Imbolc is my most favorite of the pagan holidays. It comes after the winter solstice and before the spring equinox and assures us that the sun has indeed come back, which is a very good thing, a cause for celebration as warmth and light suffuse and drive away the icy cold of the winter.
From the times of my earliest pagan ancestors, Imbolc represented much more. In those days the ability of people to survive the winter was completely due to the steps taken earlier in the year to store adequate foods, herbs, and medicines to anticipate any needs that might arise. There was no country store, there were no state-run utilities, there was no urgent care. You put up the supplies that you needed and hoped that you had not miscalculated.
By the time Imbolc rolled around those stores would have been depleted. Would there be enough food to sustain people until the weather warmed and the crops began to develop and provide? The days were longer but there were still weeks of cold weather ahead and the danger was not over yet.
The gift of Imbolc is that the sheep and cattle began to give milk again. Cheese could be made and that cheese could suffice as a protein source bridging the winter into the spring. What a life saver; because of the possibility of cheese and milk people had a chance of adequate nutrition and the promise of being able to live into the next year. This was never promised, never a sure thing, but what hope it must have brought in the icy blues and grays of a midwinter landscape. So one makes the cheese with the milk that had been given and then one eats that cheese in hopes of surviving until life became a bit easier.
The timing of Imbolc and my life circumstance makes for good reflection. I am in the winter of my life. I have advanced cancer and have run out of treatments to try and keep it at bay. Will Imbolic bridge this time until a time when more treatments may be available? Whatever it is I am all in – I will eat all the metaphorical cheese I can find if the spirits provide.
The strange thing is that this is happening for me right now. My last scan showed that my cancer was growing once again. While I thought that meant that I would be handed over to hospice forthwith, I was not! Imbolc announced itself through my oncologist opting to continue my treatment on existing medication knowing that the cancer would continue to grow but at a slow pace. Through my personal Imbolc I will ride that medicine through the growth of my cancer until it is so threatening that changes must be made. Then I will transition to the only remaining available treatment in hopes that this too will buy time until another treatment becomes available through the FDA. If it does not then it is on to hospice. If it does become available then Imbolc will have indeed bridged the two seasons for me.
The blessing and grace of Imbolc have given me the hope that even in my diminished state I am providing healing and service to the goddess, yet I am also aware that there is an element of gift in this as well. For this I am grateful.