Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Charm for Imbolc

My Saturday poem is for the feast of Imbolc, one revived in recent years by modern paganism, athough its originals remain obscure, and modern rituals are in part an act of imagination, although imagination may also be seen as a channel of insight and revelation.

Ronald Hutton, writing in "The Stations of the Sun", says of Imbolc that the feast, which takes place on 1st February, 

...marking the end of winter and the opening of spring, is cited repeatedly in the early medieval literature under the names Imbolc, Imbolg, or Óimelc; asthe 'b' in the first two is silent and the first syllable in the last is a short 'i', the different words have a very similar pronunciation, as 'imolk' or 'imelk'. 

It was placed in the Roman calendar, adopted by the Irish by the time that written records begin, on 1 February. The festival must be pre-Christian in origin, but there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature, or concerning any rites which might have been employed then. 

There is, in fact, no sign that any of the medieval Irish writers who referred to it preserved a memory of them, and some evidence that they no longer understood the meaning of the name itself. 

Sanas Chormaic, a glossary probably produced around the year 900, suggested that it originally meant 'sheep's milk', a derivation which modern Celticists have pointed out to be linguistically impossible. The latter part of the word, however, certainly has something to do with milking, so that Emer's comment must be near the mark: that this is the time when ewes begin to lactate. 

Eric Hamp has recently suggested, by analogy with other old European languages and customs, that the Old Irish words for milk and milking derived from a lost Indo-European root-erm for 'purification', and that this was the aim of the festival; but this remains a speculation.

A Charm for Imbolc

Come once again, O greenest blade
The sap is rising, earth awakes
Come now all, to the sacred glade
Leave behind winter’s cold and aches

Come our mother earth, alive again
And wake from winter’s icy sleep
Let us dance the magic in fairy glen
The feast of Imbolc, we shall keep

Light our candles, chant and pray
May birthing springtime warm our land
Roots rise through soil, soften clay
And warming sun stretch out a hand

Let blessings come, and healing spell
And may all manner of things be well

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