I am in the process of researching and adding content, so bear with me and check back soon.
I am in the process of researching and adding content, so bear with me and check back soon.
Imbolc, pronounced IMM-molk, means “from the belly of the mother” due to its proximity to lambing season, when livestock animals produce abundant milk and birth many new babies.
Imbolc marks the beginning of Spring. It is the first of four fire festivals during the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans, and non-religious or spiritual collectives alike. Dating as far back as the 10th century, Imbolc is celebrated on 2 February, though the date may sometimes vary depending on weather and geographic location.
Imbolc is a time for anticipating new life, making way for new beginnings, and welcoming the Sun’s return. With Spring coming soon, most of us are planting seeds and getting our gardens tilled for new harvests.
It is also time to honour St. Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Light and Illumination, of Home and Hearth, of Fire and Protection. Brigid was also a poet, clairvoyant, weaponsmith, midwife, a celebrated herbal healer, and teacher of herbcraft/ wildcraft. As a certified (yet still new) Herbalist myself, I am intrigued by her legend.
My song for this entry is “T” by iamamiwhoami because this video is full of Imbolc imagery and symbolism for Brigid’s light bearing season. “Brigid” emerges from the darkness and slowly begins to spread light while her body seeps some sort of milk or pollen (new life/midwifery).
She finds and filters pollutants (healer) in the environment and turns it into a (goddess) crown and armor (weapons), gaining momentum until it turns her body black. Then she returns to the depths from where she started this light-bringing cycle. Wiccans/Pagans will likely make this easy connection to the Sun God cycle.
Foods of the Season
Shortly before Yule last year, my friend in Georgia brought me several branches of Georgia Pine (aka Pinus palustris) from her home. I used the fresh needles to make infused salt and a pine vinegar that can be used in place of balsamic vinaigrette.
Both were easy to make. For the vinegar, just fill a mason jar with clean pine needles, add any herbs you like, pour organic apple cider vinegar to the top, and seal the jar. Shake every day for six weeks and keep it in a cool pantry or cabinet.
For the salt, start by filling a small organza bag with clean pine needles that have either been cut, ground lightly, or snapped in half. Tie the bag together completely so the needles do not fall out.
Fill a large mason jar about 1/3 full of organic Himalayan pink sea salt and add a teaspoon of red chili flakes. Grate the peel from two oranges and broadly slice five cloves of garlic. Drop the orange peelings and garlic slices in the salt, then add the tied bag of pine needles.
Keep this jar sealed and shake the hell out of it for a couple minutes twice a day to keep any damp bits coated in salt. In my experience, any moisture is quickly dried out by the salt, so you should not have to worry about mold unless your jar is not sealed properly.
For this year’s Imbolc Sabbat, my ladies convened once again for dinner and quality time. We were a little early for this one due to some heavy schedules coming up. When preparing the meal, I used balsamic and pine vinegar to marinate chicken before grilling it.
To symbolically anticipate and welcome the sun, it is common to make bright yellow, orange, or red foods and to set your table with lots of bright “sunny” light.
I made Moroccan-style barley with curry, cumin, paprika, and other spices then dressed it with chopped Medjool dates and sliced almonds in a loose Sun God pattern.
Winter months typically mean relying on previous seasons’ canned goods, and foods for Imbolc include seeds, and dried vegetables and fruits.
Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, radishes, parsnips, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, and rutabaga are more durable than spring and summer crops, and are absolutely perfect for fresh choices in colder months.
I cut up a variety of root vegetables and coated them in some herbed EVO oil my mother made for me as a gift, plus lots of marjoram, oregano, black pepper, and minced garlic. Lightly cover the pan of veggies with aluminum foil so they can roast longer without scorching.
I used bacon fat to sauté freshly-snapped green beans then squeezed lemon juice over them when they were finished.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is always my go-to cake for Imbolc because it combines fresh, crisp lemon and dried poppy seeds with dairy staples like butter, eggs, and cream.
