, and though we had him bend over, he stood up before the fire was out and his hair caught slightly and was singed a bit. It wasn’t a disaster, but it was scary enough that I want to reiterate the precautions. If you intend to light anything, including hands, be very careful and do a practice session out of ritual space first.

We use this very powerful energy to transform ourselves, our projects and our lives — coming out from darkness and lighting up our purposes. This ritual has a tendency to be very intense, so keep in mind that people can get carried away by the energy and forget the safety precautions! Make sure to be responsible with the fire and always err on the side of caution.

Afterward, breathe and ground well and share your experiences of the fire energy with one another. It’s amazing the different perceptions people will have.

Whether you choose to enjoy one or more of these suggestions or something else entirely, have a great Imbolc and a wonderful year!

Waiting for Spring: How One Pagan Greets the Earth at Imbolc

Waiting for Spring: How One Pagan Greets the Earth at Imbolc

by Catherine Harper

Spring comes to Puget Sound early and slowly. First, there is the false spring in January, the few warm bright days that arrive along with the seed catalogs so soon after the Winter Solstice and tempt the gardener outside. I always seem to plant a few seeds for New Year’s, no matter how well I know that winter is not over, a few broccoli and hardy lettuces, or a row of radishes. By the middle of the month, the ground has frozen again. Yet the first stirrings of a lasting spring aren’t far behind.

As the days lengthen, even if the skies are leaden, the air full of rain and the thermometer nailed at 40, plants again begin to grow. It’s an odd time of year for eating. What’s in season is what has lasted from the year before — root vegetables, squash and suchlike — and what can be kept in the garden, such as cabbages and leeks that hold well there even if they don’t grow. And then there are the first shoots of new growth. The corn salad that went to seed in my garden last summer and sprouted in the fall has resumed its growth, giving me half a bed of 4-inch leaves for salads. In my herb garden, the salad burnet is producing new green leaves like serrated coins, tasting of cucumber. And throughout the yard are the tender young rosettes of wild sorrel, dandelion and pepper grass.

It isn’t much of a season for foraging; your time and effort will grant you only damp knees, cold fingers and a scant handful of leaves. But I find these few young shoots and last year’s gleanings irresistible, the first new tastes in the kitchen since the end of last year’s harvest. My salads are tiny handfuls, sometimes, masses of little leaves more strongly flavored than lettuce. I dress them simply with a sprinkling of oil and a few drops of good wine vinegar from our vinegar barrel — unlike the tough imported commercial greens of this season, their taste is worth savoring. Dandelion, picked young, is tender and only pleasantly bitter, rather like the taste of a cultivated chicory. Sorrel is a sharp green lemon, pepper grass a spicy cress, corn salad mild and crisp. And soon, within weeks, perhaps even only days, the first sprouts of chives will appear above the surface, marking another start of the year.

When writing for a pagan audience, it’s sometimes tempting for me to discuss these forays in terms of ritual practice: a recognition and greeting of earliest spring, or an opening to a discussion of holidays and symbolic significance. There’s something a little naked about saying “I went out today and saw a beautiful tree, and it made me tremble at my very roots,” and sometime I find it comforting to hide behind history, behind symbolic reference, behind, essentially, my own intellectual understanding of magic.

Yet in some ways, whatever lofty words I use will be but an abstraction of the simple physical reality. Outside, right now, there are green shoots. The waxing of the year might not be very far along, but it has started, because these shoots are growing more quickly now after almost stopping altogether only a few weeks ago. If you check on them regularly, you can see this. And if you go out into your yard, or someone else’s yard, a park or an overgrown lot, you can find them growing among the grass, plantain and pineapple weed. If you are hungry, you can pick them and eat them. There is still in me a great love of ritual, and yet at times all the ritual seems to pale before taste of these greens on my tongue.

In the kitchen, it’s a vexing, restless season, the time I am most tempted by imported peppers and avocados. With so little new choose from, it’s hard not to reach for some faint echo of summer. But it’s a time for patience, too, a time to acknowledge the cold and dark that is so much larger than our little pools of light, instead of trying to ignore them. At this time of year, I fire my brick oven frequently and bake bread, and then while the oven is hot I make dinners in clay pots — mousaka or lasagna, roast game hens, braised leeks. Late in the evening, using the recipe of a Finnish friend I put a pot of oats in the warm oven (a brick oven, once fired, holds heat for at least 20 hours) with water, cream and perhaps a little cinnamon, honey or molasses. In the morning I open the heavy iron door and pull out hot porridge, slow-cooked over the night.

It’s a good time of year to see what can be made with what you already have. Risotto with chanterelles saved from last autumn, or stored butternut squash and prosciutto. Dried black-eyed peas cooked with ham hock, dried tomatoes and peppers. Muffins with a handful of last year’s frozen blueberries. Potatoes sliced and baked with leeks and a little cheese.

And, of course, it’s the season of soup. I love soup. Noodle soups built on the last of the frozen broth from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Eight-fungus hot and sour soup. Red lentil tomato soup (which has the virtue of neither looking nor tasting like mud, a challenge that faces all lentil soups). Thin soups with ginger and pepper to drink when you have a cold. Thick soups for dinner with crusty bread. Winter minestrone to simmer on the back of the stove and feed whatever hordes might descend on your kitchen. Borscht to teach you a proper respect for those stout winter vegetables. On that note…

Winter Minestrone

This almost falls in the category of reaching for summer…. but the tomatoes are canned, oregano is growing in my garden, and even in the darkest months I can usually come up with a handful or two of greens fit for the pot. Broccoli greens are a favorite for this, though kale, chard, cabbage or even spinach will work just as well.

