Handfasting of the Lord and Lady

Handfasting of the Lord and Lady

By Terri Roessler

 

The Lord and Lady stood before the Celestial Altar,
Facing the High Priestess, who was seen but not seen,
heard but not heard,
the stars were Her gown, a nebula was Her cloak, and the Milky Way Her headdress,
swirling around Her head.

The Lord and Lady, were smiling shyly, for this was Imbolc,
The Sacred day,
The Joyous day,
The day that They would become one.

Around them in the circle
Stood Their children.
Witnessing Their wedding day.
Men, Women and Children,
Birds and Beasts,
Creatures imagined, and some unimagined,
Spirits and Angels,
Creatures of the Land and of the Sea,
The Fey in their multitude of Form,
And creatures of the Otherworld.
All happy to witness the handfasting of their Lord and Lady.

The children looked at the Lady in awe, Her bright face turned up to the Lord,
Multitudes of flowers in Her hair, faeries and butterflies daintily holding the ribbons away from Her face.

And at the Laughing God, decked in greenery, bearded and horned, smiling down on His Lady love.

The High Priestess, Her Awe-inspiring voice heard with the heart,
not with the ears,
did say to the children:

“Do any say nay?”

The hush was instant,
Breath indrawn.

She gazed at the children with Her terrible eyes,
The children looked down with respect and no little fear, not meeting Her eyes.

She turned back to the Lord and Lady,
at the beautiful eyes and the handsome face,
Her smile returned.

Suddenly, She held a cord.
The children’s breath let out, almost a sigh.

The Lord and Lady proffered Their wrists.
Wrapped around them almost instantly,
Was a cord, sparkling with all the colors of the rainbow, the Moon and the Sun.

“Then as the entire Universe as witness”
She said in a voice suddenly loud,
“I proclaim you Husband and Wife!”

The crowd cheered, throwing rose petals into the air.
The petals fell to the ground to be stepped on and release their pungent smell.

The Laughing God bent His Horned Head to the Lady’s mouth, eager to taste the sweetness there.
The Lady’s Eyes opened wide, His Passion a surprise.
The Laughing God’s eyes danced in response.

The Kiss ended.
They turned to the altar,
The Star Woman was gone, as They knew she would be.
They laughed happily and turned to the crowd,
Their sparkling eyes, taking in the sight of Their Children.

Smiling Their blessings to the crowd,
They too were gone.

The children turned their eyes towards the bright heavens,
And beheld the Laughing God and their Lady,
Dancing in the stars.
Somewhere in a nebula far, far away, the Star Woman laughed happily.
The Children danced too,
In joy, on the earth, in the sea, and in the skies. their faces aglow,
As the stardust fell down…..

Poem copyright © 1997 Terri Roessler

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Brighid Lore for Imbolc

Brighid Lore for Imbolc
by Doreen Motheral

 

The goddess Brighid (also known as Brigit, Bride, Biddy and other names throughout Europe) is a goddess who is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I like the fact that she is associated with both water (her wells in Kildare and other parts of Ireland) and fire (her fire pit in Kildare). I like the fact that she spans both the pagan and Christian worlds and some of her traditions are still celebrated today.

Since the festival of Imbolc (also called Óimelc) is this weekend I thought I’d write a few thoughts for those who aren’t familiar with her (and perhaps renew an acquaintance for those who already were). Imbolc is the time of the year that the ewes lactated, and the successful timing of this event was approximate, so the exact date of Imbolc could vary from region to region and from year to year depending on the climate. Production of this milk supply was very important to both man and animal. From the milk comes butter and cheese. Newly calved cows were also put under Brighid’s protection. Here’s an old saying:

Samhain Eve without food,
Christmas night without bread,
St. Brighid’s Eve without butter,
That is a sorry complaint.

Cormac mac Cuillenàin, who lived in the 9th century said, “Brighid i.e. a learned woman, daughter of the Dagda. That is Brighid of learning, i.e. a goddess who filid worshipped. For her protecting care was very great and very wonderful. So they call her a goddess of poets. Her sisters were Brighid woman of healing, and Brighid woman of smithcraft, daughters of the Dagda, from whose names among all the Irish a goddess used to be called Brighid” In this writing, Cormac mentions her triple aspect of three sisters, common among the Celts. I often call on one or more of her aspects of creativity, writing and healing, but she is much more than that.

