People often ask me what they should do to celebrate the Cross Quarter Days such as the one upcoming, Imbolc. It seems that the type of people who ask that question have already a rite or some kind of ceremony at hand, even know it in and out — i.e. are not completely new to their path — but feel they could do more. But what? Well, why don’t we explore what more can be done.
Let’s start with looking at why we celebrate festivals like the cross quarter days in the first place. And here, I don’t want to go into detail of what each one of them means, what the background of the individual festival is. Rather, I would like to take a step back and look at this more conceptually, almost from a cultural anthropology point of view.
When the European people of old — of whose festivals we are talking about here — began to settle from their nomadic life, growing crops became a major occupation for everyone in the tribe, paired with taking care of life stock. While the life of a nomad is already driven by the seasons — different game is available at different times of the year in different places — the observation of the farming aspects of the seasons became crucial for these new farmers. With that came a deep awareness of the cyclical nature of the Land, and how their work needs to be in tune with these changes. Obviously, people knew already back then, this cycle and the gifts available in each of them must be given by some sort of divine power. Because why on Earth would, shortly after you drop a kernel of seed on the ploughed crust of the soil, a small plant shoot up? It’s Magic, and where there is Magic, the Gods are not far away.
So, now you have to make sure that the Gods and the Goddesses are actually willing to continue to gift you with their treasures, Sun turn after Sun turn. And how better to do that by worshipping them, humbly requesting their goodwill, and by giving back to them what you yourself crafted, or brought up by the sweat of their brows? Prayers and sacrifices are what we are talking about here; the means to appease the deities and ensure that the cycles keep turning.
Today, we feel secure that this cycle will continue, because science tells us all about the correlation of the seasons with our planet’s rotation around the Sun, and draws a meticulous picture how the cells in the kernel of corn multiply to grow a plant we later harvest. Yet still, some of us have an awareness that all what’s going on out there on the Land is animated, has some form of consciousness, is a function of the will of the Gods. We are part of it, we need it more than it needs us. It seems to still be a good idea to tune in, to worship, to humbly request, and thank for, the gifts of the Goddess.
Whether we celebrate this attunement by socializing in a group ritual and maybe a feast afterwards, or our need for peace and quiet leads us to withdraw to a place where we feel safe and secluded, where we can conduct our own hedge ritual to spin the Wheel of the Year forward, the important charge is that we actually do it.
And this is where we are: we celebrate the turn of the seasons, have our rituals honoring the Goddesses and Gods relevant to the next season, thank those of the last, give our offerings and call upon the powers of star and stone, of the four directions, the elements and what have you. And that’s all good.
It’s also where some of us feel we could do more. Not like in grander with more shiny props. Instead, more in the sense of adding some kind of service element to the whole shebang. This would actually be entirely Druidic, to not only celebrate for and amongst people on the same — or at least similar — path, but take it up a notch, go out there and connect with the people who originally depended on these turning-the-wheel celebrations the most, the farming community.
So, let’s take Imbolc’s deep agricultural connection, it’s linkage to the lactating of the ewes, the female sheep, heralding the birth of the first lambs this year. Why not find a farm or coop that breeds sheep in your area, and offer the owners to do a blessing of their live stock? You could combine the Imbolc rite in however way you usually do with an actual meeting the flock of sheep, possibly even blessing them. Be creative with the procedure. You could go traditional and herd the animals between two people forming a gate, with burning incense creating a veil through which the sheep walk and get cleansed. While that might sound awesome, a ceremony like this needs some major preparation, not only on your, but also on the farmer’s side. In some areas, rituals like that might be common, or at least known, even though for other animals (this is done for cattle on some remoter areas of the British Isles as well as in the Alps), but for much of the world the sheep owners might scratch their heads when faced with such a request and might recommend simpler solutions.
When I organized such an Imbolc rite for my Druid Grove (that’s how some of us call our groups) at an animal sanctuary a couple of years back, we settled for just walking amongst these beautiful creatures. I must admit that the sheep were not as willing to cooperate as much as I hoped they would — they obviously didn’t know us and kept running away — but with the help of the sanctuary owners we were able to reign them in and bless them as a whole flock. And then the horses and other animals that lived out their lives there.
It was a great experience for all of us, and made us feel that our ritual, our attempt to attune to the change of the season, was not only shared amongst us, and self-serving, but also a service to the animals and the wider community.
Yes, this is just a little more, a small add-on to your typical cross quarter day rite. But, over time, if you make that a habit, other ideas may come to mind, and you could begin cooperating with the farming community around you. And that’s what really would be so much more.
A side note: My article Vaselen – Awakening The Spring Maiden introduces an additional element you could integrate into an Imbolc rite.
Read about other tools for your practice found in Alpine customs And in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com I write about other traditional Alpine traditions related to the cross quarter days.