Imbolc has seized my attention. It always does. It’s particularly easy for me to feel the shift from the energy of the winter solstice to the energy of this cross-quarter point. It comes to me as renewed creativity, ideas for stories and poems, energy to carry them out. It manifests as lessened depression, greater physical energy, a desire to open the windows even if it’s cold, to get out of the house while the sun is shining.
I say “Imbolc”, but I don’t follow a Celtic path. (I should have known Celtic options weren’t for me when I failed to make any kind of connection with Brigid.) It’s just that most people know the February cross-quarter day by that name. I could also call it the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as older Christian calendars did, or the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, as it’s generally known now. Both of those titles derive from the story in the Gospel of Luke that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the Law of Moses by presenting the infant Jesus in the Temple and sacrificing two pigeons or doves to restore his mother to ritual purity for religious and social functions.
Colloquially, it was known as Candlemas from the Middle Ages onward. Churches blessed the candles that would be used in the liturgy and in people’s homes during the coming year, associating their light with the hymn from the story of the Presentation: “To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel”. If your parish is sufficiently high church, it’s one of those lovely occasions when everyone present gets a lighted candle and the whole church is illuminated with their glow.
When I finally figured out that I was a polytheist committed to a particular set of gods, I tried to ignore the neopagan Wheel of the Year. There were plenty of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman holy days associated with Antinous, along with days specific to his life and cultus. But however much I tried to ignore it, the Wheel is just… there. As I’ve said before, while the Wheel of the Year is a syncretic, 20th-century invention, it corresponds to real events in astronomy, astrology, weather patterns, and local seasons, and to a plethora of historical festivals. While no culture anywhere ever celebrated the Wheel, a lot of different cultures celebrated a lot of different feasts that happened to coincide with those eight dates.
In Antinoan cultus, we observe the Stella Antinoi on January 29th. The god’s defeat of the restrictive archons of the underworld culminates in his ascent to the heavens as Navigator of the celestial Boat of Millions of Years. We commemorate the appearance of a new star in the constellation of the Eagle shortly after his death, a confirmation of his divinity. Antinoan devotees frequently observe Lupercalia, the Roman festival of purification and fertility in the middle of February.
For me this season is about fire and ice: Bright sun shining on patches of ice on the sidewalk. Shoots of grass and crocus flower pushing up from the dirt on bitterly cold days. Biting winds and the mourning doves begin to call again, the house sparrows beginning to do their absurd little mating dances. Something changes in the sky, and something in the earth shifts to meet it; the serpent in the earth rises up to meet the bird descending from on high.