  • Dried beans
  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • Canned tomatoes (at least two 14-ounce cans, but amounts are approximate)
  • 1 chunk parmesan rind
  • At least a double handful of noodles (shells are my favorite)
  • A couple of handfuls pot greens, coarsely chopped
  • 1 glug red wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or a teaspoon or two dried

Cover the bottom of a soup pot with dried beans, though the layer should be no more than two beans thick, and one is plenty. Soak the beans for at least three hours in warm water; overnight is better. Drain off the water, replace with some inches of fresh water and simmer gently over low heat until the beans begin to be tender. Add onions, garlic, tomatoes and parmesan. Simmer for another half-hour or so. Add noodles. Around the time the noodles just start to get tender, add greens, wine and oregano (you can also add a similar amount of dried basil, or of fresh basil should you be so lucky as to have any). Salt and pepper to taste, and serve when the greens are tender with crusty bread.

Borscht

I cannot claim any lineage of note for this borscht. The base recipe came from a cookbook some years ago, and I have adapted it (some might say taken liberties with it) to suit my tastes. Somehow borscht — even without either bacon or sour cream — manages to be more warming and filling than can be expected from a bowl of vegetables.

  • 2-3 pieces farmer’s bacon (optional)
  • 1 large leek (or two smaller ones)
  • 3-5 medium beets
  • 3-4 large carrots
  • 1 small or 1/2 large head cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 glugs wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sour cream

Cut the bacon into small pieces, and fry them in the bottom of a large thick-bottomed pot. Chop up the leek, and fry it in bacon grease (or omit the bacon and use some decent oil). When you can no longer prevent everything from sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a bit of water. Finely dice beets and carrots, add them to the pot and add enough water to cover. Chop cabbage (reasonably fine) and add it to the pot — add water if necessary, but remember that the cabbage will go limp soon and release its fluids. It doesn’t really need to be covered all the way. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add paprika, vinegar and salt. Cover and cook a few more minutes, and correct seasonings. Serve big steaming bowls, each with a dollop of sour cream.

Planting Seeds at Imbolc

Planting Seeds at Imbolc

By C. Cheek

When I was a student at UW, I walked to class every day from my apartment. Along the way, I’d pass some less-than-beautiful sights; empty lots, alleys, easements, and the crud that gathers near gutters in parking lots. Not to worry, I assured myself, come spring, flowers would grow, filling these ugly spots with bursts of color. But then April came, and May, and June, and the route I walked to school stayed barren. Nature provided the sun, soil and rain, but no one had planted seeds.

Sometimes life just hands us what we need. Sometimes all we have to do is wait. And sometimes we have to do a little helping on our own. An envelope sits in my coat pocket. Inside this envelope are seeds mixed with sand to make them spread farther. Some of the seeds I purchased at stores, some I gathered last summer. Now, whenever I pass a patch of dirt, I’ll sow some of those seeds, and with them, I’ll sow a little hope. Hope is the time between planting a seed and seeing it bloom, or die. Hope is when you hear the phone ring and don’t know yet if it’s your best friend. Hope is the moment between buying a lottery ticket and scratching off that final square. When I was child, my mother often told me that wanting was better than having. It took me many years to find out what she meant. Even if your seeds don’t sprout, even if it’s a telemarketer on the other end of the line, and even if you don’t win the lottery, for a brief moment, possibility shines.

Getting in touch with Imbolc means gathering a kernel of hope. For me, as a writer, this means sending out my manuscripts. I call it “applying for rejection letters.” I read the editor’s requirements, check over my story for loose commas, type up a query letter, double check the spelling of the editor’s name, put the pages in an envelope with an extra SASE, and wait. Query letters have a germination period of about three months. At the end of three months, I’ll usually get a tiny slip of paper, not much bigger than a cookie’s fortune, which reads “Thank you for your submission, but it does not suit our current needs.” These little slips of paper cut me, they wound me, they callously toss aside what I’ve spent months writing. So, I find another name, and send it out again. Why? Why do I keep sending the stories out again and again? Because for three months, I can imagine how great it will feel to get an acceptance letter. In my fantasies, an acceptance letter turns into a three-book contract. My daydreams take root, and soon I’m the next J. K. Rowling, with legions of adoring fans, and respect of fellow authors, and book tours in Europe and then… and then…

And then, most likely, I’ll get a slip of paper, or maybe even a letter written just for me, telling me “No thank you.” But for those three months, the daydreams flourish, as sweet as the bite of chocolate you imagine just before tearing off the foil and wrapper, when the bar of candy lies unopened, waiting in your hand. Hope is rich soil, seeded with maybes.Providencewill decide if I happen to write the right letter to the right editor, and if she’s in the mood to read my work. Nature decides if the wildflower seeds I scratched into the mud will grow into seedlings. Even if my efforts don’t bear fruit, I’m guaranteed a period of hope, while waiting to see what happens as the months pass.

The other gardening chore for early spring is pruning. Trees don’t have many ways of communication, but they “know” that sharp loppers shearing off branches early in the year means that it’s time to send out buds and shoots. Roses too, lie dormant in the winter and need the snip-snip of a gardener to wake them up. “Wake up,” I tell them, as I trim off last year’s growth. Inside the house, I peer out the window at the bare canes and think of the months of fragrant blooms lying under that frost-touched bark. When the weather warms, they’ll send out furled leaves, reddish then green, and buds will soon follow. As an inexperienced gardener, I didn’t trim the roses. It felt wrong, cruel somehow to cut back a perfectly healthy plant. The roses still bloomed, still grew, but the leaves didn’t get as large, and the flowers weren’t as numerous. I’ve learned my lesson now. My shears are sharp and ready.

