Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc Awakenings

Imbolc, the return of the light

Winter is still with us, although is now entering a moody phase. One day it is frosty, stormy, and inhospitable, and a couple of days later the sun pops out to tease us. But there is one sure sign that things are beginning to shift, ever so slightly – the days are beginning to get noticeably longer again.

Imbolc is the season of the light maiden Brighid, a virginal Goddess, who appears to us as the returning light. As the sun climbs just a tad higher in the sky, it adds a few minutes of light to each passing day.

Nevertheless, it is still the middle of winter. But, if you look carefully, the buds are beginning to swell. Some precocious little flowers defy all the odds. Some particularly perky ones are pushing their way through the snow, or old leaves:  snowdrops, winter aconite or dwarf crested irises are among the earliest and bravest. Unmistakably, the life force deep within the earth is stirring. Last season’s seeds are preparing to germinate. The wheel of the year is turning, and the sap is rising once more.

Purification and Fasting

Imbolc, or ‘Candlemas’ in Christian terminology, is the festival of growing light, of cleansing, and purification. It prepares us for Lent, the time of abstinence and fasting intended to purify body and soul.

In the past, fasting was a way of cleansing the body of the residues of heavy winter foods. Spiritually, it is an act of mindfulness and a way to prepare the body and mind for the spring and a new cycle of growth.

Envisioning the future

Imbolc is a time for visualizing in your mind’s eye the possibilities that lie ahead. Some people use divination, others use affirmations. Take some time out to prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities yet to come. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, on good and bad habits, and make a commitment to your soul’s journey.

What kind of nourishment does your soul need? What are your intentions and purpose? How do you want to give back to life?  Are you walking your talk?

Imbolc is a good time to charge the seeds with intention and to foster your inner flame. Take care of that light through the dark of the night. Soon the sun will soon rise and grow strong again.

 

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice, may your light shine bright!

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. The trees have lost their leaves, and all signs of life have retreated below ground. Frozen in time, the land lies barren. Barely rising above the horizon, the Sun only sends a few feeble rays of light. The birds have left on their long journey to milder climes. The Earth has entered hibernation mode.

And yet, we find cause to rejoice at these darkest times! Deep within the Earth, a tiny light is born! Fragile as a baby in its crib, the sun-saviour god has returned.

We stand at the threshold of a new cycle, not yet sure if the baby will grow. But where there is life; there is hope.

In the old days, the 12 days of Christmas marked a time, when the veil between the worlds is thin, and spirits pass through. The same is true of the 12 days around the summer solstice. Otherworldly beings are visiting us from beyond.

The Solstice is a time of reflection, of cherishing memories, and of gratitude.

It may not have been an easy year, but there are always things to be grateful for, and hope is on the horizon.

During this quiet space, we reflect on gratitude; on love and care, and on being there for one another. We dream about our ambitions for the year ahead and how to make things better.

The Winter Solstice marks a turning point with the promise of a new dawn.

Count your blessings and celebrate hope. The wheel of time is turning, and the light is returning. Let us cherish and protect this tiny flame of hope. When its fire grows stronger, life once more returns to Earth.

Samhain

Samhain

At Samhain, the Goddess retreats into the deep vault of the earth to join her dark lover in the Underworld. Life withdraws, and the landscape turns bleak, cold, and grey. The last fruits, nuts and berries still hang in the bushes, but most are gone. Few flowers withstand the season’s call until the frost kills them off. The birds have left on their journey to the south.
It is a melancholy time, but also a time to turn inward.

We mark this season by remembering those who have gone before us. Death is but a stage of the wheel of life. Far below the surface, the Goddess sheds her worn-out gown and falls into deep meditation while regenerating her vital life-giving energies.

We face the cold and darkness as the Sun’s power wanes. Few of its rays can still warm us and the days grow shorter.

Life and death are aspects of the same eternal cycle. There is no light without darkness, no life without death. Use this time to reflect and remember, to cherish the good and to let go of all that is worn and wears you down. Concentrate your inner strength in contemplation – for soon, the wheel of the year will turn, and the Sun will be reborn.

Lughnasad – Harvest Time

Lughnasad – Harvest Time

The time of the grain harvest

Lughnasad marks the beginning of the harvest season. The fruit and vegetables are ripening, and the grain has turned golden. It is usually an intensely busy and happy time, especially for gardeners. The efforts of the early part of the year are paying off. But not this year.

