For those of us in more Northern climes, the Winter Thermstice, or Imbolc, means ice and snow. Even though many of us have known about the unique, delicate, 6-fold beauty of snowflakes since childhood (for many, it’s a very common elementary school art topic), I’m reminded yet again of the beauty and wonder which our Universe gives us in snowflakes, and that they can bring us joy throughout our lives.
Understanding why we get such gorgeous snowflake shapes increases their beauty even more. The crystal structure of ice is shown in the model here, where oxygen atoms are red and hydrogen atoms white. Imagining looking down on this model, and the reason for the 6 fold symmetry jumps out at us! That six sided shape goes all the way down to the very atoms! Additional images and videos can be found online to see this. To realize that from a tiny ice crystal on a speck of dust, the crystal symmetry is kept and amplified all the way up to the (comparatively) huge size of a snowflake is amazing! This also shows that the entire snowflake is the same crystal. Wow!
Also amazing – check out out this atomic force microscope image of actual water molecules frozen as ice!
I think that Imbolc is a perfect time to celebrate snowflakes, especially with kids. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter cross-quarter (Winter Thermstice) is traditionally celebrated on February 2 as Imbolc. With Imbolc this year falling on a Tuesday, many of us Pagans may be celebrating on the weekend before or after (especially helpful to ensure that kids are able to celebrate and learn, unless you are taking them out of school for this sacred day). Hence, many of the online celebrations below are earlier, such as on January 29th – don’t let them sneak past you!
Imbolc 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) around the time of greatest cold. Here in Michigan, frozen lakes usually become strong enough to drive cars onto – here’s my son, driving on a nearby lake (my car decal has our history from the big bang until today). Wow, those same ice crystal bonds which make up a “delicate” snowflake are strong enough to hold up a car!
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).
In addition to family and local group celebrations, here are 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, some may require advanced registration, and notice that many of them are on the last weekend in January).
In addition to this wide range of rituals, the moon also helps celebrate the Winter. This year we are lucky enough to have a New (dark) moon exactly on Imbolc! Then, the full moon is February 16th. Depending on your location and the weather, this could give stunning moonrises on days from February 14th to about February 20th – check here (or other sites) for your local moonrise time.
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
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