Sometimes nature takes its course without our help, and sometimes it needs our assistance. Friendships are like that too. When I was at the store, I purchased a handful of postcards. Who buys these things, except tourists? Who sends postcards, except people who want to brag about how far they’ve gone on vacation? Well, I do. I got out my old address book and started writing down names of friends I hadn’t talked to in a while. It seems so hard to call people out of the blue. I’m always afraid of what they’ll think. She’ll think I need to borrow money, he’ll think I just broke up and am trying to flirt, my cousin will think I want a favor. So I write instead. No one, it seems, minds a postcard.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to write much. “Thinking of you,” seems to cover it. Or maybe, “I saw this postcard with a beagle on it, and remembered your old dog Spot. How are you and Spot doing?” People don’t often write back. Sometimes you have to send them four or five cards before they write you, sometimes they don’t write back at all. Sometimes they’ve moved, and don’t get the postcard. And sometimes, sometimes they’ve missed you too, and wondered why you’ve drifted apart. Sometimes they get out their address book, and pick up the phone, and call to ask you out to coffee. A rectangle of cardstock and a twenty-three cent stamp, and you automatically get a week of hope that you’re about to rekindle an old friendship. And even if that old co-worker doesn’t remember you, or if he’s moved and the postcard arrives at the house of a stranger, you’ve probably brightened someone’s day. That’s worth fifty cents.

Every day we pass people whose names we never learn. That pierced, pink-haired barista that you buy your latte from might have gone to your high school. That old woman who sits on the same spot in the bus might have important lessons to teach you about life. Your study-partner in that night class might be looking for someone to share his theater tickets with. Sure, they’re just strangers, people we don’t know, and don’t need to know. On the other hand, if you see the same person every day, or every week, how do you know that person isn’t meant to be in your life? It’s hard to be outgoing, hard to strike up conversations without an introduction or the comforting venue of a cocktail party. Seeds don’t need much to grow, a bit of warmth, a bit of rain, and nature takes its course. The wind changes, and flocks of birds know it’s time to return home. Maybe all it takes to turn “that girl from the coffee shop” into “Tina, who plays tennis with me on Mondays” is an extra smile, an extra nod, an extra moment of attention. We are each other’s sun, we are each other’s rain. We have the power to turn the barren soil of strangerhood into a small connection between fellow human beings. You don’t have to do it all, in fact, you can’t make a relationship develop by force any more than you can make a turnip grow faster by tugging at its root, but you do have to make an effort. Plant a small seed of possibility.

I’ve got a small stack of postcards on my desk, each one addressed and stamped and ready for the mailman. It took an hour, and half a booklet of stamps. I wrote just a sentence, or just a smiley face and my name. I’m already imagining how fun it would be to throw a party and invite people I haven’t seen for years. On my kitchen windowsill, tomato seeds wait in their peat pots. In my mind the tomatoes (which haven’t yet sprouted) taste like sunlight, miles better than any of the icy slices the guy at the deli puts on my sandwich. At lunch, I smile at the deli guy anyway, and comment on his funny button, and call him “Eddie,” from his nametag. He recognizes me when I come in now, and even though he calls me “No Peppers, Right?” it’s a start. A lottery ticket, unscratched, is stuck to my fridge with a magnet. It could win me ten thousand dollars–or maybe not. It’s fun to wonder, and hope. I’ve got my novel in the hands of an editor too. As February turns into March, and March turns into April, she’ll work her way down the stack to mine. She’ll read it, and she’ll send me a yes, or a no. I’m in no rush to get my SASE back with the answer. For now, I’ll just savor the possibility of what might happen. Few things in this world taste as sweet as hope.

13 Ways to Celebrate Imbolc

13 Ways to Celebrate Imbolc

by Heather Evenstar Osterman

Regardless of what religion we grew up with, most of us have favorite memories of things we did every year for specific holidays. These traditions were what made our celebrations special. So what do you do when the holidays you celebrate now aren’t the same ones you grew up with? How do you share the joys of Imbolc with your family?

Imbolc (or Candlemas/Brigid/whatever you choose to call this celebration) falls on February 2nd and is a time to honor the quickening of the earth and the first manifestations of spring emerging from winter. This Sabbat is sacred to the goddess Brigid in particular, and is a wonderful time to acknowledge your own creativity, expand your knowledge, and practice the healing arts. Here are my suggestions to get you started developing your own family traditions!

  1. Help your kids go through all their clothes, toys, and books to find the unwanted and outgrown items. Donate everything to a charity that will give the items to children who need them.
  2. Collect canned goods from family and friends to give to a food bank. Yule isn’t the only time people are in need.
  3. Go for a walk! Search for signs of spring. Take off your shoes and socks and squish your toes in the mud.
  4. Open all the doors and windows and turn on every light in the house for a few minutes. Let the kids sweep all the old energies out the doors.
  5. Lead the family on a parade around the outside of your home, banging on pots and pans or playing musical instruments to awaken the spirits of the land.
  6. Make corn dollies and a cradle for them to sleep in.
  7. Create a sun wheel out of stalks of grain and hang it on your front door.
  8. Meditate as a family. Have everyone explore what it would feel like to be a seed deep in the earth, feeling the first stirrings of life. Lie on the floor and put out tendrils. Stretch and bloom.
  9. Have your children hold some herb seeds in their hands. Talk to the seeds. Bless them with growth and happiness. Fill them with love. Plant an in-door herb garden.
  10. Decorate candles with stickers, metallic markers, paint and anything else you can think of! Light your candles and give thanks to Brigid for her inspiration.
  11. Help your kids make a special feast! Spicy foods and dairy dishes are traditional. Try Mexican or Indian cuisine. Top it off with poppy seed cake. Drink milk or spiced cider.
  12. Set a fabulous dinner table with your candles, evergreen boughs spring flowers, dragons, sun symbols, or whatever says Imbolc to you. Use the good china.
  13. Let your children make their beds in a special way to represent Brigid’s bed. Go camp style with sleeping bags or build a makeshift canopy! Have sweet dreams…

Heather Osterman is the Family Services Coordinator for the Aquarian Tabernacle Church.

