Imbolc: The Winter Cross-Quarter

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by Michael Kaluta

Ebb tide has come to me as the sea.
What the flood-tide brings, the ebb-tide takes away.
I have known the flood and I have known the ebb.
The sun does not touch me. In me I feel the cold.
But still a seed burns there.
The time is at hand that shall renew me.

— “Lament of the Old Woman of the Sea” by John Halstead (inspired by “The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare”)

Imbolc (pron. i-molg) traditionally is celebrated on the eve of Febru­ary 2nd (Groundhog’s Day). At Imbolc, the light is grow­ing stronger following its return at the winter solstice. Some Neo-Pagans celebrate the Winter Cross-Quarter at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which usually falls around February 6th or 7th in the northern hemisphere.

Some Neo-Pagans call the day “Brigid.” Imbolc corresponds with the Christian festival of St. Brigid and the Feast of the Purification, also called “Candlemas” in the Chris­tian tradition, both of which fall on February 2nd. Imbolc shares symbolism with these Christian celebrations. Many Neo-Pagans today see Imbolc as a celebration of the renewal of the Goddess following the birth of the New Year’s Sun Child. Some Neo-Pa­gans associ­ate Imbolc with themes of purification (by water or fire). The origins of this motif may lie in the Christian story of Mary’s purifi­cation and presentation of her child at the temple forty days after his birth, in accordance with Jewish law. Imbolc also corresponds to Groundhog Day, which can be seen as a ves­tige of an ancient weather prediction ritual.

Mythologically, at Imbolc, the Goddess suckles the Sun Child, who grows stronger, as the Dark Lord continues to de­cline. The Sun Child becomes the Bright Youth, who is tested, named, and armed by the Goddess. The Goddess is purified and transformed from the Crone into the Maiden.

Updated 2019

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