The Christian aspects of Brighid and the pagan aspects often overlap, so it’s difficult to figure out which stories have pre-Christian beginnings. I think there is a seed of paganism in many of the later stories associated with her. We’ll never know for sure, but in my own private practice I take many of her current customs and use them for my own worship of her – and I don’t worry about the pre-Christian aspect of the story or not. Your mileage may vary, of course.

On the eve of Imbolc, a piece of linen, other cloth or ribbons is placed outside (some folks put them on their window sill). This piece of cloth is called Brighid’s Brat or Brighid’s Mantle. It is said that Brighid travels all over the land on Imbolc eve and if she sees this cloth, she will bless it and give it healing powers. Some folks in Ireland say that the older your brat is, the more powerful it is. Mugwort Grove (the grove to which I belong) destroys ours from year to year. We put out a whole piece of linen and tear it into strips for members of the Grove during our Imbolc ritual. People take the strips home to use for healing and some are kept on personal altars throughout the year.

Other folklore says that if the mantle gets bigger overnight, you will be especially blessed. It’s a nice tradition, especially if you have a lot of illness to overcome for the following year, and a brat is nice to have for healing rituals later in the year.

Brighid’s fiery aspect makes her the perfect goddess of the hearth – in fact, my hearth at home is dedicated to Brighid. There are many hearth prayers dedicated to Brighid, especially concerning smooring. Ashes and embers were often deposited in the fields. Also, indoor activity associated with Imbolc often took place near the hearth, and if there was a feast, an extra place was set for Brighid. It is also considered bad luck to do any type of spinning on Brighid’s Day.

There is also the custom of Brighid’s Bed. A small bed is made near the hearth and a doll (called a Brídeog), often made from a sheaf of corn and made into the likeness of a woman and is sometimes placed in the bed. In Ireland the doll was often made from a churn dash decorated in clothing (associations t milk again). Sometimes the doll was carried around town to visit houses in the neighborhood. Songs, music and dances are performed – then prayers are said to St. Brighid for blessings upon the house (this is similar to wassailing in other countries around Christmas). Then the family is asked to contribute a donation – which used to be bread and butter (there’s that dairy again!) but now it’s often money (sometimes given to charity).

There is much, much more about Brighid I could share, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A bit of trivia – Brighid is so loved by the Irish people that in 1942 a survey was taken on “The Feast of St. Brighid”. The replies about the customs run to 2,435 manuscript pages. A great book, if you can find it, is The Festival of Brighid Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman by Séamas Ó Catháin. There are many really cool stories and legends about her.

Last but not least one of the other interesting aspects of Brighid is a prayer attributed to her from the 11th century which goes like this:

I would like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings
I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

Drink up!

Candlemas: The Light Returns

Candlemas: The Light Returns
by Mike Nichols

It seems quite impossible that the holiday of Candlemas should be considered the beginning of Spring. Here in the Heartland, February 2nd may see a blanket of snow mantling the Mother. Or, if the snows have gone, you may be sure the days are filled with drizzle, slush, and steel-grey skies — the dreariest weather of the year. In short, the perfect time for a Pagan Festival of Lights. And as for Spring, although this may seem a tenuous beginning, all the little buds, flowers and leaves will have arrived on schedule before Spring runs its course to Beltane.

‘Candlemas’ is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. ‘Imbolc’ means, literally, ‘in the belly’ (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. ‘Oimelc’ means ‘milk of ewes’, for it is also lambing season.

The holiday is also called ‘Brigit’s Day’, in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capitol of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery). This tripartite symbolism was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters, also named Brigit. (Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called ‘bride’ in her honor.)

The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be ‘Saint’ Brigit, patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. They ‘explained’ this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was ‘really’ an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there ‘misled’ the common people into believing that she was a goddess. For some reason, the Irish swallowed this. (There is no limit to what the Irish imagination can convince itself of. For example, they also came to believe that Brigit was the ‘foster-mother’ of Jesus, giving no thought to the implausibility of Jesus having spent his boyhood in Ireland!)

Brigit’s holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well, using ‘Candlemas’ as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise’s Day, is remembered for using the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.)

