by Danu Forest
Scroll down to hear the audio file on Imbolc.
January and February can often feel like a strange bleak time, the weather and long hours indoors can depress the spirits and make one feel like life is on hold until the spring, but with a little effort it’s possible to see signs of new life all around…
Many trees will be showing their first new buds by now. Look out for tiny black nodules on Ash tree twigs alongside bunches of dried brown ‘Ash keys’ – the dangling seed pods make this tree easy to identify. Alder which like to grow near water but is also a favourite in deciduous hedges and along roads can be spotted by its round black seed cones and new distinctive pinkish dangling catkins. Pale golden-green catkins are also found on hazel at this time of year, and the white fuzzy catkins of the pussy willow are particularly pretty. A beautiful centrepiece for the home can be made by cutting 1-3 foot long whippy hazel, silver birch or willow twigs and standing them in a tall vase of water somewhere warm and sunny. Within about 2 or 3 weeks the twigs will come into flower and leaf in the vase.
The first flowers will be on their way soon, and even if there is snow these little plants are always very tough and well used to all that January and February can throw at them. A walk in the woods or the local park as well as the garden may well reveal the first snowdrops now, but also look out for the small golden sunbursts of lesser celandine and the white starry carpets of woodland anemone- a popular garden plant as well for this time of year.
A good way to bring some nature and spring promise into the home is to set up a seasonal altar, as a focus for meditation etc or just as a way to remind yourself of the more spiritual sides of life. This can be something very simple or elaborate depending on your tastes, but at this time of year a something like a white pillar candle, and some natural treasure like attractive shaped stones from the beach, or a budding vase of twigs can be very effective visually and still have some meaning symbolically. Small pots of bulbs such as narcissus or hyacinths also work well, although according to folklore it’s unlucky to bring snowdrops into the house.
This time of year can be a treasure for the soul; time indoors encouraging rest and contemplation if we flow with natures rhythms rather than resist them, a time of dreaming and making plans as well as a chance to slow down and become really present to our lives. If you can, try to get out into nature even for a while and see for yourselves the first signs of new life stirring around you. Ahead is the Celtic festival of Imbolc on the 1st or 2nd of February, and beyond that spring is not far. For now we may be locked in winter, but there is still great beauty to be found.
Danu Forest is the author of The Magical Year. has been a practising druid witch and Celtic shaman for over twenty years, has been teaching Celtic shamanism and witchcraft for over a decade, and runs a shamanic consultation and healing practice. She is the author of Nature Spirits: wyrd lore and wild fey magic (Wooden Books), The Druid Shaman (Moon Books) and Celtic Tree Magic (Llewellyn), creates and teaches email correspondence courses, writes a “Danu’s Cauldron” blog for witchesandpagans.com, and has been published in magazines such as Kindred Spirit, Soul and Spirit, and Pagan Dawn. She is also an Ard BanDrui in the Irish Druid Clan of Dana, an ordained priestess, a druid grade member of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates (healers/seers) and Druids) and a member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners.