Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Imbolc and the New Year

I’ve always been something of a contrarian—that is, if everyone else is doing something, I generally don’t want to have anything to do with it (see my poem ‘Wedding,’ for instance). Perhaps that explains why I feel conflicted about New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

Speaking about the New Year at the beginning of August may sound a bit peculiar, but allow me to explain.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about belonging, due to my European ancestry (as well as my related interests in certain cultures, aesthetics, landscapes and folklore), I sometimes feel as if I have a northern soul residing inside my southern body. Though I live in Australia, it is the seasonal symbolism and traditions of the northern hemisphere that make the most sense to me. The problem with this is that if you simply overlay the northern (Western) calendar onto the southern one, everything ends up topsy-turvy: Christmas/Yule and the New Year (winter festivals) fall in summer, Easter and Beltane (spring festivals) take place in autumn, and Samhain (an autumn festival) ends up taking place in spring. Thus, the meaning and symbolism is turned upside down. 

Though I cannot escape all mention of the New Year in December–January, and changing to a new calendar is still something of an occasion, I do try to ignore it as much as possible. All the summertime festivities and fireworks seem brash to me, not in keeping with what is required. And people often joke about how they make resolutions, only to break them within days or weeks. I’ve never seen the point. What’s more, I am not one for big parties or crowds, and I dislike fireworks. (I remember my first experience of them was when I was about three, and I found them frightening, too loud, as most small children would, I suppose. I’ve never liked them much since. For all their colour, they are, after all, explosions!)

For me, the dark, introspective period of winter, with its gradual passage into spring, is far more suited to reflection on the year that has been, and transitioning into the new life of the next. That’s why I feel like my New Year (or a new beginning, at least), should happen now.

It has become important to me to pay attention to the seasons, in order to ground myself in the place where I live, and to come up with my own way of marking important points in the year’s turning, so I have reversed the northern wheel of the year so that it makes sense here. This has been partly inspired by reading Jane Meredith’s book, Circle of Eight: Creating Magic for Your Place on Earth (2015), and learning about her own frustration with books about pagan festivals and the like, which are so often written from a purely northern point of view, failing to address the fact that things are different ‘down here’ (and different again in the equatorial and polar zones).

Hence, today I am marking Imbolc—pronounced i-molg—a Celtic celebration of renewal, fertility and the coming of spring. The word is said to mean ‘in the womb/belly,’ in reference to the ewes who would be pregnant at this time of year; though also, I think, referring to the earth herself, who is clearly full of imminent life about to burst forth. 

Most sources say that it is celebrated around 1st February in the north, so the corresponding date in the south is 1st August. However, the Celts didn’t have a calendar as we do, and their concept of time was more elastic. Though the solstices and equinoxes, as astronomical events, occur on definite, though slightly differing, days each year, the dates of the cross-quarter festivals are less certain. Some suggest that calculating the exact middle day between the solstice and the equinox would be how the day was decided upon; but it’s also possible that the Celts, as venerators of the lunar cycle, would have marked such celebrations at the new moon closest to that middle day. 

That is why I am marking my own personal version of Imbolc today, to coincide with the dark moon.

Though at the same time, Imbolc, for me, is not a single day, but a longer period of time, perhaps several weeks—and also a feeling

The days are getting imperceptibly longer, and the sun is arcing ever so slightly higher in the sky, and that means spring is on the way. Though it is still cold—we’ve been haunted by fitful winter winds, and now rain and gloom—and it will be some time before the full seasonal transition takes place, I can feel it coming. The air will soon begin to take on a different quality. It will have a smell. Whether this fragrance is related to the increasing warmth or sunshine, yet to come green shoots or blossoms, I don’t know, but it will be noticeable, and welcomed. It is the heady perfume of spring.

Spring has always had a powerful impact on my mood, and often an energising effect too, and I have begun to notice this over the past week or so. I feel tingling with possibility. For, after writing last week’s post, which came about specifically because I had been unable to write, I did feel enlivened. My creative wellspring began to flow a little more, and I wrote another piece I needed to get done, and completed a short story that I had started a few weeks before that. Then, as the idea of Imbolc began to seep into my consciousness, I was inspired to start work on this post. Who knows what will come next!

It seems fitting, therefore, that my New Year begins now, with the upward swing of the wheel after the lowest point of the winter solstice; with the gradual waxing of the moon after its dark phase; and with creativity growing in me, just as it grows in the earth. 

It seems there is indeed something in the belly.


  1. I so much agree with alot of what you have written here. I also celebrate my new year around this time.

    I also personally believe that the Wheel cycles through each day, as well as each season.


    1. Thank you, sarah. I agree. I'm learning that there are cycles everywhere, constant new beginnings. Outer seasons, inner seasons, cycles of creativity and health/illness. There is much to explore, and to learn to come into greater awareness of.

  2. "...and it will be some time before the full seasonal transition takes place, I can feel it coming."

    With me, I notice a change, leading to Autumn, here in the Northern Hemisphere. And after a burning July, it is very, very welcome.

    A tiny Thank You. For blogging, without many comments.

    It very well may sound silly, but it "bucks me up", to see blogs, into which people have put heart and soul, but which don't seem to be "applauded," with many comments. Comments being the blogging way of receiving "thank you's" for posting.

    Needing them, is a curse. Trying to recover from that curse, is difficult. And yet, without comments, it can be freeing.

    Thank you...

    1. Hello Luna. Yes, the transition into autumn has its own feeling, and fragrance, yet I find the spring transition to be a particularly powerful one for me. There is a waking up, a reenergising of life. It tingles and pulses.

      And thank you for your thank you. I haven't had many comments on the blog so far, but have had some others on FB and via email. I am just starting out, just trying to make my way in this space. It is early days yet, so I am practising patience, doing the work regardless of what feedback I get.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. Every comment and every new reader makes a difference.

    2. I have been blogging for years, in different places.

      And over time, I have struggled with the issue of.... "Why don't I get more comments?" And this struggle, has marred my blogging experience.

      Starting anew, I am determined not to let this, mar this experience. By simply posting what I feel like, on both my blogs, it is being freeing, too. Because when "courting" comments, I can tend to mold my posting, to what it seems, others may like.<--Not this time. -smile-

      And it encourages me, to see other blogs, where there are not "millions of comments." Which is probably very shallow of me. But being honest, it is so.

      I hope you do have "millions" of people, come and comment!! Yes! I do!

      And I will count myself wise, to have found you, early.

      Gentle hugs...

    3. I must admit that I became discouraged early on. It was all so exciting at first, and then the number of comments and views dropped off, and I wondered whether it was worth all the effort. But as my blog grew, the views began to increase. People do come back, and I have a few followers.

      I've also been surprised by which posts have been most popular. But like you, I don't want what is 'popular' to mould what I do, or to be 'courting' comments. I want to be free to post according to my own whims and interests. I simply trust that the people who most need to read what I write will arrive, with time.

      Thank you, again.

  3. I must confess that I was a little surprised at the mention of a New Year in August, but I can see now where you are coming from. It may be challenging to invert seasons and festivals across hemispheres, but your indications of new life through the gentle nudging of signs of spring resonate along with the subtle but definite shift towards new life and a new year. How wonderful to feel the stirrings of creativity again and the scent of change in the air. All the best for Imbolc.

    1. Thank you! While the western calendar might be necessary, for practical reasons, I think that we should all have 'local calendars' that correspond to the seasons where we live, and our own perspective on the world. It's not always easy to go against the grain of society, but I find it necessary … And spring is definitely in the air.


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