Scattering Violets

An exploration of funerary traditions and innovations, care of the dead, and pagan perspectives on death

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

The Quickening: Imbolc and Related Holidays

We have been in the long dark for the past few months. Cold, snowy weather and the now-ever-present threat of serious disease have kept us inside our homes, bundled in cozy clothes and blankets, sipping our tea or coffee or hot cocoa. We’re expecting yet another snowstorm here in the eastern U.S., more to add to the snow that hasn’t left us from the last one. We yearn to step out into light and warmth, feel soft grass beneath our feet, but not yet. Still, the time of long light will come again. The days are already beginning to gradually unfurl like the fronds of a fern.


Over the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking through how I relate to the cycle of holidays that are the culmination of the seasons in which they are couched. It’s important to me that my holy days honor and celebrate my Gods, spirits, and environment as well as my connection to them. Next week, many Pagans will celebrate Imbolc, Oimelg, St. Brighid’s Day, Candlemas, and/or Groundhog Day. All of these holidays hold the hope of a kindling or quickening, the first movements required before emergence. Imbolc, many of us know, is typically translated from Irish as “in the belly,” and Oimelg means “ewe’s milk.” Both of these reference the pregnancy of sheep – important animals for pastoral societies – in the quickening of the lambs and the lactation of their mothers to prepare for their birth.


Somewhat similarly, Candlemas in Christianity marks the formal presentation of the infant Christ in the Jewish Temple to the Abrahamic God. A popular epithet of Christ, the Light of the World associates Him with light in general, and it is traditional on this day for candles to be blessed in churches for the year ahead. St. Brighid’s Day, too, is a festival of light, as Brighid is the patron saint of the forge as well as healing and poetry, and She comes bearing a candle in a traditional procession through the home.


Groundhog Day is the continuation of an old tradition of predicting the weather and farming season for the coming year on this day. The animal in question is, as the name suggests, typically a groundhog here in the U.S., but it can also be a bear, snake, badger, or hedgehog, depending on the biosphere. All of these creatures burrow in the earth or stow away in dens for the winter and begin their emergence in early spring. To see one of these this early on provides hope that winter will end soon.


The worship of the Mothers, specifically of mountains (called the Matronae Berguiahenae in various inscriptions found in western Germany), is a prominent aspect of my religion. I live in South Central Appalachia, and many of my ancestors and living family members were and are mountain people. Mountains have always felt like home to me, whether I was living in Idaho, Bavaria, or Georgia. I knew I wanted to live among mountains since I was a teenager, and when I finally made that move with my family, I quickly felt rooted to a place for the first time in my memory. So, as I’ve been honing my personal religious practices, I’ve looked to local traditions as well as traditions found in mountainous regions of Europe, especially the Alps where so much rich folklore has been beautifully maintained.


Animal husbandry has traditionally been a crucial economy for the small communities scattered across valleys couched among mountains. The soil can be rocky and hard to farm, but rugged animals like sheep and goats, as well as certain breeds of cattle, are able to thrive in the tough terrain. Naturally, seasonal cycles for these communities are often marked by transhumance – the movement of herds and flocks. Herders would lead their herds upland in the spring, where it was cooler and fresh greens could be found, staying in small summer homes. In the fall, they would lead their herds back down into the valleys for the winter, where it was milder and less treacherous. Holidays would ritualize and celebrate these transitions, such as the autumn Alpabzug in Switzerland, where cattle would be led from the mountains through town, decked in garlands of flowers.


This is something I can connect with in my own life. I love hiking – following trails along winding creeks, exploring mountainous forests and catching glimpses of wildlife, climbing rocks and getting dirty and enjoying the wind combing my hair – as well as taking leisurely drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which traces the crests of certain ridges. I love to explore and wander; it’s when I feel my purest and most myself. In the winter, though, the Parkway closes due to the dangers of ice, and hiking is harder and less enjoyable. I tend to cozy up inside whenever possible, venturing out only for necessities: work and grocery shopping. I’m not unlike other animals in this way: the bears, foxes, rabbits, snakes, and, yes, groundhogs in their dens. We are, in poetic terms, very much “in the belly”: the belly of the earth; the belly of my home. While I enjoy the coziness and quiet of winter, I feel myself quickening at this time of year, restless and yearning to emerge.


So, like many of my ancestors, I light candles to perform the imitative magic that encourages growing light.  I purify myself, spiritually and physically, to wash away the doldrums and make myself new. I give milk, butter, cheese, and crepes – all fertility and solar symbols – to my Mountain Mothers, via my Corn Mother effigy that I made last fall from local maize sheaves. I also eat these in a ritual meal of communion. By offering and consuming these, I bid more health, wealth, and growth to come. This is my quickening. And then I – like the roots in the earth, the creatures in their dens, and the buds forming on the branches of trees – wait for the time to emerge.

Last modified on
The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, and spirit worker and traveler. Her work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans and Hagstone Publishing's Stone, Root, and Bone ezine. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  


Additional information