I always use coconut oil or butter in my cakes, and I use fresh-squeezed lemonade in place of water for the batter. If you are using a boxed mix (no shame) you will want to use a bit more lemonade than pure water when measuring ingredients.
For my vanilla buttercream I whip a stick of butter in the mixer, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for one minute. Stop the mixer, add three tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 more cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for another 3-5 minutes.
From there I experiment with some secret ingredients and different flavour combinations, but the important part is to add the powdered sugar SLOWLY and mix it slowly. You may mix longer or add more cream to your preference.
Covering your mixer with a towel is optional, but wise. In my past bakery experience, I quickly learned that this will prevent the blades from throwing out all over you and your kitchen, but live on the edge if you like.
Tradition says that you should throw a piece of cake (or Bannock) over your shoulder to honour Brigid and return a little to the land, and that another small piece should be kept in the cupboard or pantry until the next Sabbat to symbolize abundance and never being empty.
Best I could do was accidentally fling some off my plate in a moment of excited conversation, and I tried to save a slice for my boyfriend but ended up eating most of it because it is just THAT good.
Recently I learned that Colcannon, an Irish dish I make often and can not get enough of, has been a traditional meal served during Imbolc since the 1700s. You can check out my recipe here.
Another one of my favourite Imbolc-appropriate treats are my mother’s iced lemon cookies. She created her own recipe that includes cornbread in the batter instead of basic flour, and she uses fresh lemon juice for both the cookies and the icing.
Maybe some day she will give me her recipe, but until then I wait in anticipation of the next batch.
On the eve of, or the day after Imbolc, I like to make a soup of chicken, parsnips, rosemary, lemon, and other vegetables on hand. This works especially well for using up leftovers from the Sabbat dinner.
After dinner, we played a delightful board game called WildCraft. The premise of the game is that you are visiting your grandparents, who have been teaching you about medicinal herbs you can find in the woods.
Grandma sends you up the mountain one morning to gather bushels of huckleberries and promises to make you a pie if you all get home before dark. The game is witchy, Pagan-friendly, teaches basic Herbalism, and focuses on values like helping others and teamwork.
We had so many factors against us. For example, every time you land on an X, you must suffer some type of injury or affliction, then collect the proper herb needed to heal. It gets dark really fast, and you can get washed away by surprise waterfalls like it’s nothing.
Some really crazy shit happened in those woods, but we managed to regroup and get back to grandma’s house in the nick of time, between bouts of embarrassingly loud heehaw laughter interlaced with adult humour. This game was hilarious in ways it probably does not intend to be, and I can not wait to play it again.
If you prefer to celebrate on your own or to do so after a social gathering, take a milk bath with fresh lemons and rosemary.
Ask yourself what it is that you need to hear or find, and ask the Universe to put these aspects in place to cross your path. Blessed Imbolc!
Coming up next on the Wheel of the Year is Ostara, also known as Eostre.
Yule is one of my favourite Sabbats, which some of you may find odd, considering my distaste for Christmas and other American-Christian holidays.
I do not believe in the lore of Jesus or Santa or any of the other obnoxious icons that fill the environment during Christmas. The loud, sentimental jingles and off-key children’s choirs rattle my nerves like a jackhammer, and worst of all is the forced obsession with buying, shopping, and consuming. It is always mortifying to read/hear about people fighting or getting killed or going bankrupt from buying Christmas gifts.
But what I LOVE about this time of year is all of the scents; pine, balsam, spruce, cinnamon, wood smoke, gingerbread, peppermint, and clove, and I love how pretty all the lights are at night.
I love the chilly bite in the air that numbs my face and takes my breath away when I go for a walk, and I love how much joy my brother gets out of harassing me and our father with his growing collection of awful Christmas tunes every chance he gets.
I love my mother’s incredible talent for decorating and all the buckeyes, cookies, peppermint bark, and other treats she makes for our Christmas day together. I scoff at tradition for tradition’s sake, but my family has always made our own traditions and it would probably break my chubby little heart if she ever stopped.
