It comes to us in the bleakest part of winter, when the festivities have passed, we’re long back in our routine, and the coldness stretches out long ahead of us. Imbolc. Late January through mid-February is this season that for many is the most difficult time of the year.
Yet Imbolc doesn’t come without hope. Imbolc tells us that the Light is returning. Daylight began to increase after the Winter Solstice, and now we are midway between Solstice and Equinox, when Dark and Light will be balanced.
At Imbolc, we feel the first stirrings of life within the womb of the earth. The plants are tracking the light, counting the hours, planning their resurgence above ground. Daylight is noticeably longer. The cold is deep, but the light is returning.
This is a precious time of year. It is a time to check in with the intentions you set at Solstice: are you nourishing those seeds? It is a time to set further intentions for the season and the year ahead. But above all, it is a time to embrace the pause within to find ourselves and to purify for the new year.
In ancient Rome, it was common to spend the whole month of February cleansing and preparing for the new year, which began at the Equinox. Februarius menses means “the month of ritual purification.”
When we talk about purification, we do not imply that we are somehow “dirty,” “unclean,” or “impure.” These are false concepts. A more helpful thought is, “What is no longer serving me that I can leave behind as I move into the next season?”
Lately, I’ve been focused on stories. What are the stories that I tell myself? What narratives do I enact in my day-to-day life? What stories do I believe? What stories do I live out? Above all: What stories are not mine?
We exist within a tapestry of stories: stories from our communities, our lineage, our place of origin, our government, advertisers, parents, and siblings. We draw our realities from these stories, along with the stories we read and hear through art and media. We use our experiences to write stories of our own, stories that stay with us and frame our identities. To live among stories is to be a human, a social being shaped not just by our own DNA but by the web of life around us. It is natural, and it is healthy.
But not all stories are helpful. Not all stories serve our greater good. Some stories are stories of limitation, of lack, of fear, of mislabeled identity, of undeservingness.
As we are held within the pause of winter, as we honor the Imbolc season, let us examine and release a story that is no longer serving us.
- CREATE SACRED SPACE. Set aside a quiet time for yourself when you won’t be interrupted. Create a space that feels safe and magical. Turning the lights off and lighting candles accomplishes this pretty quickly. Smudging or burning incense is helpful, too.
- BREW SOMETHING BITTER. Prepare a bitter tea for yourself. Bitter herbs help to flush the system of waste products. Good herbs for this include feverfew, dandelion, white yarrow, chamomile, or rosemary. If you don’t have these at hand, black coffee or dark chocolate will do.
- OPEN YOUR RITUAL. Use sound to “open” your ritual. If you have a drum or a rattle or singing bowl, make it sing. If not, any sort of chanting, humming, or noisemaking can help to set the tone
- CENTER IN YOUR BREATH. Breathe deeply through your nose, filling your chest and abdomen, exhaling completely. Take five full breaths in this way.
- FIND THE STORY. Continue breathing deeply and focus your energy in your heart space. Ask yourself, “What story am I carrying that is no longer serving me?” Let you mind be open and notice what comes to you.
- EXAMINE THE STORY. Lie down in Savasana. Hold the story in your consciousness. How does this story play out in your life? How do you enact the story? Do you know where the story is from? Consider these answers as an observer, without judgement or criticism.
- RELEASE THE STORY. Shift your awareness to your body. Where in your body does this story live? What does it look like and feel like? Does it have a texture? Visualize the story detaching from your body and flowing out through your arms and legs. What does it look like as it leaves your body? How does your body feel in its absence? The story will go back to the earth to be composted, changed in form to a more helpful state.
- REWRITE THE STORY. There is now an empty space in your body where the story was living. What would you like to fill it? Is there a truth that you would like to plant there? Simply a pure white light? Imagine this new quality filling your body.
- CONSUMMATE THE CLEANSING. Gently rise and take hold of your bitter tea. Acknowledge to yourself that you have released the story, and sip the tea. As you take the tea into your body, feel it clearing away any last threads of the story that were still attached. If you have any smudge on hand, you may wish to smudge now.
- CLOSE YOUR RITUAL. Use the same sound that you used at the start to close the ritual. Enter slowly back into the mundane world.
Rituals are not one-stop solutions. Some stories have been with us since birth and will thus be harder to extricate. Some stories are continuously drilled into us via the news and media. But the power in this ritual lies in the fact that you will now recognize this story is in fact a story, and not your truth. You will notice when you are living out a narrative that is not yours, and you will realize that you have the power to accept it or let it pass by. Happy Imbolc.
Reference: Eight Sabbats for Witches by Janet & Stewart Farrar. Pheonyx Publishing, Inc. 1981.