By Eric Francis
February arrives at the depth of winter in most of the Northern Hemisphere, when we live in the shadow of cold, rain and snow. Within February’s first few days lies one of the four high holidays — or sabbats — of the pagan calendar, called Imbolc in Celtic times. One of the four “cross-quarter days,” its corresponding holidays are Beltane (or May Day, May 1), Lammas (also called second planting in agricultural communities, August 1) and Samhain (also called Halloween, October 31).
Imbolc, also called “Midwinter,” literally means “in the belly,” and at this time we are deep in the belly of winter, held in gestation for the coming spring at the Vernal Equinox around March 21. Imbolc is like the first movements of the fetus preparing for birth. Its precise timing is when the Sun crosses the middle degree of Aquarius, the symbolism of which we will visit in a moment.
Ground Hog Day
In the modern world, we associate early February with Ground hog Day, which hardly gives a clue to the importance this holiday held not long ago. For most people, the day passes unnoticed, except for a photo in the local paper of a cute little critter in Pennsylvania who has wiggled out of his hole for a breath of fresh air, just like he does every other day. His stirring to life in midwinter is symbolic; ground hogs don’t hibernate. The media, oddly enough, are practicing the old tradition of weather divination; all of the cross-quarter holidays are associated with some form of augury or communing with the spirit world.
Imbolc, Agriculture and Aquarius
Astrologers know that Imbolc falls with the Sun at the midpoint of the sign Aquarius, the Water Bearer, who lives today as the astrological symbol of rebellion and eccentricity. As with Imbolc, there are always at least two versions of the story with Aquarius. Is it an air sign or a water sign? (It’s an air sign with water themes and imagery.) Is it ruled by, or associated with Saturn or Uranus? (Traditionally Saturn rules it, but in modern astrology most astrologers use Uranus.) Do those wavy lines represent air or water? (All waves are waves of energy.) Is the Water Bearer a male figure or female? (Probably male, but usually represented female.)
The constellation Aquarius, known to be among the oldest named configurations of stars, stands, according to Catherine Tenant, “with his foot on the head of the great Southern fish, into whose mouth his waters pour.” She traces the god Aquarius back to Babylon, noting that he rules over a huge area of the sky where are gathered the Southern fish, the dolphin, the zodiac fishes (Pisces), the mighty River Eridanus (the River of Night) and Cetus the sea monster. These ancient waters and their primal creatures were “seen as the source of life, through which the Sun passed during the rainy season.”
In the hands of Aquarius, says Tenant, is the Norma Nilotica, the stick used to measure the waters of the Nile River, an important indicator of agricultural success, and hence of survival. In these same rainy days of winter, half-a-world away, the Celts were busy with agricultural matters of their own: doing the earliest preparations for planting in coming spring. A feast marked the waning of winter. Germans in Europe and Indians in the New World were taking stock of how much remained of their winter rations. The ability to manage their food supply was critical to their survival through the remaining weeks of cold.
From Pagan to Catholic
Imbolc was such a powerful holiday for the Celts that the Catholics seem to have piled meaning after meaning on it either to fully co-opt the event, or to obscure the truth. Imbolc coincides with the Catholic holiday Candlemas. Though in early February the days were growing noticeably longer, this was still a dark time, and candles were the only means of lighting the long nights. If there were enough candles, a celebration of light was held, with each window of a house being lit on this night. Candles also held religious value, and this was traditionally the time that the priests of the church took stock of their supply and cleansed their altars. The candle association reaches over to Ireland, where at this time people celebrated a feast in honor of the goddess Brigit (later St. Brigit), a hearth deity whose realm included the fires of purification.
Scholars of church lore know this is also the Feast of the Purification of Mary, held 40 days after the birth of Jesus. This was the Christian interpretation of Mary observing the Jewish tradition of returning to sanctuary and being purified in the Mikvah. Mikvah is the origin of the Christian practice of baptism. The cleansing waters of baptism may also be linked to the Water Bearer symbol of Aquarius.
“Prophesy and purification are the recurrent and symbolic themes of the midwinter festivals,” writes Donna Henes in her book Celestially Auspicious Occasions. “The concept of prophesy is drawn from the foresight and faith that spring, in all its verdant glory, is on its predictable way, even amid the hard, white winter. Purification suggests careful preparations for its coming.”
