Tuesday, February 1, 2011


The wheel of the year turns once more, and we arrive at Imbolc, one of the four "cross-quarters" or turning points of the Celtic agricultural year. This is a festival sacred to Bride (a.k.a. Bridgit)--an Irish Goddess or Saint (you choose!) One excellent reflection on this festival can be found here. Here on the farm, we're celebrating in grand style: we're going to play at yoghurt-making while pumpkin soup simmers on the woodstove. There are also rumours of a whipped-cream cake in the making, to be flavoured with lavender or whisky!

For Northern, pre-industrial folk, this was a hard time indeed, as winter storage foods dwindled and the prospect of new nourishment glimmered and wavered far off in hunger's haze. Imagine, then, the joy that came with fresh milk as lambing time approached and the ewes "bagged up" in preparation! The old name for this cross-quarter is "Imbolc," from old Celtic words for "ewe's milk." Traditional feast items for this time featured milk and cream and butter and cheese. If you don't have time for fancy stuff, celebrate by making a yoghurt smoothie!

In the deep February cold, this was also a time to celebrate fire--the fire of creation, captured in the blacksmith's work as well as the poet's inspiration. Smiths and poets were celebrated along with midwives and dairy animals. In fresh milk and creative fire, the hopes of earthborne people are renewed!

Here is a bit of bardic work for Imbolc, with a nod to Robbie Burns, Violet Jacob, and other Scots poetic forebears. (Hmmm. Haggis & Neeps might deserve a place on tonight's table, as well. They, too, are seasonally-appropriate elements for an Imbolc feast!) The poem incorporates the imagery of the "Cailleach," (pronounced KYLE-yok) or Old Woman of Winter, whose silver hammer kept the ground hard and cold until Spring.


When yon Auld Grannie gyres an gimps
an unco dance on cranreuch groond
an gies her sillar curls a crimp,
Ye ken that Imbolc's comin roond.

When sillar hammers, blaw for blaw
fa habber-haird in hinmaist hone
then haud ye fast, for soon the thaw
will prize awa cauld winter's loan.

Nae lang she'll lanesame bide, nor sup
Wi'oot the dochter she lo'es best;
Nae grannie redds the kailyaird up
But for the thocht o some comin guest!

Nae mair the lanesame anvil-drum
Will mark the pace o Grannie's dance--
The Lass o the Lintin Wand shall come
An lowpin lambies hae their chaunce--

For Grannie Cailleach's time grows short
An wee snaw-drappies rowthie ring
for Bridgit cams, blithe hope tae sport
An after Bridgit cams-- the Spring!

--copyright Mainecelt 2011

Glossary: unco=strange, cranreuch=frosty, ken=know, Imbolc=Celtic Feast/source of Groundhog's Day, blaw=blow, fa=fall, habber=stutter, hinmaist=last, haud=hold, prize=pry, awa=away, wi'oot=without, dochter=daughter, redds the kailyaird up=cleans the place, thocht=thought, comin=coming, Lintin Wand=glinting wand of Bridgit, lowpin=leaping, chaunce=chance, Cailleach=crone/Celtic Earth-Goddess, snaw-drappies=snowdrops, rowthie=abundantly, cams=comes, blithe=joyous


Mama Pea said...

As Mr. Emerson (Ralph Waldo) said, "This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it." Celebrate the seasons, celebrate life! Cheers!

Susan said...

There is a lot of comfort in knowing that people have gone through these long, dark days and have come out alive and well in the light of spring. Lovely history and lovely poetry. Thank you!