Of Serpents, Eggs, and Spiral Dances

Brighid and the Cailleach's altar

My friends arrived from all over the Lower Mainland (witches, heathens, mystics, thelemites, hermetics, shamans…) for my Imbolc ritual Sunday afternoon. I’d decorated the hall, with its view of the forest, by setting up an altar for Brighid and the Cailleach strewn with evergreen branches and budding Indian Plum from the woods flanked at each side by wolf and bear hides. Brighid had a bottle of spring water and the Cailleach a bottle of melted snow. Brighid’s had bull and deer skulls and Old Woman a large bear skull and shed deer antlers. I surrounded both with candles and offerings.

Although Imbolc is often associated with Brighid, it equally belongs to Old Woman. I thought it best to include her and leave her offerings lest we end up with a situation like Briar Roses’ parents and the uninvited dark fairy in Sleeping Beauty. As my Scots ancestors associated this festival with serpents in their form as land spirits, we performed a snake-themed ritual with spiral dances and egg offerings.

Serpent of the Year

My friend and elder Fritz visited last week and explained to my friends and I that he saw the wheel of the year not as a wheel, but as an undulating serpent. The solstices and equinoxes are very hard to find exact dates for without scientific equipment, but the cross quarter days are easy; you can see the days lengthen or shorten and feel the heat or the cold change. Samhuinn is when we notice the days are shorter and darker – we know winter is coming and the spirits of the dead with it. Imbolc is important because it is when we can first notice the days getting lighter and longer again after the darkness of the Midwinter. This alone causes the spirit to lighten and hope to spring, but here in the Pacific Northwest there are also buds on a few early trees and the green shoots of cold-hardened plants popping up, revealing the earth is still full of life.

Deer skull and juniper

We circled before the altar and I cast a caim around us with my Rowan wand and an incantations derived from the Carmina Gadelica:

“Dark is yonder town and dark those within.
We will go as the white swan,
kings and queens among them.
We will go in likeness of stag,
in likeness of serpent,
in likeness of bear.
Stronger will it be within us
than within all people.”

I smudged everyone with burning cedar, juniper, and western hemlock. I blessed some water with evergreen needles and a silver ring and had everyone dip in their fingers and cleanse themselves while the drummers beat out a tune on their djembes and frame drums. We passed around the drinking horn filled with a good, blood-red wine. The drummers moved to the middle and we spiral danced around and between them chanting “earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, and fire my spirit.” Around and through we wove and spiraled and undulated like a serpent’s body, dancing, shouting, singing, stomping… Then we rattled and drummed and shouted some more, making all the noise we could to wake up the sleeping land spirit under our feet. Everyone knelt on the floor and we slapped it with our open palms, creating rhythms while calling to the land:

“Today is the day of Bride;
The serpent shall come from the hole,
We will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest us.”

Offerings for the spirits

Around Imbolc is when many of the ancient Pagan cultures had a festival to say farewell to the dead. With the light returning, it is also time for the dead to return to their dark realm. All the women took up brooms and we swept the floor of the hall, sweeping the dead out the door. Behind us came bearers with offerings from the altar of organic tobacco, milk, honey, and whiskey which we left at the roots of a fir tree outside the door. The dead were now the outdwellers with offerings to appease them, still loved, but no longer free to roam the realm of the living.

Offerings for the Rowan tree

Lastly, everyone chose an egg, delicate and raw. We whispered our wishes and dreams and healing blessings through their shells and gently placed them in a basket lined with soft hemlock branches. Those who were willing to brave the rain followed me into the forest for a pilgrimage to the old Rowan tree near the dirt crossroad. Through brambles, bracken, and fallen branches we went; like a trooping fairy rade.  Everyone helped to carefully tuck the eggs at the Rowan’s roots along with apples and a great pomegranate (the raccoons will surely love us). Then back we went to the hall to join the rest and feast, drink hot tea and coffee, and drum and dance some more. We licked Nikiah’s honey off our fingers and devoured smoky bacon chips and homemade treats.

It was a beautiful and magical day with friends and I feel so blessed to have such a community of people.  Thank you so much to Lynda who took all the photos because I forgot my camera at home!

Slàinte mhòr everyone!

Eggs at the roots of the Rowan tree

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Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • alreadyselected says:

    All your effort was greatly appreciated, thanks again. xxo

  • It looks wonderful, it sounds very powerful, very magical. I wish we had the cooler weather here right now….

  • sylvanmoon says:

    Hi Sarah-Everyone~I’ll cut to the chase~I’m so confused!!! For two decades now I’ve bought and swapped books about witchcraft with nothing really resonating with what I truly feel. Some books have come close, but no bananas! Could you recommend one book as a starting point for me? Because of all the conflicting advice out there-I am very weary, but this need to “do” has become very persistent lately. Thank you so much~Confused in Colorado

    • If witchcraft doesn’t resonate for you, maybe it’s time to move on? Have you tried reading outside your comfort zone? If you’ve been reading about witchcraft, have you only read books by pagan publishers or have you also read academic works of history, anthropology, and folklore? Have you read anything on Animism, Shamanism, Haitian Vodou, Buddhism, Taoism,…? Have you read any Celtic/Scandinavian/Slavic/Greek mythology? There is no one book that can help point you in a direction – only insatiable curiousity and voracious reading. Blessings.

    • sylvanmoon says:

      Thanks Sarah~You got my brain juices flowing (although rather sluggish due to a nasty bug)…instead of continually confusing myself with the various witchcraft books-I’ll read some of the book recommendations you posted, but explore Animism more-that caught my attention!

  • sylvanmoon says:

    P.S.~The reason I wrote was because of this article about your Imbolc Ritual gathering.

  • judith says:

    I love the symbology/metaphor of the snake 🙂

    I agree that once you HAVE Stonehenge, the day demarcation is obvious, but there has to be a LOT of stone-setting-out and place-keeping before the construction. OTOH, the cross-quarter days, if you use biological (ie flowering/sprouting/browning) rather than astrological markers then you’re set.

    On the Gripping Hand— zow!! Is it ever green where you are!!
    *pouts*

  • Beth says:

    What a lovely ritual you had; thank you for sharing about it, and happy Imbolc! 🙂

  • Thank you for your stories.

  • Sylvia says:

    I find this so beautiful & inspired. Thank you for sharing the stories of your tender wild rituals. And I’m smiling imagining the raccoons with the eggs, they will bless you forever, their little trickster mouths full of yolks that are like dozens of new suns.