Light a Candle, Cast a Spell

Light a Candle, Cast a Spell

by Melanie Fire Salamander

In Northern European societies, Imbolc or Candlemas traditionally fell at a time when, with the end of winter in sight, families used the animal fat saved over the cold season to make candles. I don’t butcher stock, and I’m not planning to render meat fat to make candles, but I like connecting with the past through candle-making. And though the days are longer now than at solstice, they’re still short enough that a few candles help.

To further your magickal purposes, you can make a spell candle for Imbolc — a candle into which you imbue a particular magickal purpose. Once you’ve made and charged your spell candle, you burn it over time to further your intention. I find spell candles particularly good for goals that require a period of continued energy to manifest, for example a new job, and for things I desire recurrently, for example peace and harmony for myself and the people around me.

Also, Imbolc is traditionally a time of initiations, of divination and of all things sacred to the goddess Bride, including smithcraft, poetry and healing. To align with the season, consider making spell candles dedicated to these ends.

You can make two kinds of candle, dipped and molded. For spell candles, I’d recommend molded candles, so you can include herbs and other ingredients that wouldn’t mix evenly with dipping wax.

Things you need

  • Cylindrical glass container or containers
  • Paraffin-based candle wax
  • Double boiler or other large pot in which to melt the wax
  • Wick
  • Scissors to cut the wick
  • Popsicle sticks (tongue depressors), one per candle
  • Metal tab to anchor the bottom of each wick (a heavy paper clip will do)
  • Crayons, old candles or candle coloring for color, if desired
  • Small objects appropriate to your spell
  • Herbs appropriate to your spell
  • Scent appropriate to your spell

For your molding container, the best thing is the used glass from a seven-day candle. You can find seven-day candles all over, including at Larry’s Market. The Edge of the Circle Books has them, or check your local pagan store.

You can also use glass tumblers, jelly jars and the like. The larger the container, the bigger the possible candle and the longer it will burn. Seven-day candle containers have the advantage of having a good candle shape, so that the flame easily melts the wax at the sides of the glass. To accomplish your purpose, ideally you’ll burn the entire candle, leaving no stub, which is easiest to do in a container shaped like a seven-day candle’s. Make sure also that the glass of your container is fairly thick.

If you do use a seven-day candle, you’ll need to clean out any remaining wax. To do so, heat the glass in a pot of water to melt the wax. Be sure to heat the glass with the water, rather than introducing cold glass into boiling water, which might break the glass. You’ll need a bottle brush, detergent and some concentration, but it is possible to clean these containers.

Candle wax can be found at candle-supply stores and craft stores. It comes in blocks of two pounds each; the smallest amount you can buy is more than enough for several candles. For wick, again you’ll need a candle-supply or craft store. Lead-based wick, which has a thin thread of metal covered with cotton, is easiest to work with, but you can also use pure cotton wick. The popsicle stick, a craft store or drugstore item, is used to anchor the wick at the top of the candle.

If you do use a seven-day candle container, and the tin tab at the bottom hasn’t disappeared, save it. Such a tab anchors the wick to the bottom of the glass, making sure the wick lasts the length of the candle. If you haven’t saved the tab, you can use a heavy paperclip or buy the real thing at a candle-supply or craft store.

The remaining ingredients depend on the intention of your spell and should have associations appropriate to that intention. None of these ingredients is required — you can make a spell candle by simply making and charging it, or by charging an ordinary candle. However, as with any charm, the more energy you put into in its creation and enchantment, the stronger the spell. I give some ideas for ingredients following; for a full list of associations, check your favorite table of magickal correspondences, or see The Spiral Dance, by Starhawk; Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, by Scott Cunningham; or Aleister Crowley’s 777.

The easiest way to color candles is to melt crayons or old candles with your wax. To get a strong color, use more colored wax. Don’t mix colors, or you’ll end up with a muddy brown. You can also purchase candle coloring at a candle-supply or craft store. For color symbolism, check tables of correspondences; as always, your personal associations and preferences are the strongest and most resonant. Some common associations follow:

  • Red: Lust, passion, health, animal vitality, courage, strength
  • Pink: Love, affection, friendship, kindness
  • Orange: Sexual energy, earth energy, adaptability, stimulation
  • Brown: Earth energy, animals
  • Yellow: Intellect, mental energy, concentration
  • Green: Finances, money, prosperity, fertility, growth
  • Blue: Calm, healing, patience, peace, clairvoyance
  • Purple: Spirituality, the fey, meditation, divination
  • Black: Waning moon, release, banishing, absorbing and destroying negativity, healing
  • White: Waxing or full moon, pro-tection, purification, peace, awareness; good for most workings

Probably the most common small object to add to a spell candle is a written expression of intention. Candle makers often add semiprecious stones; you can add a stone appropriate to your intention, for example sacred to a deity who rules that area of life, or personally connected to you, say a birthstone. Depending on your spell, other small objects might suit. If you’re doing a spell to invoke the peace of the ocean on a still day, you could include sand or seashells. A candle to draw love might include small cut-out hearts, one to draw money pieces of dollar bill. Note that any added objects should ideally be flammable, or if not flammable small enough not to prevent your candle from burning.

