By Cat Gina Cole
When I was young, my grandmother called what I now know as Imbolc the “Quickening,” It was not specific to a particular date but always occurred in February. We knew the quickening had arrived when Grandma would stop whatever she was doing, listen for a moment and say, “The quickening is here, do you feel it?” Sometimes, it would happen in the garden, sometimes not, but she could feel it. It was a noticeable shift in the energy of the earth and the plants that she could feel. What is the quickening you ask? Well, it is when the earth has warmed up just enough to trigger plants to shift from putting out roots to pushing out shoots.
The quickening meant there was work to do! Grandma kept her compost separate, kitchen compost in one place, grass clippings and leaves in other bins. At the time of the quickening, she would combine a little bit of each in some mysterious way that suited each plant. More leaves for one section of the garden or more kitchen compost for another and so on.
In the evenings we would talk about what new things we were doing or had gotten and prepared for the new moon. By the time of the new moon, the plants would all be fed and protected, as we gathered our new things to be charged by the new moon’s energy.
The night of the new moon, no matter the weather, we carefully assembled in the garden for ritual, in silence. During this time of silence, you could feel the expectant and pregnant energy all around, making it a very sacred moment. I was ten years old the first time I got to participate. I remember standing there in the dark expectant silence and being struck with awe as several women began to arrive.
They entered the garden from different directions, all in silence, as they set down their offerings and joined us. Now assembled in a circle and still in silence, we extended our hands toward the earth. I followed along as Grandma began to hum. My eyes got wide as I began to feel the earth’s energy make my palms tingle. I looked up at mom and she only smiled and nodded. We drew up the energy around us and lifted it up to the moon, casting a circle of energy, then Grandma began the ritual. It was an amazing thing to see and participate in at the age of ten. When we were done, the other women went as quietly as they came and I never really saw their faces or knew who they were.
This is why Imbolc has always been about birth for me, both agriculturally and spiritually. I was in my 50’s when I learned about the European and Celtic history of Imbolc or that it was generally celebrated on February 1st.
Eventually I learned how my grandmother would know when the quickening began. It is a matter of feeling the usual everyday energy and hum of the ground and plants around you and being able to notice when that energy changes and begins to feel like growth or pushing or urgency.
As I also have clairvoyance, when I get the nudge that the energy has changed, I get either an image of a plant beginning to grow underground or of a pregnant woman about to give birth in my mind’s eye that makes my body also feel the pressure of energy about to expel itself.
Agriculturally in my tradition, as my grandmother and mother are no longer with me, and I am on my own property, at the quickening I set about to do the things I was taught by them, giving the plants food, clearing debris, or amending the soil while still protecting the plants through the early spring.
Magically for me, the quickening signals it is time to come out of the dark and complete the shadow work that began on the last harvest of Samhain. Imbolc is a time to focus on what I want to “birth” into my life. It is when I get to start with a clean slate and birth or create the new life I desire, a time to become what I desire to be. Imbolc is a time to bring forth, to grow, a time of new beginnings.
At the quickening ritual, our family sometimes included things like choosing a magical name, baby naming rituals, commitment to a spiritual path or a life partner. We would do this ritual on the new moon in February and charge the new things we had, like a car, tools, projects or animals, with the new moon energy.
These are all traditions I still hold today. The new thing my shadow work revealed this year that I will be birthing and honoring is the writer I have become, my new columns, my next book, and the classes I will teach. Personally, I will ask for and manifest better health for my husband, me, my animals and my property. I do this by drawing the energy of the quickening from the earth under the new moon and draw that energy into me, then draw down the new moon energy into me, mix it all in my core then cast it onto all the things I am birthing in the ritual. I have done this ritual as a solitary and with a group. For the group, we focused on birthing a new self, setting ourselves free from the things that held us back and it was a very impactful and fruitful ritual.
I would love to hear what your Imbolc traditions are, feel free to leave a comment below and many blessings to all!
Cat Gina Cole is a Hereditary Witch and author of Psychic Skills for Magic and Witchcraft (Llewellyn, 2022). She is the founder of The Coven of the Rising Phoenix and Staff Coordinator for “Green Egg Magazine.” You can reach her at www.catginacole.com.