My ways and By-ways -Imbolc

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February 1 into 2 – we’ve all cleared away Christmas and are now freezing to death. Often, January in the Northern hemisphere is a pretty chilly, dark time when folk aren’t feeling their best. Coldsore germs are breeding, everyone’s huddled into thick scarves, eating stew and drinking hot chocolate to save lives (actually that’s me every winter).

Imbolc is a traditional Gaelic/Celtic festival of light, to celebrate the (ever so slightly) lighter nights and the coming of spring. Some associate this day with Brigid or Bride (pronounced Breed), goddess of fire, light and fertility amongst other things. She was later Christianised as Saint Brigid. There are many variations on the name of this deity, depending on region.

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Green Man foliate head, symbolising the untamed wildwood and the renewal of nature

Imbolc is the Pagan precursor to other similar end-of-winter celebrations such as Groundhog Day, and the Christian Candlemas, both on Feb 2. Typical Imbolc celebrations could include fireworks, someone dressed as the goddess parading round in a crown of candles, and all the community turning out to welcome back the return of the light and renewal of life, with impending spring.

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Shadowy drummers pass flaming flower displays

I have been luck enough, in Februarys past, to participate in Imbolc Fire Festival celebrations in Marsden, my neighbouring village. This is a festival who’s reputation has built over the last, almost couple of decades. It’s not just village families, but people from all corners of Britain (and even beyond) who have turned out, warmly wrapped, and braving all kinds of weather, to follow the torchlight procession, watch Morris dancing troops, drummers and fireswingers, and the firework display to finish.

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Shamen, Green Men and Celtic princesses…I’m in the middle

An important and established section of Marsden’s Imbolc celebration is the fight between a great illuminated Jack Frost and an equally giant Green Man. This symbolises the annual struggle of spring to release winter’s grip on the earth. Eventually, Jack Frost relinquishes control and the cycle of the seasons continues. The earth warms up, there is more light, crops grow, and nature flourishes.

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Daffodil bulbs nose their way up out of cold earth

Afterwards, families trail home to warm up (and often enough dry off!) While for some, the village pubs batten down the hatches for the next round of celebrations…

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A piece from the Colne Valley Chronicle from the 2006 Fire Festival

For more information on Marsden’s Imbolc festival, there is a facebook page and plenty of stuff on t’internet.

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Scary torchbearers lead the procession
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Jack Frost and the Green Man. Poster from the festival a few years back. Note that due to people travelling on potentially a work night, Festivals were often held on Saturdays rather than the night of the 1st.

All artwork by Lisa Swallow.

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