Sunday, January 21, 2007

Almost Imbolc

This has been a wierd, wierd winter here in New England... a kind of winter in name only, rarely dipping below freezing, with no snow or ice anywhere. But just this past week, we finally got a taste of cold--nights down to the single digits, frost and even a dusting of snow. My hands are chapped for the first time this season.

Oddly, the cold has given me the first breath of spring. I walked out onto my front porch today, took a breath of cold, crisp air, and basked in the brilliant (if chilly) morning light, and I thought, "Spring!"

This is not as odd as it sounds, actually. Ever since becoming Pagan--in other words, for most of my adult life--I've lived in places where Imbolc, the sabbat that marks the first stirrings of spring, is marked by clear, cold weather and the subtlest signs of springtime. If you look closely, there are beginning to be slight swellings at the ends of the twigs on trees. And there's a different flavor in the air, somehow, and a different, brighter, cleaner quality to the light.

Imbolc, Oimelc, Brigid's Day, or Groundhog Day... take your pick. It's always been my favorite of the sabbats, the spokes in the Pagan wheel of the year, with the possible exception of Lammas.

When I lived in Vermont, my favorite way to celebrate Imbolc was to go out for a day of solitary skiing. The bright, hard light reflecting and glinting off the diamond crystals of the snow seemed the most solar thing I could imagine. Fire and ice--moving breathlessly through a world of fire and ice.

Later, when I moved here to Massachusetts to live with Peter, going skiing was not an option--or not an affordable one, at any rate. So I celebrated symbolically, by filling a bowl--a crystal bowl, satisfyingly enough--with snow and chunks of ice from our yard, and then setting white candles to burn in the bowl until the ice was all melted. Some years, I'd have to chisel the cement-hard snow out with a trowel. Those years, snow filled our yard to a depth of six feet or more in places where we'd piled it up from the walks, but little of it was available for "harvesting."

Even if I could locate a bit of snow, melting it away with solar symbolism would seem like bad magic this year. Yes, I worry about global warming. And, though I don't think this winter's snow drought is due solely to that--climate change is slower and harder to guage than this change--I know it's coming. I don't want to invoke it, however much I do want to welcome spring.

Other years, I've taken the Yule greenery and burned symbolic sprigs of it in a cauldron, as a way of saying goodbye to something from the old year I was ready to release. And maybe I'll do some of that this year. Trouble is, I can't really think of anything I'm in need of releasing this year. The lingering effects of the flu, maybe. I got sick over Thanksgiving, and I'm still feeling some of the aftereffects. Still, they'e mostly gone, and I'd rather invoke health than banish my aches and pains.

Beer. I think it may be time to brew beer again. Admittedly, I have no more time than I did when I gave up making my own beer. And the weekend before Imbolc--preferable to brew Imbolc beer on the weekend _before_ the sabbat than on the weekend _after_ it, and quite impossible to find time on February 2 itself--that weekend, I say, is the weekend I will need to grade a huge stack of midterm exams, so that's a bit awkward. Still... Imbolc, sacred to Brigid, the Goddess who is a saint and the saint who is a goddess, and the lady who once turned a bishop's bathwater into beer... Hey. That's the kind of ritual I can get behind. Is there a better symbol for a Pagan who's a Quaker and a Quaker who's a Pagan to welcome the tide of a new year?

Not to mention, any beer I brew now will be at it's best in time for Beltane. It's been years since I've given the morris dancers their proper due. I'd love to have this be the year I changed that!

What to brew, what to brew? Oh, a maple syrup stout, beyond a doubt. What better way to welcome spring to New England? Perhaps I can even lure my friend Tom down from his hilltop to brew with me.

Here's to the chill clear air of Imbolc. Blessed be.

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