The Talking Forest Runes

In the Belly of Winter

Imbolc 2023

by Kay Broome

Hostpapa web photo

February is probably the least loved month in the northern hemisphere. In this stormy season in the depths of winter, the days are lengthening, but the nights are still long. Even those who love winter sports are tired of the endless snow, ice and slush; or worse still, we’ve had yet another anthropogenic winter of endless November. Is it any wonder then, that those who are able, choose this time of year to seek warmer climes for their vacation?

But in spite of all this, I love February. Unless there’s a raging blizzard or dangerous winds outside, I always insist on taking my daily walk. By the end of January, the longer and sometimes, sunny days become very apparent. And the snow squalls of February, while becoming increasingly rare, are for me at least, an exhilarating treat.

There is a perceptible feeling of waiting in the air in this season. We know in our very core that spring is just around the corner. You can almost smell the sap moving through the trunks of the sleeping maples. And buds of various trees are already beginning to swell in anticipation of the new season. Around the second week of February, the cardinal’s brilliant crimson is easily spied among the bare branches and his what-cheer, what-cheer song heralds the coming spring.

Hostpapa web photo


Imbolc is celebrated on February 1st or 2nd and is one of four major sabbats of the Celtic pagan tradition. At this time, the goddess Brigid is honoured. Daughter of the Dagda, she is a member of the Tuatha dé Danann, a pantheon from the Celtic myth cycle. Goddess of the arts and crafts, Brigid’s purview included spinning, weaving and homemaking skills, as well. She was keeper of the hearth, and protector of mothers and children. Her domain also included healing, thus many of the rites of Imbolc include aspects of purification such as visiting holy wells. Brigid was greatly loved in Scotland, Ireland and other Celtic cultures, so much so that to this day, Christians honour her as St. Brigit.

The word Imbolc is Celtic and means “in the belly”. This may allude to seeds waiting within Mother Earth or to the fertile status of ewes at this time of year, for lambing season was traditionally in early spring. Wiktionary also mentions that imb fholc is from the Irish, meaning “to cleanse, or wash”. Appropriately, for this season is a time of purification. It is the final stage of winter before the rains of spring wash the old year’s dross away. At this time, when the ground was frozen, in earlier times less work needed to be done. People would thus clean and prepare implements needed for the upcoming planting and harvesting seasons: baskets to be mended or woven, plough shares and hoes sharpened; pails and buckets patched, etc.

Some pointers on how to enjoy February:

  • If you can afford the time and finances, take a holiday this month. It can be two weeks in Jamaica or even a weekend at the cottage or visiting a friend overnight. Anything to just get away.

  • Treat yourself to a nice meal – either make it at home or visit your favorite restaurant. No special occasion needed.

  • Take this down-time of the year to clean out some of the junk in your life. Purge yourself of those outdated paper receipts, emails, computer files etc. that are taking up space and complicating your life.

  • Finish that small unpleasant task that needs doing, but that you just keep putting off. Put aside a specific day in February and when the job is done, reward yourself with a glass of wine, movie night or whatever.

  • Around Imbolc, I like to take a leaf from our pagan ancestors, and clean and fix sacred items as needed: anointing tools; resetting and cleaning jewelry; mending robes or adding new wythes to my besom.

  • If you’re getting sick of seasonal fare such as apples and cranberries, remember: chocolate really is a fruit! Buy your favorite chocolate bar or bake a chocolate cake. If you’re too lazy to do that, simply make a mug of hot cocoa. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants which combat strokes, cancer and heart disease, and all save white chocolate contain theobromine which improves mood and increases energy.

  • Finally, and I can’t stress this enough – if you are able, get outside at least once a day for no less than half an hour. Try walking on the beach, in a park, along a pleasant street, or even window shopping. You will feel uplifted, get free Vitamin D and some good exercise.

Cedar (Arborvitae)

Hostpapa web photo of cedar

The Talking Forest Cedar rune references the arbor vitae (thuja) cedars. These trees of the lacy needles and cleansing, invigorating scent, were traditionally used to ward off sickness and heal seasonal ills such as colds and flu. The famous Vicks VapoRub used for cold medicine contains cedar oil. First nations people lined the floors of their sweat lodges with cedar branches. These ceremonies provided an opportunity for inner cleansing and reconnection with the ancestors, Mother Earth and the Great Spirit.

In imitation of the shape of many Thuja species, the Cedar rune is slender and columnar with six upward turning tines. It somewhat resembles a torch and as such, it deals with the burning away of impurities. The Cedar rune’s kenning is besom or sweat lodge, thus conveying its intrinsic context of healing – both physical and spiritual.

Talking Forest Cedar Rune

Talking Forest Cedar © 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Cedar and all the other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

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