Imbolc: Groundhogs, Virgules, Bardos, and Other Beautiful Betweens

warm glow of a candle
Photo by Mercedes Bosquet on Unsplash

Halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox, Imbolc / Groundhog Day / Candlemas / Brigid’s Day is marked in many traditions, a threshold with a liminal shimmer.


The incomparable Erik Ehn has been known to gather artists to create alongside each other, wherever on the planet we might be. Last year, he suggested a window of work between local dusk February 1 and dawn February 2, 2023: the traditional date to celebrate Imbolc, the bridge between winter solstice and spring equinox.

“Imbolc” comes from the old Irish for “in the belly of the mother,” associated with the time of year when sheep have their first pregnancy of the year, and the first stirrings of seeds appear in the earth. It can be a time for going inward, for wondering at the moon, for a bath by candlelight, for asking questions without rushing to the answer.

Erik’s gentle prompt to look into different cultural expressions of this “cross-quarter” holiday included this offering: “The sense of in-betweenness, readiness for change, and for incarnate wisdom may have a bearing on what you make.” He shared inspiring examples from poetry, oratory, performance, botany, song, and  life, including inspiration drawn from among the artists he gathered.

Punctuation nerd that I am, I was drawn to his suggestion to consider the virgule, that little twig that can mean so many things:

This symbol (/), the virgule, was often the only mark of punctuation used by medieval scribes copying English poetry. The virgule is the ancestor of the comma. Rather than indicating mutually exclusive alternatives, as in some cases in modern usage, the scribes’ virgule connected things… (for more)

The bridge of the virgule invites us to pause in the space between – and between is my favorite spot. That night of writing between the first and second of February in 2023 let me explore that between-space alone, and then we all zoom-gathered and shared what we made.

The two related poems below were my offering to the community’s whole:

Part I: Threshold

The bardo between death and birth is only one
There’s the dying itself / rebirth / dream / meditation
Bound by thought / returned to stillness
Between birth and death is another
Everywhere / nowhere to go

An airport / train station
Kakuma / Ifo / Za’atari / Tapachula / Kyiv subway
A stick withholding covid / pregnancy status
Falling in / out of love
Outside the delivery room / by the hospice bed
Transplant waitlist / DNR order
Stray heartbeat morphing into chaos / pulled back into line
By pill / luck / electricity
Resting in the out-breath / shredded lungs dragging at the air
This video / that video / excruciating endless loops

Jury rooms bulging with history:
Someone’s friend / parent / partner / child was murdered by
Someone’s friend / parent / partner / child
Over and over and over and over and over

Each decision / gunshot / glance / plan / birdsong / nightmare / prayer
Leaves a whisper / scar / gift / amputation
Hanging in the space between
To be honored / forgotten / shared / twisted

Part II: Imbolc

Ignoring all the vanishing betweens is like clapping on the one and three
You can’t dance to it

Celebrate the off beat / snap your fingers / sway your hips

I don’t get the opportunity to notice when the sheep are pregnant
I do notice when I need a bath
Nothing to do with dirt / everything to do with cleansing
I stop for the nodding hellebore / snowdrop
These days the spidering witch hazel has already come / gone
Before the groundhog shows / hides their head
But I can still feel the between-ness / power of that bloom shaded in snow
Living soil supporting / feeding us all even as ki and kin die in multitudes

Brigid tends writers and other wounded / domesticated animals
I scribble in the dark / candlelight / monitor’s glow
The groundhog holds us in winter’s stillness / leads us to spring’s clamor

                                           *  *  *  *. *. *  *

Today is again the traditional day for honoring Imbolc, coinciding with February’s free monthly community write that I offer, along with co-teacher Marcy Vaughn, to all participants from any of our Freeing the Spell of Story meditation and writing workshops. We shared a version of Erik’s prompt for Imbolc, exploring the mystery of staying in the question of the pregnant pause, the little twig of the virgule bridging one question with the next, and enjoying the roots wriggling in the dark.

Juanita Rockwell

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