You can use herbs suitable for incense to further your spell. Use herbs you can safely burn indoors. Herbs may make a candle smoke and can combine with the wick to create a large flame, so use them sparingly. Also, herbs tend to clump at the top and bottom of the candle, often producing a stub at the end that’s hard to burn. However, herbs are easy burnable ingredients to add in line with your intention, and if you choose the right herbs they’ll smell good. For lists of herbs, try any incense-making book, such as Scott Cunningham’s The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews or Wylundt’s Book of Incense. To make sure your herbs smell sweet, burn a pinch first.

Both the preceding books also discuss scents, which you can incorporate also. For a strongly scented candle, you’ll need to add perfume. It’s best to use candle scent, found at candle-supply and craft shops, or synthetic perfume oil. Essential oils are volatile and break down in the wax, leaving your candle with no scent at all.

The candle making processAs with any spell, start by considering what you want and what symbols represent your goal. Likewise, as always, don’t try to compel someone who hasn’t consented. Remember that what you do returns to you threefold.

Start by collecting your ingredients and planning your candle-making for a day and hour appropriate to your intention. Imbolc this year falls just after the full moon, so for spells of increase you might want to wait till the moon turns. Or phrase your spell to release something negative. If you need money, banish poverty. If you want love, banish loneliness.

Give yourself a few hours to make your candle or candles, during a period when you’re unlikely to have your concentration broken. Just melting the wax alone, depending on the volume melted, can take from 15 minutes to an hour. You’ll be using the kitchen, so make sure you’ll have it to yourself or that any visitors will be attuned to your purpose.

First, melt the wax in the top of your double boiler. If you want all your candles to have the same color, add the crayons or old candles now. You can use a single pot if you’re willing to watch the wax closely — you don’t want it to burst into flames. Break the wax into small chunks beforehand, so it will melt faster. Heat the wax over medium heat, but don’t let it boil. If you want candles of different colors, you’ll need to melt the crayons or old candles separately, then add clear wax to about the right volume in the pot and mix before filling your containers. Add candle coloring according to package directions.

While the wax is melting, pad your working space well with newspaper, because you will almost certainly spill some wax. Make sure all your ingredients and tools are handy. If you have herbs in unmanageable sizes, for example whole rosemary stalks, break them down so the pieces are a size to burn without becoming small bonfires.

Once the wax is fully melted, turn the heat low and let the wax cool till the wax on the sides of the pot starts to set, at approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooling the wax a little helps prevent the creation of large air bubbles in your finished candle.

Now you’re ready to start forming candles. I usually cast a working circle at this point, calling my patron deities to witness, but without a lot of tools or formal setup. You can work as elaborately or simply as you like. However, I would recommend making the candle with focused intention, as well as charging it later.

Take a moment, then, to focus your concept of your goal. You might create a running mantra to repeat through the rest of your candle-making, or consider an image or group of images to help you concentrate. Be sure to state your intention simply and firmly. If it seems appropriate, write your intention down.

First, if you want multiple candles with the same scent, or you’re only making one candle, scent the wax now.

Next, cut a wick for each candle. The wick needs to be as long as your candle container, plus several inches. Thread the end of the wick through the metal tab or paperclip, or other object appropriate to your spell — for a money spell, you might anchor the wick with a folded bill. Then, drop the weighted wick-end to the bottom of the glass container. Making sure the weighted end sits flush on the bottom and the wick stays as straight as possible, wrap the other wickend around a popsicle stick and set the popsicle stick across the mouth of the glass. Make sure the wick-tail is in the center of the candle-to-be. The more centered your wick, the more evenly your candle will burn.

If you’re using unleaded wicking, pour a little wax around the tab at the end, then let it harden firmly. Then gently stretch the wick taut, and rewrap the top around the popsicle stick.

Next, add the nonwax ingredients to your candle. Drop your folded written intention, if any, and any other objects into the bottom of the candle glass. As each falls, imagine it adding strength to your spell. You can add herbs now as well, or you can add them to the top after pouring, if you want them to float down through the wax and be distributed through the candle.

When your objects and initial herbs are in, pour the wax. Pour evenly and slowly, and try to make sure your wick stays in the candle’s center. If you want to add herbs after pouring, do so directly afterward. If you want to scent a candle singly, now’s the time.

The next part is the really hard part — set the candle out of the way, and leave it alone! It will take up to an hour to harden. You can continue to meditate on your purpose, set up an altar to formally charge your candle, or take down your circle for the time being. You might want to check your candle in this interim period, as the top’s center may form a depression, which you can top off with melted wax. To this end, keep some wax melted.

When your candle’s solid, cut off the extra wick at the top, leaving about a half-inch.

Next, energize the finished candle with your intention. Cut your circle and call any deities or spirit helpers you like, if you haven’t yet, and restate your purpose. Then raise energy in your chosen manner. When the energy’s at its height, send it into your candle, then ground any excess into the earth, keeping what you need for yourself.

Finally, burn your candle. One of the great things about burning a candle in a glass container is that you can keep it going night and day in relative safety. Make sure, however, that the candle is in a place where no human or pet can knock it over, and where no combustible thing can fall across it. Also, at the end of the candle’s life, you might want to burn it while you can watch; it’s during the last inch or so that the glass will break, if it’s going to. Either way, just in case, burn the candle on a nonflammable surface, say an earthenware plate or a tile floor.

If you don’t want to burn your candle every day, burn it on days appropriate to your spell. For example, burn a love candle on Fridays, a day sacred to Aphrodite, Freya and other love goddesses. Again, tables of correspondences can help you figure appropriate days, or you can determine them astrologically. Or you can burn your candle when you feel particular need.

Ingredients for different intentions

If you can’t find or don’t like any of the following ingredients, by all means cut them, substitute or better yet create your own recipe from scratch! The stronger the associations for you and the more personal your candle’s creation, the more effective your candle will be.

