February Feast (Imbolg) 2018

This February Feast marks the inaugural rite of the Protogrove of the Singing Oak Springs. I was fortunate enough to have a hand in planning the ritual and was tasked with drafting the liturgy, a responsibility I very much enjoyed. The hearth culture for the evening was Insular Celtic, and we honored Brigid as the deity of the evening. We gathered at rented space in a local community center, and 5 friends gathered to celebrate the occasion.

In my own liturgical practice, music plays a central role, and I wanted to incorporate as much as I could into this rite. After conferring with the group, I chose “We Approach the Sacred Grove” for our processional song, and I played soft instrumental music during all of the prayers and sacrifices.

This occasion is also of note because it marks an important anniversary for me, so  I chose to renew my Dedicant’s Oath during the rite

A copy of the complete ritual is attached as a PDF file here: Feb_Feast_2018

 

Imbolc at Circle sanctuary

There isn’t an ADF Grove near me so I decided to visit Circle Sanctuary and join their community for my Imbolc celebration. It’s a two hour trip from Milwaukee, but I had the day off and it was a beautiful morning for a drive.

Even though I’ve never been to Circle Sanctuary (CS), this community was instrumental in my early pagan development. Growing up in the conservative South, it was not easy to make connections and find resources on Paganism. At some point, I got hold of a book (probably something on Wicca) which included the contact info for CS and I was able to order a subscription to what was then called “Circle Sanctuary News.” I remember this newsletter well because it offered me my first glimpse into the larger Pagan community. I must have been around 16 or 17, because I was still living with my parents.

The CS Imbolc celebration began with an opening ritual and welcome, then moved into a  workshop on bread making, which included history, lore, and practical information on creating sourdough starters. The teachers walked us through the process of bread making with a batch that was later baked and used for the cakes and ale portion of the main ritual. The sourdough starter they used was cultivated from the previous Samhain celebration, and incorporated water from Brigid’s Well, a sacred water source at CS. Anyone who requested it received a portion of this sourdough starter to take home. Mine is in an old strawberry jam jar.

After the bread making workshop, we conducted a “burning of the yule greens” in a small bonfire outside. This was my favorite part of the day, because we made our way to the fire while someone played the bagpipes. It made for a beautiful moment, at once both solemn and festive. 20170204_123824

Afterward, CS hosted a community potluck, which was an excellent opportunity for me do some much needed networking. There were a handful of people from the MKE area, although I was disappointed that I did not run into any other Druids. Still, it was a delicious meal with good company.

During the afternoon session, Selena Fox gave a presentation called “Brigid: Fire Through the Ages,” in which she explored Pre-Christian, Christian, and contemporary history and culture of this goddess. This was followed by another presentation, “Brigid of the Cross: Daily Spiritual Practice.” I enjoyed this workshop very much because the presenter (Ana) stressed the importance of weaving pagan practices into our everyday lives and was an outstanding storyteller. She is a university chaplain from a college in Illinois and a practicing Pagan.

At 4:00, the schedule called for a guided meditation on “Brigid of the Well.” Instead of attending, I took the liberty of exploring the CS grounds on what turned out to be a nice snowy walk in the woods. I went down the sacred well and collected some water for my own hearth, and spent the next hour roaming through the woods and listening to the sounds of snowfall and wind rustling in the trees.

Things have been so hectic lately that I haven’t had (or taken) many opportunities to get out of the city and into the woods. My gut told me to get out there and enjoy some quiet time among the trees. There was a gorgeous silver sun, of which I am particularly fond, as well as a few birds and squirrels flitting about. But the real treat was the simple quietude and solitude.

The structure of the main ritual was Wiccan, including invocations to the directions, power raising, chant, and cakes & ale. The energy of the group (about 40 people) was vibrant. I’ll definitely find my way back.

 

 

 

 

Essay – February Feast

The February Feast celebrates the first stirrings of the coming spring, which can be difficult to detect in the upper Midwest at this time of year. Although my northern and western European ancestors may have been delighted by the availability of fresh milk after the first part of the winter, my experience in an urban environment of the 21st century does easily not lend itself to such a connection.

As a Druid working in the Hellenic tradition, the February Feast poses a second challenge. How do I incorporate a holiday into my practice that derives from Celtic, Gaulish, and Germanic traditions? Although there are similar festivals in the Ancient Greek practice, differences in agricultural, economic, and social realities do not readily lend themselves to a clearly compatible celebration.

To resolve this dilemma, I focus on the hearth customs of the season and the festival’s associations with fire and purification. In Hellenic paganism, Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth and the figurative representation of the hearth fire, plays a crucial role in the spiritual lives of the people. Although there are virtually no myths about Hestia, her prominence in the lives of the Ancient Greeks is evident in the many offerings she received within the household and the critical importance of keeping the home hearth lit at all times.

The hearth fire was, for all Indo-European peoples, the center of domestic life. Fire protected people from predators, it provided warmth and comfort, and was the means by which food was prepared. In short, the hearth was an instrument of survival.

While my friends in the larger Neopagan community are celebrating hearth culture in the Celtic or Germanic traditions, I find it natural to do the same. I focus on giving thanks to Hestia, on celebrating the coming spring, and purification.

Psychologically, the February Feast plays a critical role for me because I know that astronomical and meteorological spring are not far away; the long dark of winter can wreak havoc on my mood. So I use the February Feast as a time to clear the mental slate and prepare for the brighter days ahead. This is my last real winter rest.