The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.) The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of ‘churching women’. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn’t be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess.

Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of ‘Groundhog’s Day’, a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be ‘six more weeks’ of bad weather (i.e., until the next old holiday, Lady Day). This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that ‘If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.’ Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as ‘inverse’ weather predictors, whereas the quarter-days are used as ‘direct’ weather predictors.

Like the other High Holidays or Great Sabbats of the Witches’ year, Candlemas is sometimes celebrated on it’s alternate date, astrologically determined by the sun’s reaching 15-degrees Aquarius, or Candlemas Old Style (in 1988, February 3rd, at 9:03 am CST). Another holiday that gets mixed up in this is Valentine’s Day. Ozark folklorist Vance Randolf makes this quite clear by noting that the old-timers used to celebrate Groundhog’s Day on February 14th. This same displacement is evident in Eastern Orthodox Christianity as well. Their habit of celebrating the birth of Jesus on January 6th, with a similar post-dated shift in the six-week period that follows it, puts the Feast of the Purification of Mary on February 14th. It is amazing to think that the same confusion and lateral displacement of one of the old folk holidays can be seen from the Russian steppes to the Ozark hills, but such seems to be the case!

Incidentally, there is speculation among linguistic scholars that the vary name of ‘Valentine’ has Pagan origins. It seems that it was customary for French peasants of the Middle Ages to pronounce a ‘g’ as a ‘v’. Consequently, the original term may have been the French ‘galantine’, which yields the English word ‘gallant’. The word originally refers to a dashing young man known for his ‘affaires d’amour’, a true galaunt. The usual associations of V(G)alantine’s Day make much more sense in this light than their vague connection to a legendary ‘St. Valentine’ can produce. Indeed, the Church has always found it rather difficult to explain this nebulous saint’s connection to the secular pleasures of flirtation and courtly love.

For modern Witches, Candlemas O.S. may then be seen as the Pagan version of Valentine’s Day, with a de-emphasis of ‘hearts and flowers’ and an appropriate re-emphasis of Pagan carnal frivolity. This also re-aligns the holiday with the ancient Roman Lupercalia, a fertility festival held at this time, in which the priests of Pan ran through the streets of Rome whacking young women with goatskin thongs to make them fertile. The women seemed to enjoy the attention and often stripped in order to afford better targets.

One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries, and especially by Witches in the British Isles and parts of the U.S., is to place a lighted candle in each and every window of the house, beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. Make sure that such candles are well seated against tipping and guarded from nearby curtains, etc. What a cheery sight it is on this cold, bleak and dreary night to see house after house with candle-lit windows! And, of course, if you are your Coven’s chandler, or if you just happen to like making candles, Candlemas Day is THE day for doing it. Some Covens hold candle-making parties and try to make and bless all the candles they’ll be using for the whole year on this day.

Other customs of the holiday include weaving ‘Brigit’s crosses’ from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making ‘Brigit’s beds’ to ensure fertility of mind and spirit (and body, if desired), and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles) for the High Priestess to wear for the Candlemas Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries. All in all, this Pagan Festival of Lights, sacred to the young Maiden Goddess, is one of the most beautiful and poetic of the year.

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!

Solitaire Imbolc Ritual

Solitaire Imbolc Ritual

Michael Hall

On your altar should be placed a circle of 13 stones and, within the circle of stones, a circle of 13 candles. Within the circle of candles should be spread some maize – i.e. corn meal – and in that a waxen female candle to symbolize the Goddess on your altar. On the eastern side of the altar should be placed a small sheaf of grain with a candle inserted inside it.

You should dress in your usual ceremonial garb for Magickal rites or skyclad, as you prefer.

Retire to bathe in salt-water (use sea salt) before the ritual. As you do so picture the water cleansing the soul and spirit, just as it cleanses the body. When you have dressed, anoint yourself with a holy oil. When you have prepared yourself, sit in a dim quiet place and light a candle – ONE THAT IS NOT BEING USED IN THE RITES – and meditate on how at this time of year the Goddess in her fiery aspect AS LIGHT was welcomed back into the Temples and the Homes of the land.