  • For divination and psychic work: Purple coloring; a small image of an eye, for far-seeing; lemongrass, sandalwood, cloves, yarrow and a pinch of nutmeg; frankincense scent
  • For protection: No coloring; basil, vervain, rosemary, St. John’s wort and a pinch of black pepper; vetiver or patchouli scent
  • For healing: Pale blue coloring, bay, sandalwood, cedar, carnation, lemon balm; eucalyptus scent
  • For peace and harmony: Pale blue or lavender coloring; lavender, meadowsweet and hops; lilac or any light floral scent
  • For inspiration in the arts: Yellow coloring; a small image of a lightbulb; a piece of amber; bay, cinnamon, lavender, orange peel; scent of bergamot, or any citrus scent
  • To attract love: Pink coloring; small silk or candy hearts; rose petals; jasmine scent
  • To attract sex: Red coloring; sexual images; rose petals, ginger, damiana, ginseng, a vanilla bean; musk scent
  • To attract money: Green coloring; a folded bill or shiny dime; dill, lavender, sage, cedar, wood aloe; oak moss, vetiver or patchouli scent, or some combination of these
  • To get a job: Green coloring; a topaz or turquoise; pictures of tools you use in your work; bay, lavender, cedar, red clover, nutmeg; orange scent, or any citrus scent

As you make and burn your candle, attune to the season as well as your intention. Now is the time to ask Bride for inspiration and to light a new flame, beckoning the longer days to come.

 

Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun

by Michael Steward

Satirical, yet useful, home and garden article

The holidays are over. The festivities are ended. After the last decoration is alphabetically filed and boxed away for next year, and the last of the shreds of hand-stamped wrapping paper are finally in the color-coordinated recycle bin, a sense of emptiness ensues. No more extended weekends (except for those government employees who everyone else is jealous of). No more demiglace, gourmet eggnog, or cleverly decorated pagan ornaments.

Looking for that special way to shed light into your life during this dreary northwest post-holiday season weather? Here are some ideas to “Bring In The LightTM“.

Create a special illumination in your home to remind you that the sun is shining just above the clouds — and that you can reach up and pull down some of the much-needed solar warmth.

A Sun shaped talisman hanging from your window is always a good idea. Shavings of different colors of crayons make an excellent stained glass effect when ironed (on low heat) between two pieces of waxed paper. Mount this creation in a sun-shaped frame. Cut out two identical sun shapes from a piece of cardboard. Cover them in gold foil or gold leftover wrapping paper (that you made last season by hand in your basement). Add other crafty effects, such as beads, sparkling pipe cleaners, or tissue paper. Glue the stained glass in the center of the two frames, and hang in a window to remind you of those beautiful summer days not too far away.

You can also bring in the light with an easy painted effect on a boring white wall in your home. While it may seem intimidating at first, creating a feature wall in your home is actually quite easy, and the end result can freshen up any room! I think that yellow is an excellent way to brighten a boring old room. (Yes, YELLOW). Use a true bright lemon yellow. For a full wall you wont need more than a pint of paint. (You can, of course, use any color — but get the strongest version, as we will be watering down the paint in this process for a more subtle effect)

Move furniture away, and protect the baseboards and floor with masking tape and newspaper. In a roller pan mix a half-cup of yellow paint with 3 cups of warm (not hot) water. Mix it well. Keep the consistency opaque, but very viscous. Use a natural sponge with just a bit of paint on it and pat it on your wall, starting in the upper corner. Rotate the sponge continually so as not to leave identical marks on your wall. Spread the paint thin so that the

effect is subtle, yet refreshing. Work consistently from the corner in a fan shape, blending in each section as you go. Use a piece of cardboard to mask off adjacent walls.

In the garden — it’s time to get a start on spring annuals, and preparing for the seasons ahead! Here are the Monthly To-Do’s for the January Gardener:

  • Order seeds
  • Sow seeds of warm-season annuals indoors
  • Sow seeds for hardy spring-blooming annuals
  • Cut back on feeding houseplants (do not feed dormant houseplants)
  • Move living Christmas trees outdoors
  • Plant or transplant frost-tolerant perennials
  • Plant bare-root roses
  • Apply dormant spray to bare-root roses
  • Plant bare-root trees, shrubs, and vines
  • Prune winter-blooming shrubs and vines just after bloom
  • Apply dormant spray to trees, shrubs, and vines
  • Plant bare-root perennial vegetables
  • Sow seeds for cool-season vegetables
  • Protect tender plants from frost

Getting your hands in the dirt is one of the best ways to keep in touch with the earth `s cycle, and connect with the winter season in preparation for spring!

Good luck to you in the coming season! And remember, it’s a Blessed Thing.

Use Imbolc to Ask for Brighid’s Inspiration

Use Imbolc to Ask for Brighid’s Inspiration

by Melanie Fire Salamander

At a Northwest Imbolc, grey days pass under grey skies. The furor of the solstice holidays is over, and cold and rain face us for the next six weeks, or six months. Here, Imbolc lacks even the bracing snow of winter. Nor is it time for flowers and fresh breezes. A few crocuses may poke their heads above ground, but Imbolc, the first pagan holiday of spring, doesn’t speak of spring’s fulfillment, rather of spring’s promise.

Imbolc is the pregnancy of spring, the first stirring of seeds sown in autumn. One derivation of the holiday’s name, which is taken from the Irish, is “in the belly,” according to R.J. Stewart in Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses. Animal life also begins to stir. Around Imbolc, ewes begin to lactate, a time important to hungry traditional peoples. This association is reflected in medieval European writings. Cormac’s Glossary, composed around year 900, derives “Imbolc” from “sheep’s milk,” Ronald Hutton writes in The Stations of the Sun. In the tenth- or eleventh-century Irish tale “The Wooing of Emer,” this holiday is called “Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning.”