My song for this entry is Type O Negative’s “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)”
I love the abundance of glossy evergreens with the contrast of bright red berries and blooms. As heart-wrenching as it is to watch most of my plants die off each winter, I feel a bit of inspiration and solidarity with evergreens and other robust plants that are still standing and growing during the hard times.
And I feel empathy for the ones that go dormant for a while because this is the time of year when animals also go dormant, and time slows down for us humans, and we make time for each other, and we start to reflect on the year as it comes to a close.
Yule is a time of turning inward. Like all Sabbats, it is a time for reflection, inner exploration, and expressing gratitude. In most cultures, especially Native American, the Winter Solstice is a time for storytelling and ceremonies that take place after the first snow.
Yule coincides with the Winter Solstice, which is the longest night and shortest day of each year, and when the sun is in its southernmost position. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, our North Pole will be shifted further from the sun today than any other time.
This transition can leave people feeling lonely or fatigued, partly because we try to resist the natural instinct to withdraw and rest. We try to keep up with the usual pace, the regular plans, and often do not anticipate the sudden drop in energy.
Eventually we give in because cold weather makes it easier for us to stay indoors, linger in bed a bit longer, and to ask our friends for rainchecks.
1. Get crafty with nature
As a practicing herbalist, I really enjoy making healing medicine, teas, vinegars, spice blends, balms, etc. out of natural elements. A close friend recently brought me some lovely pine branches from her Georgia home. I used the needles to make pine vinegar and some sea salt infused with pine, garlic, chili flakes, and grated orange peel.
2. Show some Love
Just like salt, vinegar, and edible tea blends, bath teas double as beautiful gifts.
There isn’t much in my daily life that can not be fixed or alleviated by a hot bath. I really enjoy making bath teas, and having a huge chest of dried herbs, flowers, essential oils, etc. allows me to customize them for whatever occasion or problem may be going on at a given time.
I use a blend of sea salt, epsom, pink or grey Himalayan, and other coarse salts for these. Add in essential oils and shavings of shea or coconut butters, and any dried petals or herbs you like. I include a candle with mine that is set with intention, and a small reusable tea or muslin bag to fill for each individual bath in order to prevent clogged drains.
3. Host a small dinner party
Certain foods dominate the menu during this time of year due to a combination of tradition, nostalgia, and availability. Glühwein, mulled wine, apple cider, and wassail are seasonal essentials. I like to change it up each Sabbat but here are a few dishes from last Yule:
Winter kale salad with cranberries, figs, almonds, and garlic Parmesan vinaigrette
Guinness beef stew with tri-colour potatoes
Roasted sweet potatoes and turnips with homemade ‘Nduja, served with chicken apple stuffing.
Roasted zucchini with Meyer lemon and pepper
Freshly baked Stollen, to show love for my German heritage
4. Hold a Yule Log ritual
Traditionally, a small log is cut so that it lays flat, horizontally, on top of a table or altar. I will be constructing mine later today, but until then check out this guide to create your own.
Journaling, holding rituals, and taking inventory of the ending year are common activities during this time of year. Share your favourite memories while spending time with loved ones, go for a walk in the woods, and find something to laugh at yourself about.
Think deeply about any difficulties you faced and the lessons you learned from it all so you can wear it like armor into the new year. What are you hoping to see unfold for you, and what are you willing to do to make that happen?
Cultures across the globe venerate their dead with elaborate festivals. Many fall immediately on or after Samhain, though it differs between hemispheres.
Living in the US, I struggle to find any merit in our holidays. (WASP)Americans are without any real tradition to honour ancestors and I am continuously dismayed by the lack of openness regarding grief or speaking of death.
So naturally I’m fascinated by cultures with soulful traditions, particularly those that venerate their dead, and I am compulsively interested in what they eat at these festivities. #deathpositivity
My song pick for this one is Oingo Boingo “Dead Man’s Party”
The National Hispanic Cultural Center produced this overview of Dia de los Muertos and remembrance rituals among the multi-cultural and polyethnic continents of the Americas based on archaeological discoveries and oral/written traditions:
Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
This well-known celebration takes place from 1-2 November in Mexico and increasingly worldwide. Altars composed of photos, flowers, candles, personal possessions, and gifts pop with blue, orange, and purple.
