49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives
Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Witch.
The Canadian Imbolc Conundrum
On Imbolc, it was snow-raining and the middle of flu season. I intended to have a gathering at my metaphysical store, but there were so many last minute cancellations that I decided to skip it. I went home and lit a candle from a wick that was lit from Brighid’s shrine at Kildare, and I quietly contemplated and looked to Light`s return.
I believe that Imbolc is kind of a strange holiday for most Canadian Pagans. More often than not, the groundhog tells us we’re going to get six more weeks of winter. According to the lore, it’s the time when the snow starts to melt, the bees start to appear, crocuses and daffodils start emerging from the snow, the animals start bringing forth young and the ewes and the cows start giving milk. Even in the southern portions of our big piece of land, such as the Okanagan Valley where I live, the climate is similar to Oregon State, and so things are still covered in snow and if we’re lucky, we might be seeing a hint of mud. Weather starts to turn from snow to rain and is quite frankly, a nasty cold, often foggy drizzle, similar to a time I once saw described in a Stephen King story as “Strawberry Spring.” Every once in a while we get a Chinook (a warming wind coming down from the mountains) but you can’t rely on it, and even the first pussy willows are usually a week or two away. None of these signs of the thawing really start happening until around the beginning of March, halfway between Imbolc and the Vernal Equinox, and farther north it’s even worse; from Prince George north (the geographical centre of BC, but not of its population,) or especially in Northern Ontario (which is at a similar latitude) you don’t get flowers until April or maybe even May. So how do you celebrate Imbolc when so many signs associated with it simply are not present?
Some of us simply choose not to celebrate it at all. In the middle of flu season, it’s hard to organize a gathering, and even in Canada, some of us just don’t like driving in the snow if we can avoid it. But for me, and many others, we shift our focus a little. At the 49th Parallel, which is just a little north of about 72% of our population, daylight at the Winter Solstice is only eight hours and 14 minutes long. That’s a lot of night! In Vernon (50 degrees north,) my hometown, the day at the Winter Solstice was only seven hours long; at Imbolc, it was almost two hours longer. I, for one, was ready for more sunshine!
For me, Imbolc is a quiet ceremony, even if I do share it publicly. It involves the lighting of candles, the celebration of hope, and honouring of the hearth and its activities. Symbols I make use of are the Phoenix, rising from the flames, bringing new hope and new life in her wake, and the goddess Brighid. She’s especially appropriate for me because I am part of a sisterhood that keeps Her flame around the world (started by Canadian Mael Brigde a.k.a. C. June Wolf,) and She represents all those things that I value at this time. Light, warmth, hope, nurturing; Her “Fire in the Head” is even appropriate because I find the period between the Winter Solstice and its holiday craziness, and the Vernal Equinox and the
first stirrings of Festival Season, to be a fertile creative period. I write, I paint, I make music; I start new projects and put out feelers to see what the coming year will bring.
Other Canadians handle it differently, depending where they live in the vastness of our great land, with its varying climates and landscapes. I put the question to a Facebook group for Canadian Pagans; how do you celebrate Imbolc, and how do you deal with the inconsistencies in the lore of what happens and the actual seasonal changes of your area?
Sheena Mac Isaac has lived both in Calgary, Alberta (51 degrees north,) and Ottawa, Ontario (45 degrees north.) She tells me that in Calgary, the Chinook usually came at Imbolc, and so the thawing began and the air temperature changed from very cold and dry (somewhere in the range of -20 Celsius / -4 Fahrenheit) to much warmer and wetter (about zero Celsius / 32 Fahrenheit). Now that she lives in our more southerly capital city, where the climate is humid as opposed to the dryness of the prairie near the Rockies, she has noticed that the maple sap rises at about this time of year and the ducks begin to return from their southerly migration, and she finds that this suits the theme of the Sabbat well.
For Charlene Ross, who is a Druid living in Prince George (53 and a half degrees north,) the self-proclaimed “capital of Northern BC” and certainly its largest and most significant city, Imbolc is pretty much as it is for me; a celebration of Brighid, in which she makes healing Brighid water for the year, centered around the return of visible light. She’s about a ten hour drive north of me (about a thousand kilometers or a little over 620 miles) so the change in the length of the day is more visibly different there than it is even here in the Okanagan! My sister-in-spirit Rowean, who grew up on a homestead farm near Prince George, tells me that Imbolc even in Northern BC does mark the time when cows calf and give milk, but you have to watch them closely and be careful that their newborn ears don’t get frostbitten, especially in a cold snap. It’s a good five degrees Celsius on average colder there than here at this time of year, according to Environment Canada.
On the other hand, Angelica Gallant and Janus Bellator, friends of mine in the Lower Mainland (that’s the area around Vancouver, which, being right on the 49th Parallel, is similar to the Pacific Northwest in climate,) tell me that since they live in the “Lower Rainland,” the standard lore of Imbolc is fairly accurate for them and they don’t see any incongruence. They look for the return of the stellar jays and the blooming of the crocuses. I look for the stellar jays too, but for crocuses and daffodils I have to wait until early March, closer to my birthday.
Next Blog: The challenge of finding religious equality for Pagans in Canada.
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