This isn’t just a blog about Imbolc, though that’s a large part of it. It’s also a blog about religious intolerance, ignorance, and the repercussions of both. As many of you who might know me are aware, my spiritual path has caused almost a complete severance of ties between my husband and his family, by this I mean his parents, some aunts/uncles, and his four siblings. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came when one of his aunts, (M.), who has been making an effort to connect, called me the other day to chat and wanted to know what the word “Grimoire” meant in the title of my book. I explained this to her, and we went on with our conversation, mostly about her duties and activities in the Lutheran church– I listened politely. The next evening my husband’s uncle (M.’s brother) called. He said: “M. called me the other night. She sure doesn’t think much of your wife. We can’t understand why you married a witch.”
I have to make a couple points here. I find it slightly unnerving and totally Twilight Zone for someone to call and talk to me as though they actually liked me, even ending the conversation with “Love you”, when in fact they don’t. I also find it a very strange experience to be respected and liked by a certain segment of society, and then to walk into a group of people who not only despise me, but may be suspicious and even afraid of me. It’s mind boggling to say the least, and my mind is so spacey anyway, it doesn’t need any extra boggling.
I thought about this situation, and it seems that there are two problems: 1) a lack of information (knowledge). These people know zilch about paganism in any form. They live in a very small rural community, and anything outside their world that is not understood seems to be threatening to them, so they dismiss it with hostility and an Amish type of ‘shunning’; 2) they are extremely intolerant of anything they view as ‘different’, whether it be spiritual practices, or even very personal things like body adornment, clothes, makeup (“You don’t wear black eyeliner do you?”…ummm, Yes!), and we don’t want to go anywhere near the subjects of body alterations like tattooing or piercing.
Thinking about this situation, I took it upon myself to spread some knowledge, hoping that this might turn on a lightbulb somewhere, open a crack to a doorway of understanding, or at at least invite some tolerance into the picture. I’m being optimistic, I know. But I thought I would begin this adventure by writing up a nice letter on Imbolc and sending it along, just as you would letters or cards for any other major mainstream holiday. Whether this will work or not, I have no idea. Here’s the letter I mailed off. I tried to keep it simple. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with too much information at once, just a tidbit to give them a glimpse:
Happy Imbolc! If you’re not pagan, you may recognize this holiday as ‘Candlemas’ (February 2), a holiday celebrating the purification of the Virgin Mary, according to Jewish law, and a presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, also according to Jewish law. However, long before Judaism & Christianity arrived on the scene, pagans in the old world celebrated this day as ‘Imbolc’, a celebration of birth and lactation, as their herds of sheep began to grow with the birth of lambs. The celebration of Imbolc is in honor of the Old Woman of winter who is magickally reborn as the Young Maiden of spring.
This was also a festival to celebrate the Celtic goddess Bride, a goddess of fire/flame, poetry, craftsmanship, and healing. This goddess is invoked when survival is an issue, whether physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual. When the Roman church invaded the British Isles, they discovered that the people’s devotion to Bride was so strong it could not be eradicated. To solve this dilemma, the Roman Catholic Church renamed the Celtic goddess ‘Brighid’ and made her a saint.
The following is a list of corresponding herbs, flowers, animals, feast foods, etc., that are used in the festivals of Imbolc for symbology, as decorations, and for the magick performed at this time:
Herbs: basil, bay, celandine, benzoic
Altar Flowers/Herbs: angelica, myrrh, flowers that are yellow/white/or blue
Feast Foods: bread, cakes, dairy products, seeds
Animals: burrowing animals, ewes, deer, goats, lambs
Incense: jasmine, myrrh, neroli
Rituals/Spells: candle magick, initiation, hearth/home blessings, fertility magick, healing magick, cleansing rituals
Pagans today celebrate the Wheel of the Year, eight sabbats (holidays) which recognize and acknowledge the changing of seasons, the earth, and nature. This celebration of and homage to the natural world, and the practices that accompany this spiritual path, is called “Witchcraft”.
Every religious group, while perhaps a majority somewhere, is also inevitably a minority somewhere else. Thus, religious organizations & individuals should and do show tolerance toward members of other religious denominations.