When the Sun is crossing Aquarius, most of our time is still shrouded in darkness, and we remain, for a while, in the belly of the stars of night. We might be tempted to look to the meanings of Aquarius to help understand this fascinating convergence of holidays and themes, but it seems rather more appropriate to apply mystical and agricultural folklore back to Aquarius, reminding ourselves that its waters bring purification and moisten the land for the first growths of spring. And to keep in mind that we really are in the belly of the stars, gestated, born and living in a mysterious cosmos.
January was one of the most challenging, turbulent months since the first time someone ever posted a horoscope to the Internet. February has the feeling of coming out of the turning point than desperately clinging to the road. The standout aspect is Chiron conjunct Neptune, which represents a stage of awakening that is eminently necessary to prepare for the far more intense astrology coming up in the spring. The keyword is conformity: that is, dealing with it. For all our belief in free will and obsession with humans tend to walk around in a trance. This conjunction is a gentle wakeup call: perhaps one in a series, but it’s calling on you to question whether you believe what you know is true, or what other people think you should think.
You’re in a focusing phase wherein you are learning to see, feel and sense the future. Much of this involves an evaluation of your environment, and the ways in which you’re influenced by the people around you. You’re also deeply impacted by numerous messages from advertising, so-called news and imitation culture. Choose your influences carefully. Be careful who you look to for a reflection. Even as you find your freedom, you have the not-so-small matter of authority creeping into your life everywhere. One of the most significant themes of your immediate and long-term astrology involves redefining your relationship to that which has power over you: and beware, most of these factors are hidden. Find the courage to challenge any authority when your moment of absolute awakening arrives — that moment is approaching rapidly.
You seem to live within two entirely different perceptual frameworks, which alternate and at times conflict. You might say you have two value systems trying to function simultaneously. I would propose this split runs in two-month cycles. You seem to alternate in your goals and intentions a little more often than once per season, constantly knocking you out of focus and putting you at cross-purposes with yourself. Yet you can use these fluctuations like a rock climber uses gravity for leverage. You know you don’t embrace change warmly or easily; and this alone is a source of resistance. One frequent result of this tension is the constant, subtle fear that ‘everything is going to be different’, which could be alleviated by embracing the truth that if you seek growth, you must be friends with movement, progress and the unfamiliar.
How is your intuition? Do the hints you get work with or against the things you know intellectually? Or do you override what your subtle sense tells you? Most likely, you alternate among the two. You have powerful analytical skills, but often your intuition contradicts your established beliefs, or your notion of what you want to be true. Lately what other people want from you contradicts your sense of what is right for you, though it’s been challenging for you to stand up to those influences. So there are two matters here: your relationship to yourself; and how you’re influenced by people who seem to have extraordinary power in your life, most recently, financial and sexual power. Both money and sex experienced as power have one thing in common: fear.
You have much to offer, and the deep need to share it. If you made peace with this fact, your life would be simpler. Going by your astrology, you will have some extraordinary opportunities to make your mark as the next few seasons unfold. These are likely to be disguised as unprecedented success and an expanded role in the world. You have doubts about that role, but remember: you make up a story about your personal worth based on what you think others think. As you continue your long-overdue overhaul of your outdated ideas about relationships, focus on trust. If you falter in your trust of yourself, you open the door to those you don’t trust. Therefore, if you want to enjoy your success — or even notice it — be vigilant, and hold yourself in high esteem.
Nobody would accuse you of being an introvert, but sometimes the most outgoing people are the most inwardly focused. You know this, and it’s challenging because you feel it’s your destiny to have attention focused on you. The circumstances of your life call you out into the world of leadership. Yet your sensitive heart and soul call you ever inward. Your transits this year provide support for that deep inner search, one best described as an exploration of your spiritual beliefs. As you move through this territory, you may experience the sometimes-tense relationship between you and your potential. You seem determined to develop habits that make you more efficient, though I would suggest work methods that allow spontaneous growth are the ones to experiment with. Much in the world depends on your contribution, so be thankful for that grounding and sense of purpose.
