* Solitary Imbolc Ritual *
by De-Anna Alba link no longer viable :(
A Great White Hope
By now I'm sure you've realized that I like at least part of each Sabbat ritual to take place outside. I feel that, because we are members of a religion that finds the divine in Nature, it is an important part of any Sabbat celebration to spend some time outside in Nature witnessing its cyclical, living divinity. And yes, I even do this in the Winter. If you are not inclined to get bundled up and go tromping through the Winter woods and fields at this time of year, simply skip that part of the ritual day given below and pursue some, or all, of the other things suggested. Or, do the Winter walk as a form of guided visualization.
In Wisconsin we usually have a thaw for a week or so around the time of Imbolc (February 2nd --aka Candlemas). This comes in handy. It takes the snow depth down considerably, making a walk in the woods/fields a pleasant prospect rather than a Herculean effort to be endured. It's also warmer. Usually frostbite is not a worry, but getting wet feet is a probability unless you dress properly. If, on the other hand, the thaw came early or has not yet arrived, I may confine my outdoor activities to my yard. If you don't have a yard, opt for a nearby park.
Before leaving I load my pockets (or backpack) with food offerings for the wildlife. The pickin's can get mighty slim for the animals in Winter, and I like to do what I can to help. Besides that, it's a great way to invoke the spirits of the four directions during my ramblings. I take a pocket full of bird seed to leave for the creatures of the East/Air--the birds. I take a sack full of dried corn for the animals of the South/Fire--the deer. I take a small box of my son's fish food and chip a hole in the ice and dump it in if I'm going to be near a river or stream for the creatures of the West/Water--the fish. Or, failing access to streams, I take a small bottle of pure water and offer it to the West, all the while visualizing clean waterways and aquifers. And I take a few nuts in the shell saved from the Fall to leave in the North--either as food for the critters, or hopefully to work their way into the ground and become the seeds of new trees.
Since I know I'll be cold and hungry when I return, I prepare my food and drink ahead of time as much as possible. Because this is the seed time of the year (when seeds begin to germinate in the ground, etc.) and because it is so snowy white, I try to eat mostly foods made with eggs, grains, nuts and seeds. I drink milk, hot chocolate (brown for the Earth) with lots of marshmallows and/or cream (white), or a favorite tea to which I add milk. (Milk is an important component of my Imbolc meals because not only is it white, it is the first food of the new baby lambs born at this time of year, and as such, it represents life itself. If you are lactose intolerant try drinking Lact-aid milk or, better yet, drink goat's milk. They also are born early in the year.)
Imbolc also represents the season of hope to me. I know that when Imbolc arrives the back of Winter has been broken and Spring will soon come. It's not just a matter of faith. I know it, and my Imbolc walk verifies that for me. Hope is something we often lose sight of, yet it is a very important part of our psychological health and our Magical personas. For this reason, I suggest the indoor part of your ritual be centered around hope. Think about the different things you hope for in your life, the life of your family, the community in which you live, and the Earth Herself. Make yourself a list of these things. Then buy (or make) one white candle for each hope. Have a holder for each. You'll also need a knife, traditionally a white-handled one, some matches, and an incense of your own choosing in your ritual space. I like to have flowers on my altar to remind me of the coming Spring. I choose white flowers. You choose whatever you like. As usual, arrange for your own comfort in your ritual space.
Now get ready for your walk (if indeed you're going on one). Don't forget your offerings, and don't forget to dress for the weather. Now get to where you're going. Once you've arrived begin your walk where you will. There's no heavy duty/serious intent to this walk. Its sole point is to convince you that Winter is nearly over, and Spring is indeed coming, and in fact has begun underground and in "interior" ways. Look with intent for these signs, and let your mind casually range over the whole subject of cycles and transitions, endings and beginnings, frost and foreshadowing. Look closely at the branches of trees and notice the size of the buds. They're huge—much bigger than you might think at this cold time of the year. Look on the ground for animal tracks.
Along with the usual deer and rabbit tracks, you might be surprised to find skunk tracks, and the tracks of other hibernating animals. Warmth is returning within the Earth, the days are getting warmer and longer, and Mother Nature has begun Her season of growth and activity within the Earth. This change has temporarily awakened some of the hibernating animals. They sleepily leave their dens and burrows and stumble around in the warm light of the sun for a while before returning to their beds to sleep it off until Spring fully arrives. You may also see bits of fur and bone surrounded by the beautiful imprints of wing edges in the snow. They've left by an owl or a hawk who has recently fed on one of the creatures scurrying across the snow. Such things are grim reminders that we are still in the season of the hunter and not the farmer.
If the Winter has been a particularly bad one, you may come across the frozen carcasses of those animals who have died of starvation. Another reminder that Nature is not always kind and gentle, warm and fuzzy. This would be a good time to begin leaving your food offerings to the animal spirits of the four directions if you haven't done so already. If you are lucky enough to be near a stream or a river, be sure to dig around a little bit at the edge of the stream/river. If you can get down deep enough you will probably be surprised to see green and growing things beneath the snow and ice at the water's edge. Once you've left your offerings, invoke the Goddess of green and growing things in your mind. Thank Her for the life that has already begun within the Earth and send Her some energy to enhance Her emergence into Spring.
Return home now, continuing to notice the Mysteries of Life and of Nature hidden in plain sight right before your eyes. Upon arriving home have something hot to drink and something warm to eat. That should take the chill off your body and insides. Relax for a few minutes and then prepare yourself for ritual in your usual manner. Then adjourn to your sacred space. Light your altar candles (white, if you ask me) and your incense. Ground and center for a few minutes. Now, with your list of hopes at land, pick up your knife and one of your white candles. Inscribe that hope on your candle. (Actually cut the word or words into the wax of the candle.) Meditate on that hope becoming fulfilled as you do so. See it working in your mind's eye. Place that candle in its holder and light it, continuing to meditate upon that hope until you feel done with it. Move on to your next hope and repeat the process with it. Continue in this manner until all your candles have been inscribed and lit.
Now sit and enjoy the beauty of the scene before you. All those beautiful white candles glowing in the dark. In aggregate they represent the increased light of the sun; the white of the Winter snows and the white of new beginnings for your hopes; and the increasing warmth at the interior of the Earth which causes the germination of the seed ideas of your hopes. What you do next is up to you. It would be my preference to let the candles burn down until they go out, the going out of the candle symbolizing the final release of your Magic/hopes into the world. (Actually the release has been happening little by little as the words inscribed on the candles begin to burn away.) It would also be my preference that, while the candles continue to burn, you go to bed, still visualizing your wishes coming to pass as you go to sleep. Your sleeping body beneath its blankets then becomes a living representation of the germination of your hopes/ideas in the ground, beneath the blankets of snow. However, there are safety issues involved here. You may prefer instead to blow out the candles before going to bed. (You can still go to sleep visualizing the things you want to come to pass.) If this is your choice, you can then re-light the candles and let them burn down at a time (or times) when you will be around to keep track of them.
Whichever way you decide to do it, enjoy your Imbolc and may you have pleasant dreams.
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