Inklings of Spring

Imbolc, 1st February

Today celebrated what is in the Celtic Calendar the beginnings of Spring – although it feels like long way off yet – the Fire Festival of Imbolc, sacred to the goddess Bridghid, patroness of poetry, smithcraft and healing. We could have done with her sacred flame (which was tended by priestesses and later nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare) today as we held a ceremony outside on a bitterly cold winter’s day – the pre-snow (infintesimal flakes  like fairy tears) as delicate as the snowdrops pushing through the slumbering earth. Sue Cawthorne, current holder of the Ovate Chair of Caer Badon, called it to take place at the Beazer Garden Maze with its mosaic of Bladud and six Greek Myths by Pulteney Weir. A raggle taggle circle gathered – many canal folk – huddling together like penguins in the Antarctic. After Sue started the proceedings, followed by a song for Imbolc by priestess of Sulis and Nemetona, Sheila Broun, I asked people to remember Tim Sebastion Woodman, the founder of the Gorsedd – who died two years ago on this very day – crossing over, with impeccable druid timing on Imbolc (as though consciously choosing the day of his death): the first time he’d ever been on time for anything, I joked. And Tim was, among other things, a joker. His irreverently wise spirit is missed. He has a way of puncturing the pomposity of much of the ‘oaky machoness’ as he put it you can get at such ceremonies. The posturing and publicity-seeking. Last year I held an Imbolc Bardic Showcase in his memory in Glastonbury. For me, the festival will always be associated with him – and I think of it, with some amusement, as ‘Timbolc’! Yet the festival for me has been for a long time the one I associate with Taliesin and Ceridwen. It is a poet’s festival and the ideal time to rededicate oneself to one’s path – which for me is the Way of Awen, the way of the Bard. And yet this year there is an extra sadness – locally we are mourning the recent loss from cancer of Dave Angus, who was a great poet and singer/guitarist. He set up a popular open mic event called What a Performance! On Friday there was one scheduled which became an emotive tribute night, following close on his passing. I performed my ‘Last Rites to John Barleycorn’ there – because Dave was something of a Barleycorn figure, as a merry soul who gave of himself freely to his community. Today we made him an honorary Bard of Caer Badon – a gesture to acknowledge his contribution and talent.  During the gorsedd I performed my Imbolc poem, Bride of Spring (below) above the roar of the weir. It was a nice visual fix to have swans swimming close by in the Avon.

Things were quickly wrapped up, for it was seriously cold, and I headed back home to prepare for my wee Imbolc ‘poetry tea poetry’ – a gentle Sunday afternoon affair. The sharing of poems over tea, cake and other tasties. Folk turned up from about 3pm and it was pleasant chilled out occasion, with contributions of song, verse and tale from some of my talented friends.  This is my ideal way to celebrate such times – I’m not one for ‘High Church’ paganism, preferring bardic sharing around the hearth or campfire to the pomp and ceremony. I like to simply gather in a circle and share. As a bard this is how I engage with the deeper meaning of the festivals – by the reciting and listening the traditional tales and songs. And  by the physical experience of visiting appropriate sites – as I did this morning, making a modest pilgrimage to my local woodland spring: a simple Sunday morning stroll on the surface, but for me, a way of reconnecting with the Source.

The Bride of Spring

In darkest hour of the year

she arises.

Casting off her shadowy gown

as she steps over the horizon –

by sun king kissed,

borne by his golden down.

A dress of frosted cobwebs

veils maiden skin.

Within a seasons turning

the crone has become virgin.

Snowdrops touch her and turn into flowers,

as the slumbering land stirs

in these formative hours.

The earth softens at her feet

where buds shake free their winter bed.

Newborn lambs begin to bleat –

insistent mouths by ewes milk fed.

Rooster heralds her on the ground.

Above, the feathered chorus

make naked trees resound.

We awake to a changing world.

Her white magic revealed –

a petal uncurled.

Stone bound man

let your proud bells ring,

for we are welcomed into her garden

as she stand at the gates of spring.

 

The infant year she presents,

placing the future in our hands.

A gift of renewed innocence,

restoring the egg timer sands…

Kevan Manwaring (from Green Fire: magical verse for the wheel of the year)

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