Friday, January 10, 2014

High Day Essay: First Cross-Quarter

The modern pagan holiday of the first cross-quarter of the year is commonly referred to by its Gaelic name - Imbolc.  The name itself references the pregnancy and lactation of livestock (such as sheep and goats) and ties the holiday to the waxing presence of life and fertility as the days continue to grow longer and winter falls behind.  There is no common denominator that unites neo-pagan practices for Imbolc; in fact, for many it is a holiday that is barely acknowledged.  For Celtic Reconstructionist and those following a similar path, Imbolc observances are rooted in historical descriptions.

There are historical reports of Imbolc being celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  These festivities marked the end of winter and ushered in a period of purification, fire and divination.  There is considerable documentation attesting to the importance of the goddess Brighid during Imbolc observances.  Up until the 19th century is was not unusual for rural communities to show hospitality to Brighid by making her special foods (particularly those with dairy-based ingredients), beds and trinkets during Imbolc.

The celebration of the first cross-quarter seems to not be universal among Indo-European cultures.  There is no equivalent celebration in Slavic cultures, although it is possible that certain traditions (such as meals focusing on butter and cheese) now observed during the week  prior to Lent may have their origins in such a holiday.

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