Imbolc is one of the four fire festivals on the Wheel of the Year. It runs from sunset January 31 to sunset February 1. Here's how my house looked as Imbolc began tonight.
The short story follows the squiggle.
The Imbolc ritual was to be held at Green Dragon’s house that year. She lived in an outer suburb of the city in a house whose backyard gave way to woods. Although we all grumbled at the necessity of driving so far when snow lay six inches deep on the ground, the roads, thank Goddess, were mostly clear owing to the hard work by city snow plows for the past two days. However, it was Green Dragon’s turn to play hostess, so we put on our boots, grabbed cloaks and scarves, and drove to our destination.
We—that is, Rhiannon, Gladwyn, Arielle, and I—arrived late in the afternoon at the house where Green Dragon lived and practiced with several members of her coven.
“Well, you got us here all right, TigerLily,” Rhiannon said. “Thanks for driving. I wouldn’t have liked to drive myself—I’m nervous about black ice on the roads.”
We walked up the path to the front door and knocked. Green Dragon, wearing a gold fillet that circled her forehead and disappeared into her long, crinkly brown hair, smiled a welcome as she opened the door to let us in. As I stepped over the threshold I almost reeled back—so much magic had been worked in that house that its aftermath had an almost physical impact. But it wasn’t physical, nor even emotional--like that lurch of the heart when the love of your life hoves unexpectedly into view. It was more like a sudden shock—the kind you’d feel if someone told you that you’d just won the lottery.
“Is everyone here?” Gladwyn asked as she slipped off her boots.
“No, we’re waiting for Rowan,” Green Dragon said. “She should be here any minute now, and then we’ll begin.”
Green Dragon’s living room had chairs and sofas arranged in a circle around a table in the middle, covered with a white cloth. On it were white narcissus, which scented the air with its delicate perfume, and red amaryllis. There were also unlit white candles and an empty bowl. Rosemary incense sticks, to be lit just before the ritual, stood ready in the incense holders.
Just as we’d settled ourselves, a knock sounded on the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Green Dragon said.
But before she could leave the room the door opened and Rowan stalked in, carrying an armload of long-stemmed red American Beauty roses. As she came into the living room we could almost see sparks shooting out of her eyes—normally hazel, but now looking green with rage. Her face was white and set. Silently she handed each of us a rose and placed the remaining three on the altar.
“What on earth has happened, Witch Sister?” Ceres Vegetina asked.
Rowan looked at her. “He left me! Just bugged out of town for good! I want nothing to do with him, I never want to speak to him again, and I will not keep his gift.”
“But…Witch Sis, tell us what happened,” Coventina urged.
“I’ll tell you what happened!” Rowan said furiously. “He sent me a note to say he was leaving for California right away because his first love had come back into his life and all he wants is to be with her! The roses were ‘a parting gift for all the wonderful times we had together,’ according to him.”
A universal chorus of disgust arose from all of us Circle sisters.
Green Dragon let us vent for a few minutes, then sighed and said, “Okay, sisters, we’ve all expressed our feelings. The guy is a total jerk. Since we’re all a little upset I want to calm us down with some of Brigid’s healing massage. Rhiannon, will you help me?”
Rhiannon nodded and rose to accept Green Dragon’s instructions.
“Here,” Green Dragon said, producing two bottles of hand lotion. “You take this half of the circle and I’ll take the other. We’re going to rub lotion into everyone’s hands and wish her peace, love, and healing.”
It was most agreeable to have lotion, smelling deliciously of lavender and vanilla, massaged into my hands. “What’s it called, Green Dragon?” I asked.
“I made it myself last week and charged it in a ritual dedicated to Brigid,” Green Dragon said with a smile. “It’s called ‘Enchanted.’ Okay, has everyone been tended? Yes? Good. Rowan,” she said, turning to her, “are you spiritually ready for us to begin the ritual?”
Rowan nodded. She looked more at peace, although still pale.
“I’m going to turn out all the lights in the room and then light one candle,” Green Dragon continued. “Each of you will then take one of the candles on the altar and light it from mine. We’ll place a candle in every window of the house and then go outside to look at them—just for a moment, I realize it’s cold! Your coats and boots are still in the hallway.”
My gaze fell on the roses we’d laid beside our chairs during the healing massage and it gave me an idea. “I know, Circle sisters! Why don’t we gather up the roses and lay them in the snow as an offering to Brigid? Think of it—the colors of Imbolc are red and white, so red roses against white snow…”
“I like it!” Coventina said. “Rowan, would that be all right with you?”
“The roses are yours to do what you like with,” Rowan said. “But I do think offering them to Brigid is a wonderful idea.”
Everyone seemed to approve, so I gathered all the roses and laid them on the altar until we were ready to go outside.
