Candlemas & Imbolc – Take a break, celebrate the returning light & have some comfort food!

February 1 & 2 fall mid-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. The most ancient of cultures would have noticed this as a good time to have celebration and ritual. It is the downhill side of winter survival, a time of hope for the future, yet also a time of weariness of winter hardships. People were ready to celebration, to begin preparing for the coming planting season, to honor those who could assure them a successful harvest, and to rejoice in the returning light. It’s a time to clean out the ‘cob webs’ of winter.

dsc02180In Celtic tradition this mid-winter time is celebrated with the Imbolc Festival on February 1. The first written reference to Imbolc dates to the 10th or 11th Centuries in the writings of Irish monks. How extensively it was celebrated throughout the Celtic world no one knows for sure, but ancient Celtic architecture emphasizing alignment with the sun at this midway time in its cycle indicates celebrations go back much further. The Gaelic word Imbolc means “in milk” or ” in the belly”. Foods and beverages made with milk (especially ewe’s milk, as it is the time of lambing, thus fresh milk was available from the ewes) would be prepared, and milk beverages would be used to bless agriculture implements, such as a plow, and poured on orchard trees for fertility in the coming growing season. Homes would be blessed and candles lit.

IMG_0488.JPGIn Ireland, the day is celebrated as the festival of St. Bridget and blends ancient Celtic traditions with newer Christian traditions. St. Bridget herself seems to bridge the Celtic world, as her predecessor was the Celtic goddess, Brighid. Brighid (whose name has many spellings) represents light in many forms – candles, fire and Sun. Foods symbolic of the sun (see below about foods) would be part of the festivities. There is still debate as to who was real and who was mythical, the saint or the goddess. There are certainly overlaps in what each of them represents in their particular spiritual tradition – who they protect, and what their role is in handing out blessings. You can read delightful stories of both. I’ll go with the idea that both were real, and stories and tales down through the ages made them both mythical. I’m always ready to embrace a belief in a strong, benevolent woman who did good things and hands out blessings! I’m sure it is more than coincidence that Brighid and St Bridget have the same name, and both are seen as the personification of light returning and new life. Most Christian holidays follow in the footsteps of, and use many of the same symbols as, pre-Christian holy-days, it was the best way for people to incorporate the old with the new.

February 2 is Candlemas, celebrating the 40th day after the birth of Jesus, the first day his mother could take him to the temple. At the time of Jesus’ birth women had to wait 40 days after giving birth before entering a temple, a period of time they were considered ‘unclean’. On the fortieth day Mary could enter the temple with her baby and have him blessed, so the day is often called “the Presentation of Christ”, or the “Blessing of Christ”. This celebration is observed in many Christian churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. During Candlemas the candles that will be used in the church throughout the year are blessed. It is also a time of celebrating light, and of purification.

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured yellow mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! ;-)

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! 😉

There are many versions of these celebrations, many traditions and interpretations. In reading about them, what appeals to me is the preparation for spring planting and the new cycle of life, as well as receiving the blessing of returning light.

It might be a challenge to celebrate hope and light, or seem irrelevant to do so at this time of such darkness and decline in the world, especially here in the United States. But perhaps that is even more reason to do so. Create your own ritual for blessing your home, fruit trees if you have them, and perhaps your garden. Lights candles, inside, outside, and do whatever “purification” and cleaning out you feel inclined to do in your physical environment, make it your place of refuge from the darkness. Make some special foods (food ideas below). Allow yourself to feel blessed by Brigid, either in her Celtic form or Christian manifestation. St Brigid is associated not only with spring and fertility, but also healing, poetry and smithcraft. Write a poem, plant some primroses, sow some early seeds. Let your spirit and your mind take a break and celebrate the light. It is here, we just have to let it in.

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And if all else fails to arouse hope in you…there’s always Mr. Groundhog, the ‘ancient’ American seer of weather! There are no “executive orders” for canceling the coming of spring, so embrace it.

See below for foods and recipe.

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traditional-foods

For fabulous, fancier recipes for celebrating Imbolc , I recommend one of my favorite blogs: Gather.

 

 

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Mandala Chaos and Discontent Plant Bits!

img_7166Another of what I call a “simple story”, sharing a bit of wit and wisdom learned from pondering life’s experiences with Nature…

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winter quarters for plants that need protecting

Feeling gloomy today, so much negativity whirling around. I overloaded on the news yesterday.*  A woodsy walk did not calm the mind. Though uninspired, I decided mandala making might help. As I worked with tiny fallen petals from the geraniums hibernating in my office/storage room, I thought how they sit in the dark, soil dried up, having no idea their fate, yet blooming, petals vivid, almost iridescent in their mostly dark winter quarters. As they reach for the limited light coming in the window, their colors seem even more vibrant in the stressed conditions then they did in summer’s sun.

Hmmm. I was thinking of this metaphor of colorful survival and act of defiance in hard times, thinking how there is so much fear and concern our country is headed in the direction of fascism and wondering if there has been studies of how people survived, even thrived and held on to their values and principles in the face of fascism in other countries, when one tiny bit of purple statice in the top corner of the mandala started to move, as though some micro-bug was under it, rocking it back an forth, then taking off with it. Except there wasn’t any such propelling force, not even a breeze.

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note a few bits of statice trying to escape under leaves!