At Imbolc, early Europeans also rendered fat for candles, having saved the fat from meat eaten through the winter. Hence the holiday’s alternate name Candlemas, from the Christianized version of the day. Christian Europe observes Candlemas with candlelight processions, parades that may hark back to ancient torchlight ceremonies for purifying and reviving the fields at spring sowing, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. The February ceremonies of the pagan Romans were also rites of cleansing and preparation for the coming year. Likewise, February 2 is the Aztec New Year, observed with early-spring agricultural rites and renewed fires. After other purifications, covens at Imbolc traditionally initiate new witches.

Around the Northern Hemisphere, Imbolc is a time of beginnings, of hopes for success in the coming year. But hope is double-edged; the ancient Greeks put it into Pandora’s box with other human ills, a lying daemon. In this grey weather, it’s easy to see hope as a lie. Of all holidays, Imbolc is the most based on faith. If you don’t feel faith, if you lack inspiration, Imbolc is a good time to seek it.

Brighid’s Day

Imbolc comes strongly associated with a Celtic goddess who oversees inspiration. The Irish, Scots and Manx considered this holiday to belong to Brighid or Bride (pronounced breed), a patroness of smithcraft, healing and poetic inspiration whose name can be derived from the Gaelic “breo-aigit” or “fiery arrow.”

Brighid’s attributes are many. She was known as a smith and fighter, patroness of the armies of Irish Leinster. As a healer, she rules wells and streams. Worshippers in medieval times walked around her holy wells deosil (sunwise) on hands and knees and left valuable pins or buttons in the water, or hung rags in the trees nearby, asking for relief.

An Irish celebration of Brighid’s day reflects another healing aspect. In this observance, Hutton writes, a family would hold a formal supper, during which they would place food, usually cake or bread and butter, on the windowsill as a gift for Brighid. The family might also leave a cloth, garment or ribbon on the sill overnight, asking Brighid to bless it. Family members would wear it later in the year to prevent headaches.

Brighid also oversees childbirth. In the west Scottish Highlands as late as 100 years ago, midwives would bless newborns with fire and water in Brighid’s name, Caitlin Matthews reports in The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom. Fire and water come together also in Brighid’s water, which you make by plunging a burning coal into water while asking for the goddess’s blessing. The water, used to anoint and purify, combines Brighid’s natures of smith and healer.

Brighid’s midwife aspect perhaps conceals an earlier goddess of fertility, a corn-mother, as shown in the tradition of Bride’s bed. To create this bed, Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Year has you decorate a grain maiden made at the autumn equinox or from the last harvest’s wheat or corn. You dress the maiden in white, lay her in a basket and set across her a priapic wand — an acorn-tipped wand of oak — twined with ribbon, so that wand and bride form an X. You then place lit candles to either side and hail the maiden with a chant, or incorporate her into a ritual saluting the fertility of the coming spring. After the ritual, you undress the maiden and at sunrise place her on your dwelling’s front door. There she forms an amulet of prosperity, fertility and protection, which can remain till the next Samhain.

The Celtic traditions behind this pagan practice are many and varied. In the Isle of Man, according to Hutton, followers of Brighid left her an empty bed in a corner of the house or barn, beside it bread, cheese, ale and a lighted candle. In the Scottish islands of the Hebrides, where householders made a figure of Bride from oats, families would leave her abed overnight and look for an impression of her wand in the hearth ashes the next morning. A mark meant a good crop and a prosperous year, and a footstep was held marvelous, but if nothing appeared the family took it as a bad omen. To avert misfortune, members would bury a cock at the junction of three streams or burn incense on their hearth fire.

Elsewhere in Ireland, people plaited a criosog Bridghe, St. Brighid’s cross, of rushes or straw, hanging it on Brighid’s Eve over a door or window or in the rafters to welcome her. Others set their crosses in stables to ask for blessings on the animals. The Irish left their criosogs up through the year, replacing them the next Brighid’s Eve.

Besides giving health and agricultural fertility, Brighid lends clear sight into the future and creative fertility. According to Matthews, she presided over a special type of Irish augury called a “frith,” performed on the first Monday after a cross-quarter day, such as Imbolc, to predict what the year’s next quarter would bring. Brighid was said also to inspire poetry, and many Irish poems hail her. Cormac’s Glossary calls her “a poetess… the female sage, woman of wisdom, or Brighid the goddess whom poets venerated because very great and famous for her protecting care.” Matthews attributes to her the “nine gifts of the cauldron” mentioned in the Irish poet Amergin’s “Song of the Three Cauldrons”: reflection, lore, research, great knowledge, intelligence, understanding, wisdom, meditation and poetry. If inspiration is what you seek at this grey Northwest Imbolc, Brighid is a good goddess to turn to.

A Ritual to Seek Inspiration

This ritual is to find hope and inspiration in a project or your life as a whole. Before you start the working, I’ll ask you to spend some time in journal work and meditation. For these and the magickal rite, give yourself at least one undisturbed hour (two is better). Turn off the phone, and put your pets in another room.

A good time for this ritual is first thing Imbolc morning. If that doesn’t work, try the night before, or during a waxing moon. It’s best done in spring, but don’t let the season prevent you from doing the ritual if you want.