It was rather nice, lighting candles in the semigloom and putting one in each window of the house. Afterwards we put on coats, cloaks, and boots again and went outside to look at our handiwork. At the last minute I took up the roses and Green Dragon took the empty bowl from the altar. Our boots sank into the snow, still soft from the most recent snowfall, and the cold wind stung our eyes with its sharpness.
But the sight of the lighted candles flickering in the blue-grey twilight reminded us that spring was just weeks away.
At a nod from Green Dragon, I took the armload of roses I was carrying and laid them in the snow beneath the oak tree in the front yard. “O Brigid, born with the dawn, known in Scotland as Bride and in England as Brigantia, please accept our offering to you. Goddess of magic and healing, help us to lift up our Circle sister Rowan. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” the Circle sisters echoed.
Smiling now despite the cold, we trooped back into the house. Green Dragon, the last to come inside, bent down and scooped up some snow into the empty bowl she’d taken from the altar before we went out. “This will symbolize the element of water for our altar,” she said.
Back in the living room, she used a cinnamon broom to sweep away the old energies in the room and make way for the new. “Imbolc is a time for Witches to clean the house, repair or mend whatever needs attention, pay bills, and file tax returns,” she said as she lit the rosemary incense. We all breathed in the aromatic scent.
Then she cast the circle, with Rhiannon, Gladwyn, Ceres Vegetina, and Jaguar Priestess calling the quarters. We stood in a circle expectantly as Green Dragon invoked the Goddess Brigid, whose festival this was.
“Brigid, triple goddess, be with us now during this, your fire festival of Imbolc. Brigid, presiding over the fire of healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of inspiration for creative work, watch over us as we dedicate our rites to you tonight. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” we murmured.
“Let’s sit down,” Green Dragon said. “We’ve just been outside to see the blanket of snow covering the earth, but beneath the snow life is stirring anew. The candles we lit a little while ago symbolize the lengthening days and the approach of spring. Have you seen any signs of spring, Circle sisters?”
“Snowdrops in my garden,” Jaguar Priestess said.
“I’ve started my herb seedlings in pots,” I said. “I’m adding a few new herbs this year.”
Gladwyn smiled. “I saw a robin this morning. Well, actually, I’m told, our American robin is a kind of thrush.”
“And I’ve been receiving all kinds of exciting gardening catalogues in the mail,” Ceres Vegetina said.
“Let’s all think about Brigid,” Green Dragon said, looking round the circle. “We know that Brigid is the only goddess that was assimilated completely into the Christian religion—and that was because her followers refused to give her up.”
“Interesting,” Passionata observed. “She must have meant a lot to the Irish.”
“She sounds as if she had a lot to do,” Arielle said. “Goddess of healing, and of the forge, and of poetry?”
Green Dragon nodded. “She sounds like one of us, don’t you think? Multitasking. Can’t you just picture Her racing from the smithy, where She’s been beating out ploughshares and shepherds’ crooks all morning, to the hospital in the afternoon, where She goes from ward to ward healing the sick? And as if that weren’t enough for a day’s work, after dinner in the Great Hall She sits down by Her harp and makes up songs as She plucks the strings.”
Green Dragon lowered her voice. “Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now breathe in again and breathe out…ahhh! Concentrate on Brigid. Are you as ‘fulfilled’ as She is, or is there a ‘you’ that’s submerged by your usual life roles, that you’d like to flower into full being? If you spend your days as an auto mechanic or computer jock, is there a part of you that longs to be a healer–whether of people, animals, or Gaia Herself?
“If you spend your day ministering to others as mother, healer, or teacher, is there a part of you that longs to express yourself as freely and joyously as you did when you were a child? Is there a lost self in you somewhere that wants to dance, sing, paint, act, or write?
“If you spend your days in creative endeavors, is there a part of you that longs to show how practical you can be by building your own garage, laying out a labyrinth in your back yard, or repairing old bicycles to donate to charity? This is a time of new beginnings and growth, so think of the goals and dreams that you will ‘plant’ for this coming year.”
Green Dragon’s voice trailed off and for a few minutes there was no sound except the soft breathing of the Circle sisters.
“Now open your eyes,” Green Dragon said quietly. “Come back to yourself. Let your thoughts about the near future flourish quietly in the seedbed of your mind. By the time the Wheel turns to Ostara your hopes and wishes will be well on their way to fruition.”
All the Circle sisters opened their eyes, sat up in their chairs, and looked around at each other.
“Now,” Green Dragon said, “how can we help our Witch sister Rowan, who needs comfort?”
“Brigid rewards those who offer gifts to her,” I said. “So She may be disposed to lend a little of Her magic to us tonight.”
