For many Neo-Pagans, Imbolc is the day of the Celtic Goddess Brighid, who represents the young sun. This High Day celebrates the coming of spring. The days are noticeably longer and signs of spring are beginning to show. For Imbolc, people cleaned their homes, celebrated the coming spring, and prepared for the planting season.
Since my hearth culture is Roman, my problem lies in capturing the essence of Imbolc in the Roman High Days. For Romans, February is a month of purification to prepare for the New Year in March. However, several festivals do combine to match the theme of the Celtic Imbolc.
The ancestors (Manes) were honored during Parentalia. Meanwhile, Qurinalia focused on the honoring of the citizens of Rome, the children of Quirinus. Lupercalia, sacred to Faunus, was a festival of much revelry and purification. His priests ran through the streets striking women with strips of goat’s skins, to encourage fertility. Later in the month was Fornicalia, honoring Fornax, the Goddess of Ovens and Bakers. During Her Festival, grains from the previous harvests were roasted in the ancient manner in ovens. This combination of purification, sexual revelry, and roasting grains captures the essence of Imbolc in the Roman hearth culture.
I have always enjoyed Groundhog Day, which oddly enough has its basis in German and Roman pagan practices. I have fun in watching the groundhog do his prediction. Spring is coming, and I need to get ready for it.
Neo-Pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice as the shortest day and the longest night. This time is a time of fun and community building. People come together offering cheer and good will to each other. Doing sacred activities that echo down the ages, they light fires, bring in the holly, and decorate trees.
For the Norse, Yule was the holiest of the High Days. During the longest night of the year, the Gods were the closest to the people of Midgard. The Disir (female ancestors) were honored on this night called Mother’s Night. No spinning or weaving was done for the next twelve nights. At Yule, oaths were sworn, and the Runes read. The Yule Log burned all through this period.
In Rome, the Golden Age of Saturn was celebrated as the Saturnalia. During Saturn’s Rule of Latium, perfect harmony and prosperity existed as one. During Saturnalia, citizens causally mingled with slaves, freedmen, and foreigners. It was a time of partying and fun. The religious rite that opened Saturnalia was the removing of the woolen bands of Saturn’s statue. Then the statue was refreshed with oil. At the end of Saturnalia, the statue was wrapped again. At that time, Ianus (Janus) ruled the New Year. Saturnalia was the time of endings and beginnings.