Have on hand:

  • A white or pastel candle to meditate by, and a candleholder for it.
  • Paper and pen to create a journal entry and for use during meditation. (You can create the initial journal entry using a computer, but you’ll definitely want the old-fashioned tools later.)
  • A cauldron or earth-filled bowl large enough to contain a burning piece of paper safely.
  • Anointing oil or Brighid’s water.
  • A candle of a color that says inspiration to you, possibly rainbow-colored, silver, gold, lavender or
    green — use your own personal associations.
  • A candleholder for this inspiration candle.

Journal Work

First, create a journal entry looking at what you’re thinking and feeling. Whether or not you keep an ongoing journal, writing about your thoughts and emotions helps clear your head before a ritual and make sure that unconscious ambivalence doesn’t color your work. Even if you already know what’s in your head, getting your feelings out on paper may reveal new information or connections. And the simple act of formally acknowledging a thought or emotion by writing it down can help that energy move.

So ask yourself: How do I feel? Why?

Next, ask yourself: What do I want out of this ritual? Write the answer on a separate page as a single, formal statement; this will be the statement of your working.

Then ask yourself: What within me stands in my way? What benefits do I get from not succeeding here?

This ritual assumes you are already dealing with any practical roadblocks preventing your success. For me, it’s rarely the outer blockages that most hinder me — it’s the inner ones.

So look at the inner urges that block your desires. As they come up, don’t judge them, if you can avoid it. These shadows all exist for a reason. If you can honor these urges, understand them, talk to them, promise they will be met in some way other than preventing your success, you will clear the way for inspiration.

On a separate piece of paper, write out a list of your inner blockages for use in meditation, following.

Meditation

To meditate, start with relaxation. Light your white or pastel candle, and sitting in front of it relax your whole body. If this doesn’t come easily, try tensing each body part, then releasing it. (For more meditative techniques, see other articles in this issue.) Looking at the candle flame — if you don’t want spots before your eyes, look at the base of the wick — take 20 deep breaths, breathing into your belly, saying to yourself that each breath relaxes you further. Count each breath.

Once relaxed, ground and center. Make your grounding cord strong and deeply rooted, and center yourself in the middle of your head — your third eye, a neutral space. Neutrality is a good tool when looking at inner blocks. Next, create a protective energetic circle around yourself in whatever way you prefer.

For the following step, give yourself some latitude. Don’t force yourself to do work you’re not ready for; doing so will enforce rather than clear obstructions.

From your list of inner blocks, choose one. Let it be personified in a way that you can be neutral about — not a monster, simply a presence. Then ask the block in meditation: What do you want?

For me, the answers to this question always surprise me and usually simplify matters. What your blockage will usually want, first, is acknowledgement. Then it might have some specific request. Nine times out of ten, at least for me, such requests can be dealt with in ways that allow me to move forward with my desired goal.

On a separate piece of paper, write down what the block wants. If you can, promise to fulfill that need, but at very least write it down for your knowledge.

Thank the block, bless it and let it go.

Then choose the next block on your list (unless you have only one), and repeat the process, collecting all the blocks’ requests on one sheet.

When you’re done figuring out what your blockages want, briefly decide how to address the requests. Often the action required is something simple, such as recognizing and honoring a formerly hidden emotion. Sometimes addressing the blockages’ needs will take further practical or ritual work. The answer isn’t to do the work right now, but to make an honest commitment to do it over time. If you don’t feel you can do what your blocks request, at the very least promise to keep thinking about the issues raised till solutions can be found. However works best for you, make a commitment to do the work to satisfy and thus release these blocks.

Write that commitment down on the page with the blocks’ requests, fold the paper and, when you can, set it in some place you will see daily, such as on your altar.

Now ground and center once more. Connect with the energies of earth and sky, and from the sky draw down cleansing, healing energy. Let it meet healing earth energy within you, and fill yourself completely with healing and comfort. Wash any pain or negative emotion down your grounding into the earth. Take time to do this slowly and fully and come back to equilibrium.

The Rite Itself

Now that you’ve done your personal work in journal and meditation and cleansed yourself, it’s time to ask for inspiration from the goddess.

Connect again with your grounding, center yourself and renew the circle around you, this time so as to work magick. Call the elements, directions, fey or all three to your circle as you usually do.

Now call to your circle the Celtic goddess Brighid. Do so in a speech inspired in the moment; call to her from your heart. The description earlier should give you a feeling for her attributes and nature. Call her strongly; let her fill your circle.

Besides your original journal entry and the page listing your blocks’ requests and your commitment, you should have two slips of paper: the list of the blocks themselves and your formal statement of ritual intent. From that statement, read aloud what you want this ritual to do. Feel free to amend your statement based on what you learned from journal work and meditation.

Now take up the list of things obstructing you. Say aloud the following, or something like it:

“To do (my project), I have committed to satisfy these blocks. Having made that commitment, I release them.”

Focusing on letting go your inner blocks, fold the page and light it in the flame of your meditation candle. Let the flame burn up everything that stands in your way. Drop the burning page in your cauldron or earth-filled bowl, and watch till it flares out.

Now pick up the anointing oil or Brighid’s water. Hold it above your head, and call out the following or something similar:

“I dedicate this (oil or water) to the Goddess Brighid and her brilliant inspiration!”

With the dedicated oil or water, anoint the candle you’ve chosen to represent inspiration. Holding the candle above your head, stand and raise the energy of inspiration either by toning wordlessly or by chanting:

“As this candle flames and fires,

Let me be renewed, inspired.”

Pour energy into the candle, imagining yourself filled with inspiration and hope. Imagine too the goddess lending you her aid.

When you have sent the power you raised into the candle, touch the surface below you and ground out any excess energy. Set the candle in its holder, ready for use. Then thank and release the goddess and other entities (directions, elements, fey), and take down your circle.

Light the candle whenever you work on the project you created it for, or whenever you’re in need of inspiration or hope.