The growing period from spring to harvest is fraught with danger: Late frosts can kill sensitive starters, and summer storms can ruin the crop in just a few minutes. The harvest is by no means guaranteed. This year, Lugh has been fierce. The summer heat is so intense that it is causing terrible damage, scorched landscapes and draughts. We need the Sun’s warmth and light, without water, there is no life.

Lughnasad is called Lammas in the Christian tradition, which comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘hlaf-mas’, meaning ‘loaf mass’. Bread and wine are the traditional sacraments of the Eucharist.

But harvesting the seed is only one of the stages of the perpetual cycle of life. Ideally, what we harvest at this time of the year should sustain us beyond our current needs and nourish us in the winter, when the Earth is barren and still. It must provide us with the seed necessary to start the cycle gain next year. We reap as we sow, but we also sow what we have reaped.

In the face of the unfolding climate catastrophe, we are grateful for what we can harvest today. But if we want to secure future harvests, we must change our practices.

We can no longer afford to ignore the changes that are taking place. We are facing an existential threat – unless we act now. The future potential for our species and life as we know it, lies in our hands.

The future starts now.

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium

Yarrow is one of those herbs that everybody knows, but few know much ABOUT. A potent healing agent, this humble herb has a colourful history.

 

Description:

You might have noticed the Yarrow’s feathery, fern-like leaves that appear in early spring. They stay snug and low to the ground on verges, meadows, pastures and waste places. Almost anywhere, really. Later, in the early summer, their stalks rise, and the soft leaves become tougher, almost prickly, even. In June, the first umbel-like flowering tops, a spread of tiny white, greyish or pink flowers suggesting a relationship with the carrot family. But they are faking it. Yarrow belongs to the daisy family, but you would never guess. You will have to take a close look to see why.
What appears to be individual, white-petalled flowers turn out to be composite flowers, like those of daisy or dandelion.

Yarrow - Achillea millefolium

History and Mythology

Etymology – what’s in a name

Yarrow’s Scientific name is Achillea millefolium for the Greek hero Achilles, son of Peleus and the Sea-Nymph Thetis.
Knowing that Achilles was bound to become a warrior, Thetis wished to protect him by making him invincible by dipping the infant into the River Styx. But because she was afraid to completely let go of the child, the spot where she held him, his ankle, remained vulnerable. We all seem to have inherited this vulnerability, since we all have an Achilles tendon that is extra vulnerable to strain. Thetis also tried to make the child immortal, but Peleus walked in while she performed the fire ritual and ‘saved’ the child. But Thetis, fearing his vengeance, fled back to her father, leaving Achilles in Peleus’ hands. But Peleus was not the kind of man who could raise a child alone. Thus, he sent him off to the famous centaur Chiron, who taught young boys the art of archery and healing.
Under his tutelage, Achilles became one of the greatest, *almost* invincible warriors who played a pivotal role in the war of Troy. But in the end, an arrow pierced his vulnerable heel, and Achilles succumbed to the wound.

History remembers Achilles as a gifted warrior and student of the healing arts, with Yarrow as his special ally. On the battlefield, he used Yarrow to save the lives of countless fellow warriors, for which Yarrow earned its other name, ‘Militaris’.

Chiron teaching Achilles the art of archery

Herb Lore

Yarrow may look plain and ordinary, but it commands love and respect. Historically, potent herbs invariably played a prominent role in folk magic and medicine.
During the Middle Ages, when Christianity was steeped in superstition, Yarrow was used in exorcism rites to drive out evil spirits or even the devil.

In France, Yarrow is known as ‘Herbe de St. Joseph’. According to the legend, the infant Jesus saved Joseph’s life by bringing him Yarrow after Joseph had accidentally cut himself while doing his carpentry.

But in Britain, Yarrow was said to cause a nose bleed, as Mrs Grieves recalls. She tells of a bizarre divination ritual practised in eastern parts of the country. According to her tale, girls would stuff Yarrow leaves up their noses to determine whether ‘their loves be true’ while reciting the following verse:

“Yarroway, Yarroway bear a white blow
If my love, love me
my nose will bleed now…”

Yarrow was also called ‘Venus Eyebrow’ because its feathery leaves were thought to resemble them. No wonder the herb was used to divine matters of the heart.