Take this candle and walk slowly to your altar. Place it in the circle of the 13 candles. Then light the two altar candles, which are separate from the circle of lights also, and the incense. (Incense should be stick or powdered incense on charcoal in a swinging burner.) Then light all the quarter candles in the 4 directions, starting in the east and going clockwise.

Cast your circle in the usual manner, but Invoke the Goddess with the following:

“Sacred womb, giver of the secrets of Life, Mother of all that exists in the Universe, I ask your guardianship of this gathering and your assistance in my work. I am gathered in celebration of your gifts and my work is most holy. SO MOTE IT BE”

And Invoke the God in the following manner:

“Fire of the sky, guardian of all that exists in the Universe, I ask your guardianship of this gathering and your assistance in my work. I am gathered in celebration of your gifts and my work is most holy. SO MOTE IT BE”

(Continue with the circle casting if it is not already finished)

Light the 13 candles and then the Goddess candle in the center and say:

“Warm and quickening Light awaken and bring forth beauty for thou art my pleasure and my bounty LORD and LADY OSiRIS AND ISIS” (or you may substitute whatever names your circle uses for the God and the Goddess – or those you personally prefer)

Reflect a moment on the coming of the light and offer up the incense.

Say

“O ancient Ones Timeless Goddess and Sacred King who art the heralds of springtime and it’s bounties be with me now in celebration

Hail to Osiris and Isis

Harvest giver and blessed Lady

Let this be a time and a place sacred to your power and your beauty

SO MOTE IT BE”

Light the candle in the sheaf of grain and hold it up with the loaf of bread in the other hand and say (or the cakes – whatever you or your tradition uses for the cakes and wine/juice ceremony)

“My Lord and Lady, as the seed becomes the grain, so the grain becomes the bread, Mark the everlasting value of our seasons and their changes. “

Break a piece of the bread or cakes off and burn it as an offering in the central candle.

Then say:

“In the deepest Icy Winter the seed of the Earth lies deep within the womb of the Great Mother. The Spring brings the heat of the Father and with their joining comes new life. The completion of the cycle brings food to the children of the world. As I taste the food I shall know the wisdom of the cycles and be blessed with the food of wisdom throughout my life”

Consecrate cakes and wine/juice in the usual manner and partake of them, but first raise your chalice or drinking horn and say:

“Hail to thee ISIS

Hail to thee Osiris

For thou art blessed”

After this commune in meditation with the Lord and lady for a while, then close the circle in your usual manner.

GOOD IMBOLC
Distributed by PAN – the Psychic Awareness Network – 1-703-362-1139
Note – by Matrika, co-sysop – this ritual was written by someone I knew from the Boston MA. area a couple of years back. It is based on a combination of the lore of the Wicca and some of the afro-Caribbean Diaspora traditions of Paganism and Magick.

Imbolc Meditation

Submitted By: Cogar niMhorrighan

Here is an original meditation for the Imbolc festival (can be used at
any time):

It is a lovely spring day. The air is fresh with the fragrance of green
plants preparing to bloom. The sun’s radiance bathes you in comfort,
perhaps the first warmth you have felt in many months. You sense that
you are in Ireland, because it is green and everything feels clean and
alive. The landscape is timeless and magical. In the distance, you
hear birds singing as they welcome the unexpected warmth of the day.
Inside you, happiness begins to bubble and dance, very quietly at first.
It feels almost like anticipation, but it puts a smile on your lips as
well.

You are walking up a slight hill, not steep enough to tire you but just
enough to sense that something wonderful can be seen from the top. As
you walk, the grass is already tall enough to brush against your lower
legs. You know you are in a wild place where Nature flourishes.

Towards the top of the hill, you see a dolmen – two standing stones and
a large stone across the tops of them, like an arch. You wonder why you
didn’t see this dolmen sooner. It is as if it appeared when you were
just twenty feet from it. Does it mean something? Is it real? You do
not pause to wonder, but keep walking towards it.

As you walk between the stones, you notice carvings and symbols on the
sides of the dolmen. Some of them are lines and hash-marks, which you
suspect are an Ogham message. Others are just symbols, which you will
return to look at, another day.

As you pass through the dolmen, you feel an invisible curtain brush over
you gently. In the space of a blink, it is a clear, crisp night. The
stars are above you, brilliant and twinkling. You know the moon is
behind you, but you do not notice its light because there is a sparkling
fire just ahead. There is no breeze, but the evening is chilly as you
would expect when Winter is still in the air.

