Imbolc isn’t one of the holidays that gets a lot of love and attention. Not like some of the other pagan Sabbats, anyway. It’s got the fire, but not the wild, connective, sensual energy of Beltane. It’s not got that spooky, spirits from beyond the veil vibe that you get at Samhain. It hasn’t got the frenetic, hardworking, harvest energy of Lammas or the Autumn Equinox. Sandwiched between the deep community and warm hearth fires of Yule and the wild, rangy energy of Ostara when life bursts forth from the ground, Imbolc is often treated in a perfunctory manner. Ask a pagan about Imbolc, and they might search for words until they manage to mention the goddess Brighid, and a word about milk, and maybe a corn dolly.
It is perhaps the contrarian in me, the part that likes to find the hidden beauty that few others see, that draws me to Imbolc. I have written before about how Imbolc represents a moment of human defiance, the moment when we light a fire against the darkness, and choose to step forward to drive the wheel of change rather than be carried along by it. It is the recognition of the invincible summer within us. And that’s what makes it one of my most favorite of the pagan Sabbats.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned this year is that we’ve all of us needed an invincible summer within us just to get to the other side of all that’s been coming at us. Between a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands, and cost millions their jobs, a season of racial reckoning as thousands upon thousands took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and so many others, and now an assault on democracy itself provoked in part by a sitting President, our nation has been deep in the throes of a dark winter for more than the season usually lasts. If there has ever been a moment where we needed to light a fire in insubordination to the cold and the bleakness, it’s right now.
But what does it mean to have within you an invincible summer? How do you begin to light the flame that will drive back the cold and the dark?
Fire as an element is hungry. It consumes, without ceasing. One does not conquer fire with strength. It may only be defeated by depriving it of fuel. Fire is insatiable. It will find whatever fuel it can to sustain itself, to grow. And even from a tiny spark from a single strike of a match, it will grow, consume, reach higher and farther until it eats entire landscapes. Fire doesn’t need anyone’s help to drive back the cold and the dark, once it’s lit. And that light, that heat, once we have it in our lives, it keeps us going, it gives us the energy we need to change things, to make things better.
But to start this fire is the tricky part — because we need the spark. In the modern age we take it for granted. We have boxes of matches and lighters that operate with a simple hand movement. Gas stoves light up with the twist of a knob. We don’t spend much time anymore trying to generate a spark from nothing. But ask any Boy Scout or Girl Scout, or someone who’s taken a survival skills course and they will tell you — it’s a lot of work. It’s chancy. The conditions have to be right. Your kindling has to be dry as bone. You need a flint and steel, or something that will create friction, or a lens that will magnify the sun’s splendorous rays to a fine point. Sparks must be squeezed into being from intense energy, through focus and force and will come tiny delicate things that leap forth and when they fall, if they fall in the right place, on kindling that is dry as bone, will catch fire.
You’re not imagining it — things feel blacker and bleaker than they have for a long, long time. And we need to start a fire — we need the light and power of the flames to beat back the darkness, and there doesn’t seem to be much time to lose. And generating a spark takes a lot of focus and effort, all directed at a fine point, in a place as dry as bone. This is the work of Imbolc in 2021.
Where do we find that dry space, and where do we direct all that effort? In this time, in this place, we focus within. We’re creating the invincible summer within, remember? What is the thing inside of you that is bare and dry and ready to receive the fire’s touch? What would you have the fire light up in your life this year? And as for focus and intense energy, if you’re a witch, you know how to do that. Raising and directing energy is our bread and butter. If you’re new to this pagan thing, we’ve all had an experience where we feel filled with energy, and use it to accomplish something. important. Remember a time in your life when you had that feeling, when you did that. It’s time to nurture that sensation again.
It may feel a little harder to do than usual right now. Some of that is natural, given the time a year. We have been in the cold and the dark of winter, and energy does not move so readily. And given what’s going on in the world, paralysis isn’t so surprising a reaction. But that’s what a Sabbat is for — the Wheel and the Sabbats are here to provide that natural energetic assist that you can use. Imbolc is about lighting a fire, it is all about the focus and intensity that draws forth a glittering spark, that arcs aloft and finds its way directly into the dry place prepared for it, the place in your life that is ready to burst into flames.
It is difficult, and at the same time, nothing could be more simple. The beauty of fire is that once a spark has hit the kindling and lit the flame, the fire knows what to do, and it will do it relentlessly. This is the magic of Imbolc. Gather the energy. Focus. Prepare the part of your life that will receive the flame’s touch — and make a beautiful, delicate, incandescent spark.
It’s Imbolc, y’all. It’s time to get lit.