For those of us in more Northern climes, the Winter Thermstice, or Imbolc, means ice and snow. Here in Michigan, frozen lakes usually become strong enough to drive cars onto, and that ice also freezes bubbles rising from the lake floor. Much of this gas is methane produced by methanogenic bacteria, which is found across the globe. Some lake bottoms – especially in farther north areas – produce more methane (accelerated by climate change), making the striking images of large, plentiful bubbles.
More on this phenomenon, which has fascinated me since I was a kid, below. First, however…
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter cross-quarter (Winter Thermstice) is traditionally celebrated on February 2 as Imbolc. It is near the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring equinox, which this year happens on February 3rd. It is one of eight stations in our planet’s annual journey around the sun. While the Winter Solstice is the time of longest darkness, the Winter Cross-Quarter is (on average) the time of greatest cold.
Other names for Imbolc include Oimelc, Brigit, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day, Brigantia, Gŵyl y Canhwyllau, and Candlemas. Those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Lammas instead at this time. Imbolc derives from Celtic traditions surrounding the goddess Brigid, whose sacred fire at Kildare was tended by virgin priestesses. Traditionally, it marks the season when ewes birth and give milk. It is a time of emergence, as the herd brings new life into the world, and we look forward to the coming spring. One custom to observe this is placing a well-protected candle in each window of the house, to shine the light of life out into the snowy cold (Nichols, 2009). Here in the midst of the pandemic, with the vaccine rolling out only slowly, this is especially meaningful.
The pandemic also means more online opportunities to celebrate Imbolc. Here’s a chronological summary of the many options I found. (Be sure to check details well in advance).
|30-Jan||All Day||Circle Sanctuary||https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/events/imbolc-2021|
|30-Jan||5 pm CMT?||Druids of the Light||https://druidsofthelight.org/2021/01/02/imbolc-the-tender-promise-of-spring-2/|
|30-Jan||8 pm CST (7 pm EST)||John Beckett||https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGR7k9yMBZ99-oExLkpZdag|
|1-Feb||2 pm EST||Cunning Folk||https://www.eventbrite.com/e/imbolc-tickets-135165396339?aff=erelexpmlt|
|1-Feb||8 PM GMT= 3 pm EST||London Woodland Witches, Wiccans & Pagans community||https://www.meetup.com/LondonWoodlandWitches/events/272631630/|
|2-Feb||7-8 pm||Fairfax CUUPS||https://uucf.org/events/celebrate-imbolc-beneath-the-surface-honoring-the-stirrings-of-transformation/|
|6-Feb||7 pm UK time||OBOD||https://www.facebook.com/druidry/photos/a.10155793447234837/10159393654859837/|
|6-Feb||7 pm EST||Mystic Grove CUUPS||https://www.facebook.com/mysticgrovecfl/photos/a.438382002010/10157763572937011/|
In addition to this wide range of rituals, the moon also steps in to celebrate Imbolc, with a full moon on January 28th. Depending on your location and the weather, this could give stunning moonrises on days from January 28th to about February 4th – check here (or other sites) for your local moonrise time.
About those bubbles – I’ve loved finding the stacks of bubbles in the ice, often making wild shapes as the rate of the ice freezing and the gas accumulation made wider and narrower parts of the stack, in addition to other shapes. Here are bubbles making a spiral shape I found here in Michigan last year. I hadn’t given the nature of the gas much thought until recently, when I realized that methane is flammable! This fire, and ice, together are a nice metaphor for Imbolc. I wondered if there are videos of people lighting the methane on youtube, and sure enough, there’s a lot of them! Here’s one – you can find more.
It’s important to realize that this bubble phenomenon is being increased by climate change, as the warming both increases the reaction rate of the methanogen bacteria, as well as increasing melting of permafrost and hence releasing methane. That methane, in turn, is a strong greenhouse gas (with a couple dozen times as strong an effect as CO2), hence making a feedback loop. It’s complicated, because methane from decay is not necessarily “new to the system”, but that’s beyond this blog post.
In addition to the many ways to celebrate (below), I came across some printable coloring sheets to help teach Imbolc to young kids! Those are at the end of this post.
Glenys Livingstone of PaGaian Cosmology, a naturalistic tradition revering the Goddess as a metaphor for the Cosmos, recommends meditating upon emerging Creativity through the ever-new flame of the candle, the beginning of the in-breath, and the word om. It is a time for individuation, a time to renew dedication of one’s small self to the big Self. Here are some seasonal thoughts and seasonal videos from Glenys.
“A dedication to Brigid means a dedication to the Being and Beauty of particular small self, and knowing deeply its Source – as an infant knows deeply its dependence on the Mother, as the new shoot on the tree knows intimately its dependence on the branch and the whole tree, as the new star’s being is connected to the supernova. It is a dedication to the being of your particular beautiful Self, rooted seamlessly in the whole of Gaia.” (Livingstone, 2008)
“As I stand here on this celebration of Imbolc, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn and spring begins again. As my forebears did, I do now, and so may my descendants do in time to come. It is the feast of the goddess Brigid, guardian of the hearth fire and protector of the home. Patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. It is a time of awakening after the dark, cold slumber of winter. The sun has grown stronger and the days have grown longer and I see now the first signs of spring. Trees are beginning to bud, snowdrops are blossoming and animals are stirring from hibernation. The time of Oimelc has arrived – the ewe’s are pregnant, lambs are being born and milk is beginning to flow once more. Winter is over and I rejoice in the hope of the coming warmth.
“I light this candle now in thanksgiving to Brigid, the sacred hearth fires of my home. I celebrate the growing power of the sun and look forward in hope to the coming warmth of summer.”
Áine Órga sees February as a time to start fresh:
“While it is often a quiet time for me spiritually and otherwise, it is always a time of great change. Things get moving, and start coming into being. Everything begins to stir. Deep inside all forms of life, something is responding to the growing length of the days, the sun rising earlier each day. We feel the promise of Spring in our bones.
“This is a time to be bold, to take risks, to take a leap of faith. It is a time to push yourself, to set up a pattern of growth and inspired action for the months to come. There are so many months of manifestation ahead of us, and February is a wonderful time to get in there early and start manifesting your dreams for this year. …
“So this month I will get inspired, I will seize my resources, I will start tilling soil and preparing for the great creative outpouring of the Spring. This is the time of the birthing of my creativity, and I can feel my manifesting power starting to move out into the world.”
John Halstead celebrates Mid-Winter with his family as a time for new beginnings and time for transformations. They begin by gathering snow from outside and pouring it into a bowl, reciting these words:
Melt the ice that stills you,
in this season that chills you,
may the fire within you,
be lit by this hearth.
Bring the cold, cold water,
from the dark, dark well,
to the warm hearth fire,
when the ice begins to melt.
May the days grow longer,
as the fire grows stronger;
may the waking of spring,
be the light in your dark.
When the nights grow warmer,
may your heart grow stronger;
may the first melt of light
warm your dreams in the night.
They then melt the snow with four candles, colored white, green, red, and black — symbolizing the faces of the Neo-Pagan Goddess. They wash their hands in the water while thinking about something they want to start anew.
For those on the Southern side of our Earth, preparations for Lunasa/Lamma/The Summer Thermstice are likely underway – perhaps in sorry, with the added heat from climate change induced wildfires there…….
How will you and/or your family be noticing this moment?
This is an updated version of the yearly Winter Thermstice post