You pull your clothing more closely around you, as you continue up the
hill. You are eager to reach the warmth of the fire, which is bigger
than you thought at first. In fact, it is a bonfire and you realize you
have arrived at Imbolc.

You run the last few steps to stand next to the fire pushing your hands
towards it, to capture the heat from a safe distance. Tall yellow and
white flames seem to warm you inside and out. You pause to look at the
sky again, and savor the moment.

Looking across the flames, you suddenly realize that you are not alone.
You can see the top of someone’s head, and you aren’t certain if you
have intruded on a private ceremony. Slowly, you walk around the fire,
and your companion stands up from the rock she was sitting upon. She is
a tall, strong woman, with long hair so light you cannot tell if it is
blonde or white. She looks like the Queen of Pentacles in a way, with
an ageless sense of knowing and accomplishment. She wears a long gown
and an embroidered cape, yet you can see her bare feet peeking out from
under her skirt. You know she is someone noble yet without artifice.

Without a word, she stretches out her hands to take yours in welcome.
You know, as if you’ve known her all your life, that this is Brighid.
This is a special and sacred moment.

She welcomes you to her fire, which will burn tonight and every night,
for Imbolc is her festival and her fire is never extinguished.

You sit down next to her, on large flat rocks that are warm from the
fire, and very comfortable. She begins to explain to you the meaning of
Imbolc, and its promise of a fresh beginning–not just to the plants and
animals, but also to everyone on Earth who chooses to permit Imbolc into
their lives.

She helps you to remember your past dreams, especially the ones from
your childhood which began, “When I grow up…” And as you recall these
fantasies and goals, you realize how many of them were left behind with
your childhood, yet how many are still alive in what you do each day,
today. This is not a sad realization as much as it is a recognition
that you can start afresh now. Every one of those dreams is still with
you.

Brighid reaches to her side and picks up a fallen twig from a nearby yew
tree. It looks like any other twig, in the firelight. However, when
Brighid places it into the fire, the bark on it sparks and flames like a
sparkler, giving enough heat energy to set the twig burning brightly.
Without saying anything, Brighid is showing you how even a small spark
will set alight your oldest and most neglected dreams.

The lesson was simple, but vital. Now it is time to return to your own
world. As you stand, Brighid offers you a cup of clear water, which you
sip. The sensation in your mouth is unique. There is a kind of
life-giving energy, that is Spring itself. You take a large swallow of
the water, and feel your entire body respond to that water with a
vitality that–like your forgotten dreams–you had almost forgotten from
childhood.

After returning the cup to Brighid, and then a quick embrace, you stride
purposefully around the fire and back to the dolmen. Passing under it,
you emerge back into the daylight and the warm air and clear sunshine of
an early spring day. You know you have not merely learned the meaning
of Imbolc, but actually experienced it in your soul. From now on, every
time you sip fresh water, or see twigs and branches burning in a
bonfire, you will feel Brighid’s presence, and be reminded of the
fire–and dreams–that burn within you, too, and will never be
extinguished.

Imbolc Ritual #2

Imbolc Ritual
Adapted from Edain McCoy’s The Sabbats


Cleanse and cast the circle. Then call the elements in the manner with which you are most comfortable. We used the corner callings from Spiral Dance, by Starhawk.

The high priestess takes the chalice from the alter and holds it up to the sky.

HPS: Blessed Lady Goddess, we humbly ask your presence at our circle tonight as we honor you at this season.

Coveners: Blessed be the Lady.

The high priest takes the athame from the altar and holds it up to the sky.

HP: Blessed Lord God, we humbly ask your presence at our circle tonight as we honor you at this season.

Coveners: Blessed be the Lord.

The Virgin Goddess leaves the circle. She comes to the edge of the circle with her candle wheel in her hands. She should stand at the West quarter (the doorway to the Land of the Dead). The high priestess will cut a doorway in the circle and allow the Goddess to enter. Everyone should greet her in their own way (verbal, motion, etc). The Goddess should walk three times clockwise around the inside of the circle, and come to a stop before the alter and kneel before it, facing North.

