Archive for the ‘“First Sight”’ Tag

Imbolc Moon   Leave a comment

Earlier today my wife and I walked through the brilliant winter sunlight on the neighborhood loop that took us past snowfields already blue with late afternoon shadows.

snowfield

Looking southeast around 3:30 pm

I’ve quoted the Philip Larkin poem “First Sight” before, but today it seemed perfect as a tribute to the goddess whose hearth (or in our case, woodstove) I worship at particularly intensely on these frigid midwinter days.

woodshed

Imbolc as guide: more than half our wood remains.

Spring will come, and as goddess of fire and smithing, Brighid warms and heals and shapes us. Lack of any promising evidence for that change bothers her not at all.

Larkin’s poem means more to us, because just four miles from our house a local farmer milks his herd of some 90 sheep and sells a variety of sweet, rich cheeses in a little shed halfway down the lane to his milk barn. Lambing season is usually later than February in the Northeast, for the simple reason that it’s too cold for the newborns in anything other than a heated shelter. Push the ewes to conceive too early in the fall, and you’ll end up with dead lambs. Larkin captures this time of change in a somewhat milder climate, but still snowy.  Memory had me reciting his lines again to myself as we walked. I had to come back and locate the poem to fill in the gaps I couldn’t bring to mind:

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

snow-lamb

This always moves me — a transfomation we simply cannot see coming merely by looking around us. No evidence here, at least none we can make out. Even, sometimes, a “vast unwelcome.” Life in this world is catalyst. It never leaves us alone. What gifts of the gods and spirits and our own ancestors will wake and grow in us? Will we let ourselves be surprised? Brighid, may it always be so!

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The rangy willow in our backyard has been feeling the sun these past several days. Even with its branches garbed in snow, you can make just make out in the crown of the tree the first faint reddish-green hint of spring in the depths of this February cold. Imbolc upon us. “They could not grasp it if they knew,/What so soon will wake and grow.” Memory of other Februaries wakes and hints at what will return, against the odds.

imbolcwillow

Backyard willow

With the triplet of Imbolc, Groundhog Day (in the U.S.), and a full moon tonight on Feb 3, it seemed right to celebrate today and tonight, the third day of the three. And this evening my wife and I enjoyed homemade potato soup rich with leeks and garlic and sour cream — we practiced the traditional Italian “mangiare in bianco” — literally, “to eat in white” in observance of the moon, without also “eating blandly or lightly,” as the expression can indicate, too.

The hill to our east, cresting perhaps four hundred yards above our roof, delays sunrise and moonrise both. Moonrise tonight “officially” hit Brattleboro VT at 5:09 pm. We wait for it longer here.

At first I thought the image below was a discard. A tree-trunk obscures one edge of the moon, and the horizon is hazy. But then I saw it perfectly captured our Imbolc experience. Slowly the sky cleared as the temperature continued to drop towards 0 (-18 C), as it has the last several nights. Hunger Moon* rose higher, and the moon-shadow of a pine in the backyard leaned out dark against the snow in the moonlight. I took another shot.

imbolcmoon

Moon around 6:45 pm, shortly after clearing our hilltop

Praise to Brighid and life and light, warmth human and divine in our veins, in the animals and plants around us! May our vision of the Whole become clear as the moon this night.

imbmoon2

Moon around 8:00 pm

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*Hunger Moon” is one of the Native American names for February — and never fails to make me shiver.

Image: Snow lamb.

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Imbolc and “First Sight”   Leave a comment

On first sight (or much later, depending on the particular script we’re following), the world can be a forbidding place.  We all go through emotional and psychological winters at times.  Nothing seems to provide warmth or comfort, so we hunker down and endure. And we can get so good at this kind of half-life that we mistake merely surviving for full-hearted thriving. Well-meaning friends or family who try to console us with various messages of hope or endurance (“This too shall pass”) can’t budge us from our heaviness.

The hidden changes implicit in the imminent shift of energy and consciousness which Druids symbolize and celebrate in Imbolc also find expression in the starkly beautiful lines of “First Sight” by British poet Philip Larkin.

First Sight

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

For that is how at least some changes arrive — immeasurable, ungraspable, unlike anything that went before, so that we can’t even anticipate or recognize them ahead of time.  Nothing of the past prepares us.  The new comes on us “utterly unlike” the present.  Only long memory serves to recognize them sometimes, and hail and welcome them — memory often consciously denied to us in one human lifetime, but accessible through dream and intuition and the “far memory” that we may call “past lives” or the “collective unconscious” or  the “knower behind the thoughts” or “gut instinct.”  This is memory as trees know it, the rings of years that grow into the wood, the cell memory we humans also carry with us, the salts of ancient oceans that pulse in the same proportions in our blood.

This is the promise of light renewed, that miracle we often cynically dismiss but deeply long for, the story we are always telling ourselves:  maybe this time, maybe next week, one more year.  This marriage, that job, this new chance, here, now, finally, at last.

It’s important to note that this event is not “supernatural” or “religious” in the commonly understood sense of “coming from outside our world” or depending on a deity.  We don’t need to look that far, though we’re welcome to if we wish.  It is earth’s immeasurable surprise, after all, issuing from this world, this land, dirt under our feet, air that surrounds us, sun on our skin. Put another way, the whole world is telling us “Pay attention!”

Another Irish name for Imbolc is Oimelc — “ewe’s milk.”  In the agrarian societies all our ancestors came from, the pregnant ewes have been preparing for the lambs to come, their udders swelling with milk.  There are signs of change and renewal all around us, but in our rush towards “anywhere but here,” we’ve often lost sight of and contact with the markers that would center and align us with the natural order of balance and harmony we crave.

In North America, the equivalent “secular” holiday is Groundhog’s Day, which one way or another says winter will in fact eventually end.  Punxsutawney Phil emerges from the earth and his plump hibernation sleepiness to prophesy renewal, either seeing his shadow on a sunny day, or huddling under February clouds as secular augurs read the omens and declare them to the assembled faithful.  (We don’t so much abandon ritual and religion as slip it past the censor of the modern and supposedly irreligious mind, clothing it in other guises less objectionable.  If you doubt it, take a look at the grand mythologizing that surrounds Phil on sites like this one.)

Happy Groundcandleimbolcmasshogday!

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Images:  lamb; tree ring; Punxsutawney Phil.

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