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Imbolc traditions and why you should celebrate

Imbolc is celebrated as marking the beginning of spring; the flowers have started to bloom, there is growth in the earth, everything is becoming that bit greener and moving away from winter. There is still a chance of frost- you’ll get that through until around Beltane, but you can start to grow seedlings and plants indoors or in other heated areas like greenhouses, ready to be moved out when the weather is warmer.

It is also a good time to look at your own life and see what areas you can improve upon in the coming year. Many people may like to do a divinatory exercise at this time of year to make sure they are on the right track. Some people like to carry out divination before an event, others may like to look at things from an afterwards perspective.

If winter can be seen as the time when everything is underground, ready to be awakened, Imbolc is that awakening- the energy of expectancy is all around- for the summer to come, to be out of the darker, winter times, for the onset of spring and the return of flowers and life.
Many people choose this period to clear out the old and bring in the new- a spring clean if you will. It’s a good time to set plans in motion, to start giving an idea or venture form, rather than just keeping them as ideas. Spring cleaning can also occur within as well as around the home and garden. Long, dark nights of winter can leave people feeling a little bit down, so it’s a great time to start cleaning out all of those feelings, throw open the windows to allow in the warmer spring air and make yourself and your family feel better.

Many traditions have a life force and a life-giver. Many will look to a more serpentine deity or being as holding power within. If you look around in the world, the main source of health and wellbeing is seen through healthcare and medicine. The symbol within healthcare that looks like a snake, or more specifically a serpent, is called The Rod of Asclepius. Asclepius is from ancient Greek beliefs and is the god of medicine and healing. He is usually symbolised by the staff with a serpent coiled around it. This is seen as the most universal symbol of medicine and healthcare the world over.

It is said that this serpentine life force reawakens from slumber in the springtime, as the snake has been sleeping through the winter. It is a time of rest for all things, and it is only once the serpent reawakens that the witch can begin to draw energy and work more with the land than when the world was slumbering. It is a tradition in some branches of witchcraft (not Wicca) to awaken the red serpent from its slumber and bring life back into the world.

Around this time of year, it was traditional to give offerings to the holy wells and springs around the countryside. There are many wells and springs around even today, however, they are not venerated nearly as much as they once were. They would be decorated for Candlemass. It is also said that witches of old (again, not Wiccans, that is a much newer religion that what we are talking of here) would lead in a silent procession in the dead of night to a local well or spring. There would be one person leading with a candle, and the witches would set gentle fires and warm the serpent back up out of its slumber. This ritual would usually be followed by dancing and music, and may, therefore, move to a more apt spot in the countryside. More traditions relating to the time of Candlemass can be found in a great book by Gemma Gary called Traditional Witchcraft – A Cornish Book of Ways.

If you feel more renewed and healthy once spring starts blooming, this is likely why.

A lot of the symbols found in nature can be attributed to the Goddess Brigid (who became a saint when Christianity took over) such as:

The snowdrop- such a delicate flower, yet it can break through the hard soil in order to bloom. The snowdrop is a certain sign that spring is coming along.
The flame is a representation too, as Imbolc is seen as one of the fire festivals. It can also represent creativity and the flame in the hearth fire.

The Brigid’s cross is a representation of the fire wheel for Brigid. This symbol was found at the hearths of homes throughout Ireland and beyond to symbolise Imbolc and Brigid.
Colours which can be associated with Imbolc are silver and white for purity and green for the very first burst of life in an otherwise barren landscape.

Samhain

The weak sun sets upon the landscape, the working day has been done. All the last crops have been gathered, ready for the coming winter. The animals are moving up from the pastures to the sheds and stables for warmth and security as Jack Frost begins to reclaim the landscape.
Samhain is seen by many as the beginning of winter, a theory which is said to originate in the Celtic times when it would symbolise the end of the harvest where you would reap what you have sown throughout the year, and bring the animals in for over the winter time.

Going back to when the locals relied on the agricultural landscape, there were many folklore tales of what could happen to the wheat or crops if they weren’t gathered before Samhain eve on the 31st October. Some say that the harvest which was left after this time would be ruined by the faeries’ destructive nature- blasting every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries which remain on the hedgerows. So anything that was not gathered by this time was deemed lost to that year and not to be used for any purpose.

Samhain is seen as one of the ancient fire festivals, and a bonfire would be lit to celebrate the turning of the wheel toward winter. The reasoning behind burning the bonfire goes back in part to the original meaning of the word ‘bonfire’ which is ‘Bone-fire’ or a fire where bones are burned. The local community would gather at the local bonfire area to burn crops and animals as part of a ritual to honour the lives of the animals and the bounty of the harvest, but also to give to their gods and goddesses as thanks for a great harvest season, or perhaps as a payment for a better harvest the next year.

The celebrations of this time of year were great, the people who attended would wear fantastic costumes and dance around the fire, telling stories and honouring the cycle of life through their stories or small plays. Honouring the dead at this time was, and still is, a great part of the celebrations. The costumes which were worn could have been in order to honour these spirits in their passing on to the next place, but also worn to scare off any malevolent spirits who may choose to interfere with the next year’s crops or the goings-on of the community.

The veil between the living and the otherworld is seen as particularly thin during the weeks before and after Samhain, but specifically on the night itself. This veil thinning can help diviners see the future in the tools they used. Many would ‘read the bones’ which means exactly what it says- the diviner would have a set of bones which they would use for divination purposes to help people with questions about their futures. As well as divination, there was also a chance with the local shaman or druids that they could commune with the spirits which were passing over from this world to the next over the seasonal celebration.