The coveners should walk in single file to the altar starting with the person to the altar’s right. This will make the procession head clockwise. When everyone is back in their places holding their lighted candles, the ritual can continue.

HP: Behold the light. The God has returned for his bride.

Coveners:

Blessed be the light which warms. Blessed be the God.
Blessed be the Wheel which turns. Blessed be the Goddess.

The child God steps out from among the rest and stands before the bride, who is still kneeling. The God bows to the goddess and she to him. Then they do a few flowing dance steps around the circle without touching each other, but conveying the idea of awakening sexuality. When they are finished, they lift the besom from its resting place on the altar. The Goddess should hold the straw part and the God the stick. They should make sure they do not physically come in contact with each other while they do this. The high priestess stands in front of the besom and takes it from them by grasping it firmly with both hands. The Goddess and God step back to take their places with the rest of the coven.

HPS: With Imbolc we sweep away the last vestiges of winter.

The Coveners turn and face outward from the circle. The Priestess moves counterclockwise around the circle behind the covenors, sweeping from the center outward. As the High Priestess passes each covenor he or she should voice either aloud or silently all the things that he or she wishes to have swept from their lives. When this is finished, the Virgin Goddess and the child God step forward again and take the besom fromt he High Priestess in the same manner in which it was given. Then the High Priestess steps back and the Virgin Goddess and child God place the besom back onto the altar, and again take their positions among the covenors around the circle.

HPS: The God has claimed the Goddess bride and the Wheel of the Year turns on. Who is Goddess?

All women: I am Goddess.

HP: Who is God?

All men: I am God.

HP and HPS: Who is Goddess and God?

Coveners: All living beings are Goddess and God.

HP and HPS: And who are we?

Coveners: We are the children of deity. And we are deity. We are part of the creative life forces which move the universe. we are microcosm and macrocosm. We are part of all that is.
Cakes and Ale

HPS: Though we are apart, we are ever together – for we are one in the spirit of our goddess and God. Merry meet. Merry part.

Coveners: And merry meet again.

All: Blessed be!

Ground, take down the circle.

Imbolc Ritual #1

Bardic Imbolc Ritual
by the White Bard

 

Materials

  • a candle for each covener present.
  • a MAIDEN, dressed in white.
  • a Crown of Light, made from three, six, or nine candles.
  • a BARD/GREEN MAN.
  • a DARK LORD, dressed in dark clothing, and holding a dark cloak.

The place of ritual should be set up, away from the gathered participants. It is more than a good idea to manage bathrooms and such like before the circle is closed. This Mystery is not something any of the participants should miss out on!

The BARD should stand to the WEST, unless otherwise specified in the ritual.

HPS

Go we now to the sacred place
And stand within the sacred space
Turn your minds to sacred things
And dance with me unto the ring!

HP and HPS lead the coven to the place of ritual by a spiral dance, ending in a circle around the altar. The cauldron should be at the south. The Bard/Green Man dances at the end of the line. A good song to sing here is “Lord Of The Dance.”

HPS

Come we forth, with the Spiral Dance
Within the Lady’s radiance
To celebrate the Sun’s rebirth
To renew life, to warm the Earth

Earth and Water, Fire and Air
I invoke the Goddess there!
This night we are Between the Worlds
To celebrate the year unfurled!

HP

Earth and Water, Fire and Sky
I invoke the God on high
This night we are Between the Worlds
To celebrate the year unfurled!

The corners shall be called thusly, that all may hear, but shall not be called until the HPS reaches that corner on her circumnabulation.

EAST

O Guardians of the Eastern Tower,
Airy ones of healing power
I do summon, stir and call you
See these rites and guard this circle!

Come to us and heed our call!
By the Power that made us all;
By the Power that blesses Thee:
Come to us; and Blessed Be!

SOUTH

Oh fiery ones of Southern Power
Thus I invite you to this tower
I do summon, stir and call you
See these rites and guard this circle!

Come to us and heed our call!
By the Power that made us all;
By the Power that blesses Thee:
Come to us; and Blessed Be!

WEST

Western ones of water’s flow
Help to guard us here below
I do summon, stir and call you
See these rites and guard this circle!

