February has arrived and with it the Celtic spring on Imbolg, February 1. Winter is not quite so bitter, the storms not quite so lasting. The spirit of the growing year plays about the branches and the bare ground where a crocus might soon appear.
In days long passed, there were February festivals of spring - of purification and renewal - that insured the vestiges of the old year were swept away and that new energy would bring renewed abundance and fortune.
Among these festivals were Lupercalia, St. Valentine's Day and of course, St. Brigid's Day and Imbolg, known too as Candlemas and Oimelic.
To populations dependent upon agriculture and livestock, the return of the greening spirit to the world was of vital importance. From February into March, winter's grip lessens in northern Europe and it was a time of lambing and an availability of milk.
The corn dollies of Brigit were clothed and left near the household hearth on Imbolg eve that she might bring fortune and health in the coming year. With her dark, underworld origin, the smithy Brigit is an archaic deity, but her generative qualities are equally expressed wearing the halo of St. Brigid.
While we can appreciate the concerns our forebears had for the renewal of their lives and fields, I wonder how many reading this article noticed Imbolg at all? Surely some did, but February first might also have been the domain of a large sigh that time is passing quickly and that happily the winter is too. But is the springtime just a lovely turn of the season or does it stir thoughts as to how creation is expressed in your life?
Humans have long sought to explain their physical existence and the cycle of creation that attends life. Some of the greatest of stories are those that explain how we came into being. Genesis, the myths of the Rig Veda and Hesiod's Theogany tell us how light and matter formed, appeared or crossed out of darkness.
For the Irish, in the beginning there was...or perhaps there wasn't. Unlike most ethnic groups or influential tribes, the Irish Celts and the Celts in general, have no myth of creation. The 11th century text, the Lebor Gabala Erenn (known as the "Book of Invasions" or "The Book of the Taking of Ireland") is a pseudo-history of the origin of the Irish race. While the book is a combination of Judeo-Christian theology, medieval history and revisionism, it is considered to contain some valid pre-Christian content.
As Ireland is historically considered to have been settled by gradual migration, it is believed that the succession of invasions cataloged in the Lebor Gabala Erenn may parallel the waves of immigration that came to represent the Irish people.
Here lies some agreement between history and mythology - that the psyche of the Irish people came into being over time, not abruptly, but out of movement - a continuous crossing over from one form to another that continues to present day. The lengthy record of Ireland is one of process.
Today, the domain of creation has shifted from the theologian to the scientist. The divine has fled the cathedral and can now be found, some say, in the serotonin receptors of the human brain or in the inflation of dark matter in an ever expanding universe.
Science is a vast field in which to look for beginnings, especially if what we are interested in is something that speaks personally, to the shifts, starts and stops of everyday life.
But from science comes the idea of a "participatory universe," advanced by physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr - that we set up the conditions for the information we will derive from the methods of observation that we use. Another physicist by the name of John Wheeler commented on their finding noting that "so the old word 'observer' simply has to be crossed off the books, and we must put in the new word 'participator' (let me be clear that use of these observations is purely metaphorical and not meant to translate important scientific theories into metaphysics)."
The idea that we are all participants in the world we are creating is a far cry from the commonly held thought that life is impersonally and mechanistically done to us, that destiny is outside of us. It recalls those days long past, when periodic renewal of the bond between human and divine was paramount.
Life is a participatory process. Like the continuous crossing and migration of populations, so ideas rise, change form and carry on. Just as our forebears purified their space to make way for new energy, so we must "spring clean" - dispose of old thoughts and arrangements that take too much from us.
Just as they performed rituals to welcome the energy of life, let us be reminded that the way that we welcome and use our thoughts creates our day-to-day life and subtly contributes to the greater world in which we live.
Just as the mythologic period of time, "a year and a day," stands for eternity, so inside each of us is held the universe - waiting to cross that threshold from darkness into light, waiting for creation.
The beginning of time is as it always was, a divine exhalation into a mortal world. With every breath comes a chance for a new beginning, a different thought, an altered outcome. Change, like springtime, is always just around the corner.