You will find these altars in family homes, burial sites, in public places, and religious centers. As part of the festival, attendees design elaborate costumes and paint their faces.
Preparing for Dia de los Muertos is time consuming. Sugar skulls and skull-themed food and decorations are also painstakingly baked and displayed for the big event.
I have made a few skull cakes for fun (below):
Pan de Muerto and other sweets reserved for these days and Calacas skeletons are displayed all around.
Families will often visit and clean the graves of their beloved before and after the main events. Offerings of bread and flowers, typically marigolds, are also given to honour the lost loved ones and to guide them through the afterlife.
Here is a touching short film I found:
Mexico City hosts a grand parade each year, which you can get a feel for in the opening of scene of Spectre:
Variations of Dia de los Muertos can be found all over Central and South America. In Guatemala, the people fly massive kites and consume a special dish called fiambre that is reserved for this day.
Fiambre is a type of salad that is made from the favourite foods of loved ones who have passed, so each one varies. Saveur, Growing Up Bilingual, and Spandango each have some great example recipes in the respective links.
In Ecuador, the indigenous Kichwa people have their own designated recipes that they make for Day of Deceased (Dia de los Difuntos) on 2 November.
Loja bread filled with guava and sugar, and a spiced pineapple-blackberry pudding called colada morada are among favourites. Here is a simplified version of colada morada, but Youtube has a great video recipe for the real deal:
Samhain falls on 1 November each year, just after Halloween, and coincides with festivals and holidays for remembering ancestors around the world.
People of most cultures, and as in this case I am writing about Pagans, believe that the veil between the living world and the afterlife is thinnest during this time of year which makes it easier to communicate with spirits. But I mean, it’s a veil.
My song pick for this entry is the band Samhain’s song “Halloween II”
For my meditation / altar, I set up candles around photos of my paternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, paternal great grandmother, and my paternal grandfather-by-marriage, with obituaries and a few treasures they left behind.
I burned myrrh copal resin with bits of cinnamon, apple seeds, cloves, and sandalwood oil and sat for a while, speaking out loud all the things I wished to communicate to them at that time. I do this every few months, without any fancy spell or rhyme or ritual beforehand. Just sit and start talking.
Roger is the man to whom I credit my first taste/desire to explore the world, and I wrote Roger That for him. He died from cancer when I was almost ten but I still talk to him often.
Both maternal grandparents passed a few years apart, and both under particularly distressing circumstances. My parents, brother, and I have each had experiences lately that lead us to believe my grandmother is still reaching out to us.
On my Samhain Sabbat I hosted a party called Totenmahl, the German word for dead meal or funeral feast. The intention/meditation for the night was to remember and celebrate loved ones we have lost, so we stood around the fire and shared stories of how they influenced us and continue to shape our lives.
I have been reading/writing more about traditions in Central and South America, and am so inspired by some of the recipes I have found.
I created my own version of mole with ground apricots and raisins, dark bitter chocolate, vegetable broth, garlic, onions, roasted chipotle and Thai chili peppers, bay leaves, cocoa, chili powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, harissa, chipotle, cumin, red pepper, cinnamon, and clove.
It was so good we kept finding other things to use as a vessel for delivering the mole into our mouths.
My first step was putting chicken and onions in the smoker for about four hours.
Rosemary garlic roasted root veggies – turnips, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes. Parsnips always add a taste of lemon sweetness to any dish, and the rosemary balanced out the tartness. I marinated the veggies overnight in olive oil and mixed it up well before roasting.
Macaroni and cheese pie with gouda, mozzarella, parmesan, and herbs.
S’mores brownies- double layer with dark chocolate, honey grahams, and marshmallows on top. I added the toppings after the brownies were done and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.
A friend made these bacon-wrapped dates, and another brought bacon-wrapped asparagus, and I really just do not have any complaints at all about that.