The essence of Samhain is remembrance, unity and the passing of the dead into the otherworld. It’s a great time to look back over the year at things we’ve done, said or started, and see if the next year can be any better. This ‘moving on’ from issues or situations could be the original inspiration behind the New Year resolutions- unfortunately, many people don’t end up keeping their New Year resolutions from January, but perhaps people may be able to keep them if combined with a ceremony like Samhain.

It’s the time to start settling down ready for the winter- make sure the heating works, or that you have enough logs for the fire over the winter. To ensure no drafts will disturb you over the next few months. It’s also about getting used to a new routine, as in many parts of the world the clocks will change by going back one hour near to the end of October- so the nights will be darker earlier. This also means that if children go trick or treating, it would be going dark (if not completely dark) by 4pm in the UK- so they need not go out so late doing this.

The origins of Trick or Treating are said to be ancient- going back to the Celtic times. Many would dress up for Samhain celebrations and festivities, but the act of trick or treating is to welcome whoever comes to your door, no matter how they look, as they may be a God in disguise. It’s said to date back to the Middle-Ages when children and poor adults would dress up and do a dance or perform a song in exchange for food or money. Nowadays, it is heavily commercialised and though some may make their own costumes, many can be bought cheaply from shops. The expected treat wouldn’t be a pastry or something wholesome either anymore, it’s expected that trick or treaters would get a bucket full of sweets and chocolate by the end of the night.

Any homes that do not have sweets or treats to give will still give a silver coin too, just to stave off the threat of a trick. This could also be tied into the tradition later in the year of wassailing or singing Christmas carols around a town or village in exchange for donations. Previously, it may have been for the community, but now it commonly goes to charities. The dressing up is not just a guise, but is also seen as dressing as a ghoul or ghost- the chances of meeting a ‘real’ spirit or ghost during Samhain is increased compared to the rest of the year, so being a convincing ghoul could help if coming across a particularly evil spirit.

The songs and prayers were often in exchange for something called a ‘Soul cake’. These would often contain spices associated with the season, including nutmeg and cinnamon, and would be decorated however the individual wished. The most common representation of a soul cake now is one that’s sectioned off into four quarters with raisins over the top. A light, spiced treat for people at this time of year to enjoy on their walk around the community.

It is souling that is thought to have given rise to guising, or trick-or-treating as we know it by now, and it may have travelled to America in the late 19th or early 20th century by Irish and British travellers. It is said that the version of trick or treating we have today was a skew on the original form of guising, where you would perform songs or prayers on behalf of the dead in exchange for treats, and has been replaced by the more consumer-led version coming over from the United States in response to a different culture- it’s said that the practice of trick or treating didn’t become popular or heard of until the 1980s in the UK.

It can be difficult for children nowadays to go trick or treating safely- many of the older children will skip the whole process and instead start vandalising areas, using ‘silly string’ on windows and also throwing eggs and flour at windows, cars and even passers-by. This can make it scary for the younger children, who in the UK seem to prefer going out when it’s still slightly light outside. Another issue is the vast size of some estates and areas to walk around. You will end up with a full bag of treats, but it may take you a good few hours to get around the whole area!

However you wish to spend your Samhain, Hallowe’en, or whatever you wish to call it, do it safely and keep it fun!

Full Moon Tarot

This full moon feels particularly potent this time around. I’m not usually one to look into astrology and the like, but for some reason this time it resonates more with me!

So, as it is so potent, I felt the need to draw a tarot card for the energies surrounding at this time. What exactly is going on anyway?

I drew the card from my Rider-Waite deck before looking up the meaning behind or astrology drive behind this moon. Many people like to take stock of or use things like Mercury retrograde as an excuse for poor behaviour. After all, you can’t punish a planet, right?

From astrology’s point of view, this full moon is supposed to be affecting all kinds of relationships in your life. The need for love or affection will grow stronger, but alongside this, the feelings of jealousy or anger/intimidation are also likely to grow. I guess even if you don’t believe in this (like myself) you can still have the knowledge that you have been forewarned. I suppose it’s nice to be able to reflect on what is going on and step back, rather than let things fly out of control.

With this alignment of planets, etc, it may make those of us in relationships moodier, quicker to jump into arguments or fights. It may also have an effect on those who are single – you may feel like lowering your standards just so you are not alone. However, if you are in a healthy relationship, this can actually help to bring any frustrations to the surface and enable you to resolve them now rather than letting them simmer below the surface.

So what did the tarot cards say?

6 of Cups, upright, from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

The card which appeared for this reading was the 6 of Cups in an upright position. This card takes you back to the happy memories of when you were younger. The connections you made there are ones which bring you joy and happiness.

This card showing up is interesting, based on what I have found out from astrology related to this full moon. This card is based around relationships, as is the moon this time around. So this card showing up, which indicates that there is an increased level of harmony at your disposal, is fitting. It’s showing that with a little patience, the issues which may arise can be handled with ease. Giving and receiving is in full flow, and you are willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt – after all, everyone has their off days.

This card encourages you to give into your playful side. Be childish. Do the things that make you happy. Play the games you used to. Visit the old haunts of your childhood or teenage years with the same people once again. Embrace living life to the full.

It can indicate children coming into your life too. Perhaps you or someone close to you is yet to find out they are expecting a child (or two! This can indicate twins!). It may also be showing you that you may soon be spending more time with children. Maybe now is the time to embark upon becoming a teacher or a nursery assistant. Children are open-minded, curious and usually have some kind of outlook to life we can all learn from. Keep an open mind, keep moving forward and enjoy the little things!

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