Now that the Winter Solstice has passed, I’m already thinking forward to the next Sabbat – Imbolc in February!
As a Shintoist, I plan on celebrating Imbolc together with the Japanese equivalent, Setsubun. Celebrated at the same time as Imbolc, Setsubun celebrates the coming of spring. Setsubun is associated with a lot of activities and symbols, but perhaps the most well-known ritual is to scatter soy beans outside houses while crying out “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (literally, “Demons out, fortune in.”) It’s a type of purification ritual, meant to drive out harmful spirits.
It’s interesting that both Imbolc and Setsubun are strongly associated with a particular goddess. The Celtic fire goddess Brighid is usually venerated by Pagans at Imbolc, while Setsubun is closely associated with an obscure female character known as Otafuku, who personifies luck and joy.
Although Otafuku is commonly regarded as a comical figure, I agree with John Dougill of Green Shinto that she is probably an aspect of Uzume no mikoto, a central figure in one of Shinto’s most important myths. Uzume is said to be the goddess of passion and mirth whose comical yet sensual dancing lured the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami out of the cave from which she was hiding from her frightening brother. It seems very likely to me that a figure attributed with leading the sun goddess out of a cave would have close ties with the coming of spring – a time when the sun emerges after being hidden in darkness during the winter.
I also suspect that Otafuku is also a symbol of fertility. Depending on how it is depicted, her face is often yonic or phallic in nature. Again, this would tie in with her connection to Uzume (identified as a goddess of love), as well as the coming of spring.
Because I’d like to celebrate both Imbolc and Setsubun together, I decided to make a miniature mask of Otafuku to put on my altar in the run up to the festivals. I made her out of salt dough painted in acrylic. Now all I need is something to represent Brighid…