Cailleach Bheur was a blue hag of the Scottish Highlands. She personified the winter, ruling over the weather from Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween) to Beltane (May Day). She would tap the ground with her magical wooden staff, freezing the ground as she went. She loved snow, and in Scotland snow was sometimes referred to as Cailleach’s Plaid. By the beginning of February, though, her stores of firewood would run low, and she would need to collect fallen tree branches. If it were a sunny day, she would head out to gather more wood and thus be prepared for more wintry weather. If it were a cloudy, grey day, however, she would stay inside and work her magic to end the winter weather. When the warm weather did arrive, she would turn to stone and sleep until the next winter.
This connection to stone is a unique one. The ancients considered Stone–a thing of the earth–to be the home of spirit. Because of its durability and longevity, Stone was thought to hold psychic energy better than, say, a tree which has a shorter life cycle.
Imbolc ceremonies traditionally included fires (to honor Brighid, Celtic goddess of fire); foods such as nuts, dried meats, and root vegetables; and rituals that honor the coming change of the goddess from Crone back to Maiden.
How will you release the old and welcome the new this year?
Information for this post taken from “Llewellyn’s 2013 Sabbats Almanac” and http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/folklore/the-caillech-bheur.html.
February 2nd is the ancient holiday of Imbolc. This celebration has survived in several forms, including Candlemas, St. Brigid’s Day, and Groundhog Day.
In the symbolism of the Old Ways, the Winter Solstice represented the end of the reign of the Holly King (the dark half of the year) and the coming of the Oak King (the light half of the year). Additionally, the Goddess has given birth to the infant Sun; light and longer days are on the way! Moving along the Wheel of Life and approaching Spring, then, Imbolc represents the fertility of the Goddess. She continues to raise the infant Sun, while also sustaining the new life within her.
At Imbolc, not only are we heralding the coming Spring and the accompanying growth, but we are also assessing our resources. Traditionally, this was the time when food and supplies were running low. Having survived the worst of the winter, we look forward to the coming of the Vernal Equinox and new growth.
We can continue to honor the meaning of Imbolc today by taking stock of ourselves. Much like our ancestors who had to see what stores remained in the pantry after a long winter, we can assess our own life. What has gone bad and needs to be tossed out? What do we have that is still viable?
Consider writing out a list of all that no longer serves you, whether it’s bad habits or fruitless projects. On February 2nd, remember Imbolc and burn the list, letting go of the old and welcoming the new. Get ready for your new growth!
Brighid, Celtic Goddess of Fire
(The information here was taken from “Llewellyn’s 2013 Sabbats Almanac,” available at www.llewellyn.com.)