The following is a short piece I began for an anthology some time back. On my re-read, I find it lacking: I had carved out most of my Southern voice to get past an editor. I oath to never do that, ever, again. Either way, Blessed Imbolc, y’all. May we all walk barefoot in the coming Spring.

Scott-Gaelic poem for Brigid:

Thig an nathair as an toll

Là donn Brìde,

Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd

Air leac an làir.

“The serpent will come from the hole on the Brown Day of Bride, though there should be three feet of snow on the flat surface of the ground.” [1]


And now, my Celtic side sings.

If anything cracks my heart open, it’s the hope of Spring.  I suffer from what psychologists have labeled “seasonal affective disorder,” but I just call it winter.  As a witch, one would assume that I could just cast upon myself and alleviate the pain that accompanies harsh winds and withering greenery, but that’s not reality.  Entrenched in Celtic blood that responds to the earth, I cannot deny my own waxing and waning; pulsing with Cherokee blood, I cannot denounce my own hibernation rituals.  Yes, winter saddens my soul.  I am not ashamed of this fact, rather, I embrace the death of gardens and butterflies, warm waters and sunlight on my skin.  My only savior is the firm belief in the return of sown seed and the sweet smell of fresh goat’s milk.  For this witch, the journey through winter earns a reward every time—usually an envelope of heirloom tomato seed—and it’s worth it, folks.

Someone once told me that we couldn’t feel pleasure, joy or satisfaction if there did not exist a nemesis for these emotions.  For me, this means: I never know how good it feels to be in my own skin until after a righteous headache stops.  We need these binary experiences in order to know their value, to understand with our fleshly bodies their worth.  Pain makes something worth it, therefore, the first signs of the rebirth of the world costs every icy second that I endure in my worn grandpa sweater.  The coming of Imbolc (or Imbolg) signifies to my faith that there will be sun again, wearing long and golden upon a yet unseen garden, that there will be seed that exalts itself against brown tundra and that there will be the bleating of life upon the echo of so much sickness and death.  While others celebrate this holiday as a lesser one, I embrace it wholly and holy as the one that saves my faith.[2]

Now, when I was small, this was the beginning of a season in which my people (Southern river-folk) selected the young goat for the Spring stew.  This was a painful process, as many of us had also witnessed the swelling of nanny bellies and understood that one young sire would be the meat of our Spring feast.  Much later, around Ostara, that babe would be adorned with a necklace of clover and lead by a rope by a female child ‘round and ‘round the fields in honor of the festivities to come.  While barbaric to some, we comprehended the sacred nature of the young kid and nodded to its gift of young life over budding fields of corn and cotton.  Deep within me is the beat of an old drum, thick and fibrous against my civilized existence, and while I have not witnessed this ritual in ‘nigh around thirty-five years, I recall a sense of calm acceptance of birth and death upon Alabama dirt.  The cycle of life was a lesson I learned long ago . . . and Imbolc was a Goddess bursting out of frozen ground to feed Her people in a goatskin.  Embodied by Brigid, the bride of the Celts, She sacrificed so that we could feel life in our hands, dance in new grass and fill our bellies with the scent of earth and roots.  It made us live, but better than that, it made us savor doing so.

So, here we are at Imbolc, riding in on the cusp of a fresh field.  Something is so innocent and wild about the promise of growth—breakable, vulnerable growth—though to start again requires so much faith.

These lessons are harder for some of us stubborn souls, but they translate to daily life without making a sound.  A long, long time ago, I was left on a mountaintop with two small babes and one growing in my belly.[3]  Vowing to never love again, my only endeavor was to keep them fed and to ward off menfolk from my little universe.  A high-school dropout, all that remained was my love for my children, a little skill with a pen and a tenacious spirit.  I was Winter.  Dark and frigid, my hearth-fire was my ability to put food on a table, my root cellar a memory of a deep and obsessive love for books.  Spring was a fairytale for young women and not one that I gave credence—after all, who has time to plant buttercups while standing in a foodstamp line?  Ah, but Winter cannot hold when sprouts get pushy and the days get longer.  A fleeting thought of college became a doctoral degree, a momentary flirtation thirteen years later became a husband, and life, in its chameleon cloak, moved through my winter and laid it down like so many holly bushes.

For so many of us, there is too much distance between Yule and Imbolc.  Waiting for fresh milk is an act of sheer faith and tenacity, regardless of our age.  As a High Priestess, I have come to understand the importance of symbology; as a Southern Kitchen Witch, I have come to respect the weaving of food to heart, table to family.  To use my Southern voice, it breaks down like this:

There once was a broken down oak tree in my front yard just past the power lines of the street (ironically named Green Street).  He was a friend of mine, even as he was missing his top half due to indecent and aggressive cutting by the local city officials.  Once, every Spring, I sauntered out front waving my broom and cussing like a drunk Aunt Bessie at someone in a bucket-truck with a chainsaw.  They kept claiming him “dead,” I kept threatening to knock some sense into ‘em so hard their grandpa could feel it.  See, Mr. Oak might have been a little “rode-hard-and-put-up-wet,” but every time Imbolc came around, he started pushing a little leaf bud or forty up to the sun.  By summer, Mr. Oak was the home for birds and squirrels and liked to wave at me, usually sitting on the front porch with a glass of golden mead.  His frozen limbs had that kind of potential for rebirth.   After we moved to the country, some business-minded asshat went on and chopped him down to make way for Bermuda grass and a new mailbox.  Wonder if that butt-wart curse has come to fruition yet on his righteous, rich ass . . .

You see, my Cherokee and my Celtic ancestors knew something that we often seem to have forgotten:  all living things know their own day of reckoning.  Animals, and for most of us our human elders, would just mosey on into the woods and lay it down.  As Pagans, we know that this is not the end.  Bones turn to dust only to rise up again in the roots—ashes become homes, gardens and sustenance.

For now, my day in the woods is still on down the road.  As Imbolc draws near, whispering promises of new blood and strawberry fields, this older gal becomes the bride, too.  I hold the potential of fresh leaves.  I sing the lullabies of a sleeping winter wind.  I await, like the seed in my hothouse, for one more chance to live out the echo of time and give back to the earth what is Hers.

It’s all so much sweeter on the tongue, for I have tasted the bitter of ice.

Blessed Be,


[1] Carmichael, Alexander (1900) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I, p. 169

[2] I also celebrate it according to the old calendar on February 12, but this is my purest nature at work.

[3] The irony here is that this child was meant to be the sacrificial kid: unwanted by his father, everyone I knew (family included) asked me to end the pregnancy.  I chose instead to sacrifice my time, my heart, my nutritional sustenance and my sanity.  He was born with Meconium Aspiration—in his own fecal matter—and almost died on the table.  I named him Jacob after the only human figure in the Bible to wrestle with God.  Because of his birth, I was forced to get three degrees, become responsible and tough and eventually meet the man that would be the love of my life.  My husband adopted him three years ago.  And they all lived happily ever after.

Seba O'KileyComment