We all thought hard, then Gladwyn suddenly sat forward in her chair. “I know! Let’s do a metaphorical ‘stone soup’ for her—we’ll go around the circle, each of us contributing an idea to lift her up. Would you be okay with that, Rowan?”
“Not only would I be okay with it, I’d greatly appreciate it,” Rowan said.
“Excellent,” Gladwyn said. “Coventina, why don’t you begin?”
“I suggest travel,” Coventina said, turning to look at Rowan. “Once I experienced the same situation you’re in, Witch Sis. So I went to the bank, withdrew some savings, and went to Paris for two weeks. Believe me,” she said, looking around, “Being in another country, having to speak French and think in French, not to mention all the different experiences, got me over the worst part.”
There were murmurs of approval. “Great idea.”
“Would you like to go away for a while, Rowan?” Green Dragon asked. “Is there any country that appeals to you?”
Rowan looked thoughtful. “Yes, I’ve always yearned to go to Australia.”
“Australia! Great Goddess, I’m going there next month!” Eyes wide, Jaguar Priestess turned to look at Rowan.
“Really, Jaguar? How long have you been planning this?” Ceres Vegetina inquired.
“Not long.” Jaguar Priestess cleared her throat. “The thing is, I sent Yule greetings to an old flame in Sydney. She e-mailed back and we’ve been having quite an exchange for the past month. The upshot is that she’s invited me to visit her and I’m going.”
“Are you sure she’s an old flame, Jag?” Arielle asked, with interest.
Passionata said, “Oh, stop talking about old flames! You’re reminding me of everything I’ve been missing since Yule.”
“Never tell me you’ve been celibate all this time, Pash,” Arielle said. “So, um, different for you.”
Passionata tossed her long red hair. “I said I’d do it and I’m doing it! Just wait till Beltane, though.”
Coventina chuckled. “That’ll be something to see, I bet.”
“Anyway,” Jaguar Priestess said, “My friend Wind Song will be happy for you to stay with her, Rowan. She lives in a nice apartment not far from The Rocks, and she’d be glad to put you up.”
“Rowan, my cousin Star Crone lives right outside Melbourne,” Gladwyn said. “You could stay with her too. She’s got a fabulous temple right in her back garden.”
“You know,” Green Dragon, frowning as she thought, “I have a friend who works for the airlines. He could get you a reduced-fare ticket, provided you meet certain conditions.”
Rowan was sitting on the edge of her chair, looking alert and interested. “You’re all so kind! I can’t believe it!”
“I can stop by your place a couple of times a week to water your plants,” I said.
“And I’ll be glad to look after your kitties,” Arielle offered.
“You can borrow my iPad for the trip,” Rhiannon said. “You’ll need a lightweight computer of some kind.”
Rowan glowed. “You all are the best Circle sisters ever! This might just happen if I can get the time off. I’ll talk to my manager about a leave of absence.”
“Absolutely,” Ceres Vegetina agreed. “No point in going if you’re only going to stay a week or two. Go for a month! You could cycle around the Outback and stay at youth hostels or with friends of friends.”
“This is a marvelous ‘stone soup,’ Circle sisters,” Green Dragon said approvingly. “All right, let’s have dinner before we devoke and open the circle. As most of you know, ‘Imbolc’ is a Celtic word deriving from “ewe’s milk,” because this is the time of year that lambs are born.”
“And the colors of Imbolc are red and white, as TigerLily reminded us,” Coventina said. “Red for the blood of birth and white for milk.”
“Exactly,” Gladwyn agreed. “So for dinner we’re having a milky main dish, which is macaroni and cheese, with white cauliflower and red pepper on the side.”
“I’ve made the vegan equivalent of mac and cheese,” Ceres said. “And there’s vegan cherry pie to follow.”
Rhiannon looked at Ceres in surprise. “I thought you’d gone back to vegetarianism at Yule, Ceres.”
“Oh, darling, I did try it for about a week, but all that dairy didn’t agree with me,” Ceres said. “Besides—it only takes half an acre to feed a vegan! So veganism is better for the environment and for me.”
After the last vestige of cherry pie, hot chocolate, and herb tea had disappeared, all of us sat back in our chairs, replete. From the living room came the soft sound of Celtic music playing in the CD player.
“The magic is working,” Rowan said. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears but from her expression, it was plain they were tears of joy. “Thank you, blessed Circle Sisters, and thank you, blessed Brigid. Just think—the next time the Wheel turns in the heavens, I might be celebrating Ostara Down Under!”
Jaguar Priestess shook her head. “Um, it’ll be Mabon, actually. Our March is their September. Still, we know what you mean.”
We rose from the table as Green Dragon beckoned us into the living room, where we devoked and Green Dragon opened the circle. “A blessed Imbolc to you all, my sisters!”
“And to you,” we said as we shrugged into coats or fastened cloaks. “See you at Ostara!”