In New England, February’s the start of sugaring season.
As you drive the forest roads, you start to see the signs of it—the first insistent signs of Spring, even though there might be snow on the ground. Silver buckets, clinging like cicadas to the sides of trees, capillary networks of tubes draining the excess of the maple tree’s delicate sap and smoke rising from the sugar shacks.
To me, this is the surest sign of Imbolc, the ancient magical holiday that marks the first of February.
Imbolc is exciting! It’s the feeling of the proto-Spring…it’s the Quickening. Animals stir and stretch in their dens; we start to feel the restlessness to run and ride. Sap surges and flows; but there is still the protective dreaminess of winter.
You are not yet out of the womb.
If winter is night and the regenerative sleep of the Year, Imbolc is the hypnopompic state right before you wake up. Where your last dreams are particularly vivid, and those are the ones you will carry with you. The richness of dreams you remember.
The way I interpret the Wheel of the Year—the pagan term for the yearly cycle of seeding, growth, harvest, decay and silence—is a little different than some other interpretations but it works in both my intuitive and linear brains.
After Samhain, the last harvest, after the death of growing things, there is silence and a fertile but empty void. The Winter Solstice is a conception point (imagine sperm hitting egg and the spark of light that issues from that pure life power).
Then, Imbolc is the pregnancy, the gestation. Spring Equinox is the birth. Beltane is coltish and hormonal adolescence. The Summer Solstice, is high fierce proud warrior-ing adulthood. Lammas is the sense of self-sacrifice that comes with maturity. The Fall Equinox is the bequeathing of abundance and sharing the richness that has been gathered with a long life. Samhain arrives as senescence, surrender, and death.
After which the cycle begins again, in the lustrous, waiting emptiness.
Out of the many correspondences and magics of Imbolc, what is important this year is this: Imbolc comes from the Old Irish ‘i mbolg’, which means, ‘in the belly.’ For a sheepherding people in a northern latitude, it is the time of year when ewes are pregnant, their bellies full of lambs.
In embryological development, there is a period of time, very early and quick, when a vertebrate embryo could turn into anything: a little fish, a duck or a deer. A whale, a chick or a lizard.
Basically, at that time, all of us are just a spine; a pollywog with a head and a tail. And then the cells start to multiply and to bloom and the mystery of what is latent in the creature is revealed.
We, animals that we are, are being created into our fate and awareness, tumbled along on the mysterious dreams of the embryo.
While you are still held in the safety of Winter, before you born out into the world, now is your time of vivid dreaming. For Imbolc, imagine yourself awaiting birth, floating in the amnion. Pay attention to your dreams and make your actions purposeful and of value.
This is the time of coming together, of taking form, of emergence. What you want to do, where you want to arrive—let every action you do be gently contributive to that. And see what you sprout; a tail, a leg, a wing.
Be gentle; you are, after all, still a baby.
In the Middle Ages, people believed that bear cubs, when they are born, didn’t look like anything much. It was their mother in the den who licked them into the shape of bears. (People of old really didn’t get it so wrong: bears actually do have near-regenerative superpowers of healing, while they are hibernating, before they emerge.)
You are still in the womb-like den, the den-like womb. You haven’t woken up yet. Sap has not yet filled your leaves. So go easy on yourself.
What we become is the gradual collaboration of action and grace.
What kind of animal will you be? That is still a mystery. But make all your decisions right now, based on the powers that you want to have.
In the belly, you are forming; in the den, you are healing.
It’s sugaring season and you are still dreaming.
You are almost awake. Dream yourself into the shape that you want to be. Let the Universe lick you lovingly into shape.
Blessed be and love!
PS. Bonus mystery from Beth Orton’s beautiful album Sugaring Season:
*This article’s title is a homage to urban fantasy author Charles de Lint.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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