Stuffed into a pouch and placed underneath the pillow, it was supposed to induce dreams of one’s future husband after reciting the following charm before dozing off:

“Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray, tell thou me tomorrow.”

 

In China, Yarrow is also used for divination. But here, the practice is of quite a different order. Yarrow sticks are traditionally used to cast the I Ching. Yarrow is used because it is said to represent a perfect balance of the Yin and Yang forces of the Universe.

On the continent, Yarrow is added to the traditional ‘9-herb soup’, served on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. It is meant to purify the spirit, vitalize the body, and ward off all disease and evil influences for the rest of the year.

Later in the year, Yarrow plays a quintessential role in the celebrations of Maria Ascension Day as part of the ‘herbal bundles’, that are blessed on that day. The tradition predates Christianity, but the Church sanctioned it after it failed to suppress the practice, and in rural areas, it is still very much alive.

Yarrow leaves in spring

Food Uses

In spring, the fresh, soft, young Yarrow leaves impart a lovely, aromatic flavour to soups and salads.
Later it becomes more bitter, which makes it suitable as a brewer’s herb. Although in Germany, beer brewing was regulated in 1516, and only hops were allowed as a flavouring agent, the laws were more permissive in Britain, Various bitter aromatics were used to create different flavours and effects. Yarrow was an ingredient of ‘Gruit beer’, a strong herbal ale popular at the time and more potent than regular beer.

 

Essential oil

Distilling Yarrow yields a vividly blue essential oil, as the process converts pro-azulene into Chamazulene. The same compound is also responsible for the blue colour of German Chamomile Essential Oil. Of these, Yarrow yields more of this powerfully anti-inflammatory compound. It is used to treat irregular and painful menses and to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding. Its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties make Yarrow essential oil a potent ingredient for lotions and crèmes to soothe skin rashes, sores, and inflammatory acne.

Energetically, Yarrow is a balancing herb. It can help to alleviate hormone-induced emotional disquiet related to PMT or menopausal turmoil. It is suitable for chakra balancing, as its sensory vibration supports the organism’s need to re-establish equilibrium and overcome conflicting emotions.

 

 

Medicinal Uses:

As a herbal ally and remedy, Yarrow is as popular as ever.

Parts used: Aerial parts, young leaves, and flowers.
Harvest the young leaves in early spring, when they are still soft little fronds, if you want to use them fresh in soups and salads. Later in the season, collect the aerial parts, leaves and flowers and dry them for later use. Leaves and flowers can be harvested until July/August, Yarrow’s peak flowering season.

Constituents:

Flavonoids, volatile oils, tannins, a bitter glycoalkaloid,

Applications

Yarrow’s anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and astringent properties make it a formidable wound herb. The fresh juice or dried powder can be applied directly to staunch a bleeding or seeping wound. Made into a strong infusion, it can reduce internal bleeding and promote healing of inner wounds, e.g. after surgery. As a wash, it calms swollen tissue and heals inflammatory skin, cuts, and open wounds.
As a tea, Yarrow also acts as a soothing relaxant on the voluntary nervous system. It calms cramps and spasms of the stomach, abdomen and womb. Its bitter principles support the digestive system by stimulating the gallbladder and liver. Yarrow also supports the urinary system. It is an effective anti-inflammatory and diuretic, which can soothe urinary infections such as cystitis.

Yarrow is an excellent women’s herb that can bring on delayed menstruation, soothe painful periods and menstrual cramps, and reduce excessive bleeding.

The fresh juice makes a potent tonic. Yarrow dilates the blood vessels and improves peripheral circulation. It can be used to address high blood pressure issues and angina pectoris.

Yarrow is also an effective febrifuge that opens the pores and promotes sweating. Taken before entering a sauna or sweat lodge, it promotes inner cleansing.

Yarrow’s cleansing and toning properties, combined with its anti-inflammatory powers, explain why it can be so helpful for treating rheumatism. Yarrow can be understood as a tonic and alterative that improves the overall function of the whole organism. Combined with other specifics, it can also be used to treat acute inflammatory conditions.

Caution:

Some people are allergic to plants belonging to the daisy family. If you are one of them, please test for sensitivity to Yarrow before using it as a wild food ingredient or herbal remedy.

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