At the beginning of February, we celebrate a strange and wonderful holiday known as Groundhog Day. We are told that if the prophetic groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow on this day and runs quickly back into his burrow, winter will last at least 6 more weeks.
The idea of waiting and watching for the first inkling of spring is not new. The ancient Celts celebrated Imbolc in early February long before Groundhog Day existed. Celtic stories tell us that the Cailleach—the divine hag Goddess who rules over winter and death—gathers firewood for the rest of the winter on Imbolc. If the Goddess Cailleach wishes to make the winter last a lot longer, she will make sure that the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. But, if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.
The Cailleach was worshipped by the Celts as the sacred Earth Mother in her bare winter form. And she is not just a dark and evil hag who arbitrarily decides how long winter will be. The Cailleach is also the Bone Mother who collects the bones of the animals that die in the winter. The Bone Mother is said to sing or pray or sleep over the bones all winter long. She does this out of love, so that the animals will cross over and can return as new life in the spring.
There is a magic to Imbolc and the early days of February. It is there, running just beneath the surface. Can you feel it?
Mama Earth holds the seeds of spring safe for us all winter. As the cold wind blows and the snow piles up, she holds them safe in her soil.
The wheel of the year is slowly turning towards spring and new growth. And beneath the surface of Mama Earth, the seeds are beginning to quietly stir. Spring is stirring in the ground beneath our feet.
Imbolc is traditionally celebrated at the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. In 2020, this halfway point falls on February 4.
Light a candle or two tonight, and offer up a simple prayer of gratitude in honor of Mama Earth and the return of spring.