Come to us and heed our call!
By the Power that made us all;
By the Power that blesses Thee:
Come to us; and Blessed Be!

NORTH

Earthen ones of Northern fame
Bless and guard our Power’s fane
I do summon, stir and call you
See these rites and guard this circle!

Come to us and heed our call!
By the Power that made us all;
By the Power that blesses Thee:
Come to us; and Blessed Be!

The HPS shall move to each corner, and say, following each corner’s crying as she moves to the next:

HPS

So I cast and consecrate
This Circle of the small and great:
By Fin and Feather, Leaf and Tree,
By Rock and Earth, by Land and Sea,
By Fire and Water, Earth and Air,
By the Lord, and Lady Fair!
By Love and Joy and Work and Play,
All things harmful cast away!
By lightening’s flash, and rain’s soft fall,
By the Power that made us all;
By the Power that blesses Thee:
(Cast the Circle: Blessed be!)

On her return to the first corner she shall change the last line above, and say: “The Circle’s cast; and Blessed Be!”

The callers of the corners shall return their tools to the altar, and then shall join the circle at their corners.

Here begins the Candlemas (Imbolc) Mystery:

The Maiden shall step forth, and say:

MAIDEN:This is the time of Brigid, the Patron of Poets and Fire, and of Healing.

HPSThis is the time of new beginnings, when the Mother has become Maiden.

HPThe days have turned, and grow longer, and the Sun-child is growing to His strength.

BARD/GREEN MAN

I have been a wave upon the sea,
And a spark in the firelight.

I have been a fish in the ocean.
I have been a Thought within a Word,
And a Word within a Deed.
I was cast away, and found again.

I have been made of flowers
And of cold steel and brass.
Fire and ice are alike unto me.

I have been the narrow blade of a sword
That kills without cutting.
And the Void is my homeland.

I have been in Caer Sidi
In the Spiral Castle of Glass.
And the letters on the Standing Stones
Are no secret from me.

I have been in Annwyn
And Tir na n’Og,
I have danced the Spiral Dance,
And drunk from the Hierlas at daybreak.

I have ridden beneath two ravens
And served in the kitchen,
And all places are alike unto me.

I have been a child
And now I come into my strength!

I invoke the Land, the dear Land,
the Earth our Mother!

MAIDEN

The cycles of the Moon have taken their course, and I am in my Maidenhood.
The stars are kindled, and I dance in their light.

DARK LORD

Thy home is with me thru the long months of Winter,
and the Earth shall lie fallow and bare.

The HPS shall then light the candles of the Crown of Light, and shall approach the Maiden, who is now standing in the East, and place it upon her head. She shall now, in company with the Bard/Green Man, circumnabulate the circle, and the coveners shall light their candles from her crown. The Bard/Green Man shall return to his normal place within the circle and the Maiden shall place the Crown of Light on the altar. The Maiden shall then approach the Dark Lord, and kneel before him, and he shall say:

DARK LORD:As it always is, always was, and always shall be. Come to my Kingdom.

Here he shall place the dark cloak around her, and they shall retire to the West. Here ends the Candlemas Mystery.

A normal cone-of-power may be raised, for growth and healing:

HPS

In a ring we all shall stand
Pass the Power, hand to hand.

HP

As the Sun is given birth
Build the Power; root to Earth

HPS

Pass the Power, hand to hand
Bless the Lady, bless the Land

HP

Bless the Lord, and bless the Skies
Bless the Power that never dies!

The above four verses should be repeated three times, (or as many times as needed) and then the HPS should say:

HPS

By Fin and Feather, Leaf and Tree:
Let the Power flow out and free!

All should release, at this point.

Such coven business as must be transacted may be done here. This is a good time to bless candles for use during the coming year. This is also a good time for initiations.

The Circle is opened.

HPS

Thus I release the East and West
Thanks to them from Host to Guest
Thus I release the South and North
With “Blessed Be’ I send them forth!
The Circle’s open, dance we so
Out and homeward we shall go.
Earth and Water, Air and Fire
Celebrated our desire.
The Sun’s returned to banish dark
The Earth awakes to sunlight’s spark.
By Fin and Feather, Leaf and Tree,
Our circle’s done; and Blessed Be!

Coven: Blessed Be!

All spiral dance out from the Circle.

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.