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IMBOLC

Imbolc, (pronounced "IM-bulk" or "EM-bowlk"), also called Oimealg, ("IM-mol'g), by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means "ewes milk". Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid's snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.

The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo'gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo'gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid's Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.

Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the "water of life" is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.

Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget's Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time.

Deities of Imbolc:
All Virgin/Maiden Goddesses, Brighid, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Gaia, and Februa, and Gods of Love and Fertility, Aengus Og, Eros, and Februus.

Symbolism of Imbolc:
Purity, Growth and Re-Newal, The Re-Union of the Goddess and the God, Fertility, and dispensing of the old and making way for the new.

Symbols of Imbolc:
Brideo'gas, Besoms, White Flowers, Candle Wheels, Brighid's Crosses, Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs.

Herbs of Imbolc:
Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers.

Foods of Imbolc:
Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Raisins, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas.

Incense of Imbolc:
Basil, Bay, Wisteria, Cinnamon, Violet, Vanilla, Myrrh.

Colors of Imbolc:
White, Pink, Red, Yellow, lt. Green, Brown.

Stones of Imbolc:
Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise.

Activities of Imbolc:
Candle Lighting, Stone Gatherings, Snow Hiking and Searching for Signs of Spring, Making of Brideo'gas and Bride's Beds, Making Priapic Wands, Decorating Ploughs, Feasting, and Bon Fires maybe lit.





 

OSTARA

 

Ostara is the celebration of the Spring (Vernal) Equinox when day and night balance. Astronomically, the sun crosses the celestial equator at this time. Held in late March, the actual date can vary from year-to-year as with the Autumnal Equinox and the two Solstices. The Vernal Equinox usually falls on March 20 or 21. Always check your almanac for your time zone.

Called Ostara after the Saxon Goddess Eostre, this is a time of renewal, regeneration and resurrection as the Earth wakes from her long slumber. This is the time of planting, children, and young animals.

It is the fertility of the Earth that we celebrate, and we symbolize this new life springing from sun and soil with eggs, chicks, lambs, and rabbits (all symbols of the Great Mother).

Ostara promises freedom form the dreariness of winters, it heralds the return of hope and dreams. With the days lengthening, we fill our lungs with fresh air and drink the pungent cleansing teas that clear our bodies from the heavy foods of winter

The Goddess at Ostara

Eostre is the Goddess of dawn and new beginnings. Her name is similar to the word for the Christian Easter, because that holiday took its name from the ancient Pagan Goddess of Spring and rebirth. Another name in the same family is Ishtar, the Babylonian Goddess of the forming and evening stars. Eostre's sacred animal is the rabbit or hare. Rabbits bear young in the springs, and have come to represent fertility and abundance. Hares, which are bigger and wilder than rabbits, have long been identified with magic, the springs, and the mysteries. Hares are associated with the moon - the ancients saw the "rabbit in the moon", today known as the "man in the moon".

The other Goddess we associates with the Spring Equinox is Kore or Persephone, daughter of Demeter, the Greek Goddess of grain and growing things. In the Spring, Persephone comes back from the Underworld to be reunited with her mother. A part of the Goddess that has been sleeping all winter reawakens with the warming of the ground of springs. She who has been mother, midwife, and teacher through the winter now welcomes back her own daughter-self, the Maiden of Springs. At this time of balance the Goddess is Mother and Daughter both.

The God at Ostara

The God of Springs is the young God, playful and joyful, the trickster. He is the spirit of everything that is joyful, light, and changeable. Born at Winter Solstice, nurtured at Imbolc, now he's like a young and mischievous child, still wild and new. He is raw, creative energy that has not yet been harnessed, tamed, civilized. He sees with clear eyes and does not hesitate to announce that the emperor is naked. He deflates the pompous and laughs at self-importance.

The trickster is an important spirit power in many earth-based cultures. To many of the Native American tribes, he is Coyote. To the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, he is Raven, who creates the world. In parts of West Africa, he is Elegba, the small child-God who as a point of light constantly runs circles around the universe. To early African-Americans, he is Brer Rabbit, who tricks his way out of trouble.

In European earth-based traditions, he is the Fool of the Tarot, who leaps blithely off a cliff as he follows a butterfly, yet always lands on his feet, because he takes himself lightly. He is spirit taking the plunge into matter, idea manifesting as form. He is Robin Goodfellow, shape shifter and wood sprite, child of the Faery King. He comes to us in the springs when all of nature is shifting and changing: seeds poking out sprouts, butterflies emerging from cocoons, tadpoles growing legs and turning into frogs.