The ancient story of Virgo is about giving birth to yourself daily, and this is the focus of your current spiritual journey. You nourish the inner seeds of your creative process; and they emerge into the world with a life of their own. When you take responsibility for this process, you create things that nourish you. When you don’t take responsibility, the results can be damaging. You know self-expression is a double-edged sword; but rather than being afraid of this, a better approach would be to grow in your self-mastery. You’ve discovered that if you don’t indulge in actual expression of your ideas and feelings, you feel trapped; if you open up, you feel happier, more grounded and more inclined to notice the incredible gifts being offered to you.
It’s no longer so easy to hide behind your shell. The profound change to your psychic structure is that the facades no longer make you feel safe. Your whole inner emotional structure is being rearranged. Compartments of suppressed feeling are cracking open. Forgotten memories are coming back. Your relationship to your history is changing. All of this is leading toward profound self-renewal. Other factors in your astrology suggest that by June, your world will be rocked by exciting events that will challenge you to be as alive as you can be. When these experiences come your way, you will want to embrace the journey with your full being. This will call for vulnerability and the willingness to embrace change passionately — qualities that will initiate from the inside out, and which before long you will meet face to face.
The planets suggest you take your quest for success inward, seeking an understanding of your true motives. You can no longer act on desire without a strong concept of why that desire matters. This involves not merely diving into your emotional world and seeking clarity, but also projecting yourself into the world and determining who you must be in relationship to everything that surrounds you. Imagine that time has stopped; and what a second ago was the present moment has become the past. You’re able to move around and explore in this frozen world. You’re seemingly alone, in a dimension you can see but with which you cannot interact. Look carefully for what responds to your awareness: for what speaks to you directly and wants to exchange energy with you. Whatever responds to your presence in this crystallized world is truly part of you.
Of all the challenges you’ve faced during the past decade, seeking emotional stability ranks highest. Yet much has changed in the past 12 months. You seem to have been through something that has granted you a measure of peace of mind. Along the way, you gave up seeming necessities that were not working for you. One of which is your relationship to your family. You decided you were not going to believe the lies others believed. It’s easier not to believe lies, yet casting off what a whole culture (in this case, your family) accepts as wholesome truth is the work of a revolutionary. And the result can be destabilizing. This is why those who adhere to what is obviously not true do so: they at least have ground beneath their feet, even if it’s not solid.
Your mission is to be who you are independently of the momentum or intentions of your family. Family affects us several ways: First, family grants us life. Then family imprints us with its values, in its own chaotic, narcissistic image. Last, the Trojan horse of guilt is installed so we go into paralysis anytime we try to digress a single millimeter from the agenda. Fear kicks in, because we are terrified of being without the structure that allegedly supports us. More often the ‘support’ manifests as a battle waged when we try to make up our own minds about anything at all; or an internal conflict ensues, as if we’re being challenged by some absolute authority. However, the combined action of Saturn and Pluto says you are the only actual authority in your life.
You depend on your intelligence; there are few more valid astrological truisms than descriptions of that unique Aquarian gift of reason and rationality. Yet your astrology is calling you in a different psychic direction. You have felt the strong pull toward organizing your life around hearth and home. You have observed your intuition go from something you doubted to something you depend upon like a trusted friend. This journey is related to something else you’re experiencing — evaluating, questioning and rejecting many things you believed in the past. You’ve learned to take nothing for granted. A new clarity is taking over your life, based on a deep devotion to accurate perception. For years, it seemed as if something was being taken away from you — as if your ideals were losing validity. Yet having discarded so much as false, you now have room for what is true and authentic.
For years, you’ve worked to set yourself free from something: perhaps the lies you believed; your sense of being trapped or isolated; a world that does not appreciate how beautiful life is. Though that setting-free process is not over, you’ve made progress — far more than you recognize. I suggest you sum up what you’ve learned in the simplest possible terms. For example, it is easier to come up with an innovative solution to a problem than to go back and ‘fix’ the past. Remember that one; it will be useful. Another thing I trust you’ve observed is that it pays to be direct. People have a hard time fathoming what you’re thinking. You can be even more transparent, including with yourself. In fact, you can afford and will thrive on radical honesty: about who you are, what you value and your vision for your life.