So the wheel of the year turns ever on and soon the festival of Imbolc will be upon us. This is celebrated on the 1st or 2nd of February; it is the beginning of spring, the sun becomes more dominant over the days and the first beginnings of life begin to appear. This day is also the Celtic celebration of the goddess Brigid, said to be the daughter of Morrighan and Dagda, the good god and the chief of Tuatha de Danaan (Irish mythical tribe). She is the patron of poets, healers, smithing and midwifery. She is a solar deity, connected to the sun and as tradition suggests, bonfires are made on this day- who doesn’t love a good bonfire! If like me you do not have the land to create a bonfire, a simple ritual of the lighting of a candle in each room in your home with a few words in honour, will bring the blessings of Brigid. Candle colours can be white, yellow or green to represent the welcoming of the sun and the beginning of new life.
You may also choose to make a Brigid’s cross. This is a Celtic tradition and is made of reeds, however, you can make this with any sort of bendy material such as straw or even paper has been used. The cross is a fire symbol and can be placed on the hearth of the home for protection. Another tradition is the making of Brigid’s doll, she can be filled with whatever you wish, wool, herbs or stones. Some people may also include a wish in her before she is completed. After which you should lay her in the bride’s bed surrounded by white flowers, this will bring fertility into the home.
I myself will be celebrating the festival in a more reserved way. As we acknowledge that winter is beginning to pass, the sun is returning and there are new beginnings of life, it is a time to remove the old to make way for the new. I do this with a good old spring cleaning of the home. I will go through everything including kitchenware, ingredients, clothes and belongings to remove what is no longer needed. This will either be thrown away or given to charity, ready for meet someone else’s needs. Also during this time it can be important to mentally sort yourself out, a spring cleaning of the mind, which I suppose is needed every now and again!
Many also recognise the changing of the Crone aspect of the Goddess to the Madian, she is young and fruitful ready to welcome life. Homes can be decorated with the first signs of growth which include snowdrops, crocuses or daffodils. If you are unable to get your hands on these, white flowers are also acceptable. Rey and I will also take a walk in our favourite spots in the forest to see what signs of new life we will discover, this is exciting and brings the hope of warmer, more fruitful days.
Seeds are of course, a symbol of new life. They are extremely important to my practice so I will take the time to sow some on this day. Herbs and flowers that you have grown yourself seem to have a greater impact on magic and also give you a wonderful feeling of satisfaction. When the seed is planted you may want to do this with a wish, then you can nurture it over the upcoming year, watching as your wishes grow. I will simply be planting these with the wish of fruitful herbs, I will ask for the blessings of the plant spirits and the Fae to watch over as they grow.
I will also be making a seed cake, ready to share with my family during the celebration of Imbolc. It seems that my family -my parents especially, have grown rather fond of my cakes. I grew up with my Mum baking them, she has taught me all I needed to know about this little bit of kitchen magic.
Many conversations between us start with ‘have you made us a cake yet?’ and as my partner gifted me a Kitchenaid for Christmas (so happy), I fear this may become more of a frequent question….. but I am more than happy for this to be the case, as cakes do seem to bring a little more happiness into the world. I will celebrate with a Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall Lemon and Poppy seed cake. I have never made this before but due to his carrot cake now becoming a family favourite, I will make this with trust. The recipe is as follows:
170g plain flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
50g poppy seeds
Zest of 2 large lemons
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
170g whole milk yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
For the syrup
Juice of 2 large lemons
5 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp icing sugar, for sifting
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Butter a 23cm springform cake tin and dust with flour.
Sieve together the flour, salt, bicarb and baking powder. Stir in the poppy seeds and lemon zest. Beat together the butter and 120g of sugar until light and fluffy. In a jug, whisk together the egg yolks, yoghurt and vanilla
In a scrupulously clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar a spoonful at a time, beating until the meringue mix holds stiff peaks.
Beat the flour mixture and the egg mixture alternately into the butter and sugar, starting and ending with the flour (ie, flour/eggs/flour/eggs/flour). Stir about a third of the meringue mixture into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest. Spoon the cake mix into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the juice, sugar and zest in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat.
Take the cake out of the oven and spike all over the top with a skewer. Pour the syrup over, letting it trickle over the top and down the sides. Leave to cool in the tin, then dust with icing sugar before serving.
I hope this turns out well, as feasting is also part of the tradition. Hopefully it will be a lovely addition to the day, with a sacred celebration of the welcoming of new life. I must remind all of you that believe: do not forget to leave an offering for the Fae on this day, it would just be rude not to!