It’s easy to understand why in Scotland prior to 1600 CE the New Year wasn’t celebrated until the end of March. The cold, short days and long, black nights of the Yuletide months are not practically conducive to energetic movement and lively social interaction.
I have long talked of the need to embrace the darkness of the winter months. We may not require full hibernation as the dormouse does, but our psyche and our biology benefits greatly from a conscious, quiet, hunkering down.
In terms of our creativity, this time of stillness is imperative. The lifecycle demands it, for only from a fertile well can healthy life spring and the fecundity of our well is determined by the nourishment and replenishment it receives.
To stay quiet in the dark requires a great deal of discipline, though, for in our contemporary environment the demands for interaction are great. The discipline required of us to stay true, be patient, and gift ourselves the nourishment we crave is for many of us more difficult than it is to take action!
Somewhere between the polarities of action and stillness, determination and compassion, there resides a softness of being that allows the opening of a doorway to the path ahead. This is precisely what occurs in the cross quarter days of the eight-fold year. With the arrival of February, that doorway is here.
For now we find ourselves at the feast day of Imbolc and those of us who move with the natural rhythms of this island can likely feel a shift. It’s a gentle stirring, like the moment between sleep and waking – a stretching out to test the temperature outside of the duvet.
Often fluid and fleeting, this stirring can also feel luxuriously languorous. The lengthening of days is slight, but impactful and if we stop and activate our inner eyes and ears we can feel the difference. Perhaps our dream content is more obvious, or our waking consciousness feels slightly more focussed. Whatever is occurring for you, there’s no need to label it, or pin it down into submission.
Symbolism and mythology is helpful in these instances, providing us with an understanding beyond common comprehension. In Scotland, we find in the folklore many tales of Bride associated with this time. Legend, myth, or religious figure – it is the symbolism of Bride and her counterpart ,the Cailleach, that is useful to us.
In the old tales, the character of the Cailleach is the ‘genius of winter and the enemy of growth’, orchestrating weather to prevent man and beast move about the landscape. Whether presented as enemies, or as two faces of the one personality, it is said that at Imbolc, the Cailleach makes way for the appearance of the youthful maid, Bride.
In our either/or contemporary culture, this division between the rule of the wild and fierce Cailleach pre-Imbolc and the fair and beautiful Bride post-Imbolc is absolute.
Yet, we know this to be a falsehood. Just a few days ago, I was marvelling at the brightest of blue skies, the sunniest of days and an increased outwards energy. I could feel the power of the light wash over me, watery and diffuse as it was, and responded to it immediately. My mood was effusive, optimistic and energetic and I felt like a teenager. Bride was here and oh, she was welcomed with open arms as I ventured about the capital city.
That afternoon, the Cailleach returned and the skies were full of snow – dark, brooding and oppressive. My mood changed, the longing to be home by my virtual hearth overtook all notions of adventure and I hot-footed it to the train station.
At Imbolc, the transition from winter to spring is not a done deal!
Once again, in the old tales we see this knowledge laid bare, as the Cailleach is said to rage at the end of her reign, orchestrating storms before her final overthrow on 25th March, or Auld’s Wife Day (our pre-1600 New Year’s Day.)
The weather is an easy analogy here in these isles, but these cycles and transitions also apply to the creative life-cycle. Don’t be too disappointed if the brightest of creative ideas lands upon you, only to weather itself out the very same day. Hold on to the time-old knowledge that whit’s fur ye’ll no go bye ye and the ideas will continue to land, if only you make ready to receive them.
Such is the relief (for many of us) to be emerging out of the darkness, that our challenge here at Imbolc is to not venture out too far, or expend too much energy just yet. Instead, we can practice allowing ourselves to enjoy this time of fertile awakening, stretching up and out when the need arises and venturing back often to the bear cave for additional nourishment and good care.
For me, this is very pertinent as my dark winter of completion has generated the most massive list of fresh project ideas for consideration – such possibilities! However, my reality sees me unable to plough through these as I once was able, especially with an emboldening of perimenopausal symptoms. In itself, this is a valuable gift, tempering the youthful eagerness of my inner Bride with the age-old wisdom of the Cailleach and so I find myself unhurried even as I am impatient, inspired and at the same time well-worn.
The world in its current shape and form requires of us a new set of responses, for the current situation is most certainly untenable. If culture is the response of a community to its environment, then we, as culture-makers (for that’s what we are) need to slow down enough to listen to what the world is asking of us.
Perhaps at Imbolc we can engage our listening to help us discern what possibilities we engage with to serve more than our personal interest. Perhaps we can look to the inter-relatedness of all things, not as a transcendental idea, but something material, grounded and experienced in the waking consciousness of our simple everyday.
How does Imbolc find you and your creative wonderings and practices?
Where can you continue to provide nourishment for yourself as you emerge into this time of gentle awakening juxtaposed by the harsh realities of environmental crises, political chaos and social and cultural colonisation?
What tender ideas can you breathe into life to best serve what is being asked of us in these times of trouble?