The sun was breaking through the heavy gray cloud cover. I realigned the rogue purple bit, several times, went inside to get my camera, but when I came out it moved again, then another bit moved, still no noticeable breeze, just a slight air temperature difference from the sun’s rays.

As I rearranged the rebels, quickly snapping pictures with strange shadows from the sun, pink petals began rolling over, soon there was mandala chaos! (I did feel a very slight movement in the air then.)  Though tempted to just sit and watch it all dismantle, I carefully carried the purple porch chair inside, rearranged the now subdued bits of flora, thinking – the winter of discontent! Even bits of flora will not stay put and ‘obey’! They too have “minds of their own.” (I’ve been listening to the audio of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben , Narrated by Mike Grady, so defiant plant bits are not too far fetch to my imagination! I highly recommend the book!)

The sun disappeared, but I am grateful for the multiple metaphors and bit of humor Nature once again provided!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

 *  How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind is a short article on the importance of taking care of yourself for the long haul, and avoid becoming numb and accepting of these not-normal times.

When carrots give hope!

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

January 20 was an uncomfortable day for many people, myself included. Not wanting to focus on the ‘changing of the guard’ in Washington D.C., and recovering from my second bout of flu/cold virus, I did not want to feed myself, or the universe, fear and negativity. I’d had enough of that. So I went to the woods. A peaceful walk down our trail ended in a place where I often offer prayer. I poured out my heart to the Divine above and the Earth below. Part plea, part invocation, I felt heard in that somewhat quiet place, with Nature as my only witness.

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Turning around, I was enchanted, as always, by the winter sun filtering through the open canopy of a mixed conifer and deciduous forest. The bare branches of giant, aptly named, Big Leaf Maples allow the low, side-ways sun to flood places shrouded in shady tones under the summer canopy. This light will eventually awaken the first signs of wild bleeding hearts, nettles, and other early spring plants, which will thrive until the Maples block the light. But it is early, and the winter has been exceptionally cold for the NW. Here on our hill the ground was frozen with heave and ice crystals from mid-December until just last week. No signs of spring in the woods…but signs of survivors. Impressive are the tender leaves of little-green-plants-whose-names-I-forget that are fresh and green, while others around them succumbed to weeks of being frozen.

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The peacefulness I was feeling as I stooped to photograph the brilliant green glistening water of a wintertime mini-pond was rudely interrupted by loud repetitive gunshot. For the past few years we have been hearing gun shot frequently. A gun enthusiast  seems to spend his free time on holidays and weekends shooting whatever, somewhere across the street from where we live. But this was closer, and louder. After a minute or so of repetitive shots, there was a long volley, and then it stopped. I suspect it was a celebration salute to the moment of transition in D.C.

My moment of woodsy peace was broken. Abby was gone, though I didn’t see her leave. Though I wanted to make a mandala in the woods, I reluctantly walked back to the house to find a shaking dog on the front porch. Not willing to go inside myself, mandala making took place on the back porch, with whatever I found close at hand.

"survivor" carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

“survivor” carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

The biggest surprise find was the carrots. I noticed them when the ground first froze and heaved back in December. Left behind when I dug out our two little rows in the fall, the frozen ground had pushed them up, but also held them tight. I wrote them off as frozen food, soon to be mush when the thaw came. I forgot about them as I struggled through December into the New Year being sick. Frozen carrots in frozen ground were not on my mind!

But on this sunny day, there they were, brightest color around, freshly washed from the rain, half out of the ground, green tops long gone.  They stood like little round-topped, slightly tipsy sentries, and not the least bit mushy! About a dozen carrots, most small, edible, and tasty!

I made my mandala and thanked Mother Nature for giving me a small, somewhat humorous sign, that “we can survive” (and even be bright and colorful doing so!).  The next day, as millions marched peacefully throughout the world, I have no doubt we will!

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A medicine mandala for hope, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial usnea, leaves of pain-relieving fever few, another survivor of the below freezing temperatures.

How did you survive inauguration day?

Survivors

As we dip into the 20s again, I went out to gather bits for a mandala.  After last week’s temperatures in the teens, there are still masses of hardy violet leaves, green and bright, even a few purple buds (two broke off at the base where the ground froze).  The plants look like they think spring has arrived!

I’m always impressed by the tenacity of Nature and these violet leaves are a wonderful example, remaining green as everything around them turned brown under a thin layer of icy snow in below freezing temperatures.

A sage plant has some browning, but hanging in there,  leaves still soft fuzzy green, and of course there’s the conifers, including big Douglas firs (who lost branches in last night’s wind storm) who keep the woods ever-green! The needles I gathered today are going into finishing salt.

Little geranium blossoms greet me from the back window sill every day from a jar where I crammed plant cuttings on a cold day in early December, before the first big chill. Gathering together potted geraniums to put inside, I attempted to dig and pot up a plant growing in a raised bed, only to discover it already had rotten roots. The leaves of the cuttings all turned brown, dried, and fell off, but quickly there were new roots,  new leaves, then tiny clusters of cheery red-orange flowers blooming. Survivors.

img_6871Together my little collection of survivors make up my mandala today.

Now for some sage and violet tea!

(Note: this post was an experiment in posting via a WordPress app on my iPad, using photos taken by iPad camera. Not so pleased with quality of photos, nor limited options posting through the app. Experiment and learn, eh? )