Tuesday, January 31, 2023

For Imbolc (Candlemas)

Here we are on the last day of January, nearing the eve of Candlemas or Imbolc which falls on February 2nd and begins tomorrow at sundown. Strange to relate, this festival day in the depths of winter celebrates light and warmth, the stirring of green things within the earth, the burgeoning of new life and the beginning of springtime.

In many French speaking countries, the second day of February is La Chandeleur, a Christian feast commemorating the presentation of the infant Jesus Christ in the temple and the purification of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth. The occasion is marked by the blessing of candles and by dining on festive crepes which represent the sun and the return of the light to the northern hemisphere.  

For those of us of Celtic lineage, the day is Imbolc or Candlemas, sometimes the Féile Bride (Festival of St. Brigid) or "Bride's Day", consecrated to Brigid, honored as an Irish saint in modern times, but hallowed as a Tuatha Dé Danann goddess long centuries ago. She is a deity of fire and creativity, wisdom, eloquence and craftsmanship, patroness of the forge and the smithy, poetry, fertility and the healing arts, especially midwifery. Light is her special province, and hers are the candle, the hearth and the blacksmith's shop.

There are a few small festival observances of my own, and I cherish them. Food is prepared using ingredients associated with sunlight, sweetness and abundance: eggs, butter, saffron and honey. Since such things often feature in my culinary efforts anyway, perhaps there is a ritual element in my kitchen doings all year long, and I like to think so. There will be a festive lunch with a dear friend, and small gifts will be exchanged. I will light a candle at nightfall and nest it in a snowdrift in the garden. We are up to our eyebrows in white stuff this year, so clambering up on a snowdrift with a candle and matches will be good fun.

We are made of light ourselves, and that makes us Brigid's unruly  children - creatures forged from the dust of stars which once lighted the heavens, went super nova  and ceased to exist billions of years ago. Within the radiant motes of our being are encoded the wisdoms of the ancient earth and all its cultures, the star knowledge of unknown constellations and "The Big Bang" which created not just our own precious world, but the whole cosmic sea in which it floats.

We are recycled matter, our dancing particles having assembled into diverse life forms over and over again, lived and expired as those life forms, then dissolved back into the stream of existence. In our time, “we” have been many things, worn many shapes and answered to many names. In this lifetime I exist as a tatterdemalion, specific and perhaps unique collection of wandering molecules called Catherine or Cate, but in previous incarnations, I was someone or something altogether different.

Buddhist teacher and deep ecologist Joanna Macy has written that since every particle in our being goes back to the first flaring of space and time, we are as old as the universe itself, about fifteen billion years. In other words, we are the universe, and it is us.

Happy February, everyone! Happy Imbolc to you and your clan, happy Candlemas and St. Brigid's Day. May warmth and the manifold blessings of Light be yours.

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