My ladies all brought various side dishes, corn pudding, salads, breads, herbed butters, drinks, and more.
I made so much that I able to use it for other dishes the following week as well.
Our sweets table was pretty wild too, with double chocolate pretzel bark, strawberry and chocolate cookies, cheesecake, candies, s’mores brownies, dark chocolate truffles, sweet potato casserole, pomegranate seeds, apples and caramel, etc.
We had such a beautiful night. Blessed Samhain!
Mabon is the autumn equinox and falls between 21-24 September. This is a relatively new name for the ancient Meán Fómhair that is sometimes known as the Harvest Home day and close to the Feast of the Ingathering.
Pagans celebrate Mabon as the first of the three annual harvest festivals, with the second being Lammas (Lughnasadh) and Samhain being the third. Essentially it is the Witches’ Thanksgiving.
Apples are abundant this time of year, and my song pick for this entry is The Andrews Sisters “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”
For my Mabon Sabbat, I wanted the menu to be centered on seasonal squash, pumpkins, root vegetables, and apples with lots of colour and high comfort. Here is what I came up with:
Creamy kale soup with unpeeled red potatoes, spicy sausage, onions, garlic, herbs, vegetable stock, and heavy cream.
Stuffed acorn squash with caramelized onions, quinoa, spinach, apples, garlic, rosemary, and cream cheese
Pumpkin curry with coconut milk, Thai chilies from my garden, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, garbanzo beans, onions, ginger, and lemongrass, over jasmine rice.
Brussels sprouts with bacon, amino acids, and black pepper
A friend made these Deviled eggs- one set is Bloody Mary and the other was full of herbs.
In previous years, I have baked other stuffed items such as butternut squash with quinoa, sausage, and cheese as well as apples stuffed with steel cut oats, cinnamon, maple, and honey. It’s just the right time for treats like that.
In lieu of an altar, I led a group smudging ritual and shared my knowledge of materials, procedures, and intent. We talked about different herbs, resins, woods, and how/when to use each one, etc.
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a 1978 horror film with Bette Davis, lots of Mabon imagery and references, chock-full of over the top false witchlore and stereotypical misunderstandings. I have not been able to watch it in its entirety but here is a link to a very poor quality Youtube version.
My song pick for this entry is the “Pchum Ben Song” by Meas Soksophea.
Cambodia, Pchum Ben (Ancestor’s Day)
Cambodians celebrate Pchum (a gathering) Ben (ball, of something) somewhere near the end of September to early October, depending on the lunar calendar each year. They gather to honor their ancestors by offering food and gifts via Buddhist monks and to the monks themselves.
It is tradition on Pchum Ben to make balls of rice and set them out at dawn to appease passing spirits, and to visit seven (but no less than three) separate pagodas.
Pchum Ben origins predate even Buddhism; back to when people observed Animism, the belief that all creatures and objects, living otherwise, have a spirit. The first 14 days of this 15-day religious holiday are known as Kan Ben, the observation period of sacrifice and prayer.
The final 15th day is known as Pchum Ben Day, where villages come together to cook, eat, drink, play, and dance together. Music and traditional arts take place throughout the entire period.
Pchum Ben stands out in comparison to other remembrance rituals I have written about because in addition to giving offerings to ancestors, the Khmer people also give to offer solace and good karma to the spirits of victims of the Khmer Rouge, when over a third of the population was brutally murdered.
The pain and suffering still sits heavily within the Khmer people, who have not fully recovered, in any sense of the word. Here is a good place to start if you are interested in reading more about the Khmer Rouge genocide, and check out the video below:
Khmer people have a really beautiful way of cooking meals and making desserts by boiling dishes in bound banana leaves. Below is a video that shows how to make the traditional Num Ansom Chek (banana cakes) to celebrate Pchum Ben.
Nom Ansorm is another type of dish:
In the Khmer language, the word Ben means to collect, to cup, or to mold something, and the word Pchum means to gather together. It is a beautiful combination of words to describe the festival of congregating over endless tiny bowls of Cambodian delicacies to venerate ancestors.