IMBOLC: THE SWEET WINTER OF THE SOUL
We still reside within the depths Winter. Even now when the Solstice is far behind us – the darkest day so long ago. Light has drawn out slowly – as if Mother Nature herself has been drawing a slow and arduous breath into her powerful lungs, one she must inhale to its fullest before she can at last exhale her warm and life-giving breath upon the lands. An awakening breath which will herald the beginning of Spring. But that is not yet. Not quite. For while she takes this unfathomable inward breath, darkness must continue and the earth still slumbers. Cold air, grey skies, hard ground. Mud and stone. Ice and snow. The shivering lands lay naked and raw. Crude and vulnerable. Bleak.
For many of us a bleak mid-winter is also the Winter of the soul. It can feel dismal and dispiriting. The darkness oppressive. How we crave longer days! Elongated days when the sun caresses our flesh, his burning kisses staining our flushing skin. A lover’s glow. How we yearn for the sweet burst of blossom brushing the trees and the brash explosions of colour powdering Nature’s dazzling cheek. We ache to see her dressed in her most gorgeous finery. Radiant and enchanting.
And so we wait for the change, our breath bated … the suspense delicious. We are desperate for any indication that it is on the way. Light, warmth and life! Oh, how we hunger for it. We become greedy for any sweet glimpse – be it the purest whisper of snowdrops nestled in hedgerows or the flash of a bright and spirited crocus. We are desperate for such delicate hints to quicken our hearts and bring to us Spring’s new soul song. A siren’s song. And we are ready to hear the dulcet tones! So ready…
And yet there is a lesson to be found in the harsh, Winter ground. There is a message given to us in Winter’s sharp, rasp of air. The short days teach us much – if we care to learn. And although we like to be comfortable and joyous; we like to be constantly busy and productive – that is not Winter’s lesson. She brings us the dark and the cold. She gifts us with introversion, introspection and reflection. The Winter darkness is a place to repose. To gather together. To be still and to consolidate.
Winter’s short days invite us to rest. To take stock of ourselves and of our circumstances. To remember what we are grateful for and to contemplate our mistakes. But it also gives us time to conspire – to plan and scheme future endeavours, without the pressure of making them concrete quite yet. Without the burden of immediate manifestation. This is where dreams are designed and plans are conceived.
Winter’s cold brings us homeward, where we can spend quieter days. We are gifted with more unburdened and introverted moments where we can sink into a cloud of blankets and a fortress of cushions in order to escape into the depths of a book, a favourite film or a delightful day-dream. We can indulge our imaginations, allowing them to run wild, barefoot and free. Unfettered. We can feed our insatiable creativity without guilt. Long evenings are muted and muffled in the best of ways, because within them we are not bound to productivity. We can simply dream—and not make dreams our master.
And Winter’s harsh conditions force us within. Deeply inward. With less external distractions we can learn to be kind to and to nourish ourselves. Yes! To eat wholesome food and nourish our bodies – but also to nourish our hearts and our souls. Illuminating what is residing within our own darkness. Coaxing what is the unconscious into consciousness. This is a time to listen to our bodies and what they tell us – where do we hurt, where are we strong and what can we do to be healthier? To listen to our hearts and what they beat for – where do they ache, what makes them joyful and what will fuel that joy? And to listen to our souls and what they yearn for – what will strengthen their growth?
Imbolc emerges as Winter’s last, shuddering sigh and it ignites the glorious spark of new beginnings. But it is worth remembering that, although it is the harbinger of Spring, it does not bring Spring’s comfort nor Spring’s pleasant glow. So as we move forward into lighter times, warming our frozen hands upon Imbolc’s small but significant flames, let’s not underestimate all that winter has cultivated within us. Nor forget that she still has time to teach us more yet – her work is not yet done. For the Dark Night of the Soul always brings its own sweet medicine, though it must be taken with a bitter and blustering wind.