We celebrate him on the Spring Equinox, but of course, his proper holiday comes shortly after, on April Fool's Day. In his honor, we play tricks on one another.

The Altar

The altar for springs includes -- what else?-- images of rabbits and birds, eggs of all sorts, nests, flowers, and living plants.

If you like to keep your altar up for a long time, blow your eggs after you've colored them. Take a small branch from a tree and hang the eggs from it. Start some seeds, to be planted out in the garden, and let your seed trays become the basis for your altar. Water them every day, talk to them, and watch them grow.

The Colors of Ostara

All pastels are appropriate for Ostara -- especially the greens, yellows, and pinks. White makes a nice accent, but seems too sparse for an altar cloth representing the season of growth and fertility.

Incense, Herbs and Woods

Violet, honeysuckle, narcissus, and lemon make good incenses for Ostara -- the scents should be clear and light, floral and evocative, but not overwhelming or intoxicating.

Herbs associated with springs include meadowsweet, cleavers, clover, lemongrass, spearmint and catnip.

If you want to use wood in your spells and rituals, ash has a strong ling with the equinox due to its connection with the macrocosm-microcosm concept in the Celtic ogham runes - the balance of light and dark... as above, so below.

Flowers

What better day to decorate for the springs season than with the flowers that blossom at this time? They are abundant and beautiful. Daffodils, jonquils, tulips, narcissus, violets and crocus and snowdrops - fill the house with their color after you've finished your spring cleaning.

Meditations

Take regular walks around your neighborhood, looking and listening for signs of spring: the fattening leaf buds on trees, the first flowers of spring, the first Robin. Think about the Earth's movement toward greater light and less darkness.




 



SAMHAIN

 

Samhain, (pronounced SOW-in, SAH-vin, or SAM-hayne) means "End of Summer", and is the third and final Harvest. The dark winter half of the year commences on this Sabbat. 

 

It is generally celebrated on October 31st, but some traditions prefer November 1st. It is one of the two "spirit-nights" each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands. It is a time to study the Dark Mysteries and honor the Dark Mother and the Dark Father, symbolized by the Crone and her aged Consort. 

 

Originally the "Feast of the Dead" was celebrated in Celtic countries by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps for the "wandering dead". Today a lot of practitioners still carry out that tradition. Single candles were lit and left in a window to help guide the spirits of ancestors and loved ones home. Extra chairs were set to the table and around the hearth for the unseen guest. Apples were buried along roadsides and paths for spirits who were lost or had no descendants to provide for them. Turnips were hollowed out and carved to look like protective spirits, for this was a night of magic and chaos. The Wee Folke became very active, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. Traveling after dark was was not advised. People dressed in white (like ghosts), wore disguises made of straw, or dressed as the opposite gender in order to fool the Nature spirits. 

 

This was the time that the cattle and other livestock were slaughtered for eating in the ensuing winter months. Any crops still in the field on Samhain were considered taboo, and left as offerings to the Nature spirits. Bonfires were built, (originally called bone-fires, for after feasting, the bones were thrown in the fire as offerings for healthy and plentiful livestock in the New Year) and stones were marked with peoples names. Then they were thrown into the fire, to be retrieved in the morning. The condition of the retrieved stone foretold of that person's fortune in the coming year. Hearth fires were also lit from the village bonfire to ensure unity, and the ashes were spread over the harvested fields to protect and bless the land. 

 

Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Third Harvest, Samana, Day of the Dead, Old Hallowmas (Scottish/Celtic), Vigil of Saman, Shadowfest (Strega), and Samhuinn. Also known as All Hallow's Eve, (that day actually falls on November 7th), and Martinmas (that is celebrated November 11th), Samhain is now generally considered the Witch's New Year. 

 

Symbolism of Samhain:

Third Harvest, the Dark Mysteries, Rebirth through Death. 

 

Symbols of Samhain:

Gourds, Apples, Black Cats, Jack-O-Lanterns, Besoms. 

 

Herbs of Samhain:

Mugwort, Allspice, Broom, Catnip, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, Oak leaves, Sage and Straw. 

 

Foods of Samhain:

Turnips, Apples, Gourds, Nuts, Mulled Wines, Beef, Pork, Poultry. 

 

Incense of Samhain:

Heliotrope, Mint, Nutmeg. 

 

Colors of Samhain:

Black, Orange, White, Silver, Gold. 

 

Stones of Samhain:

All Black Stones, preferably jet or obsidian.