So imagine my surprise to learn, when reading an article titled Rethinking Imbolc by Mary Jones, that Lent has its origins in the natural rhythms of the land as much as in Christian tradition. In early spring, the period between Imbolc and Eostara, the plants of Europe were just beginning to sprout and flower. Lambs and other domestic animals were not yet old enough for eating, and milk only added so much to stores of food strained from the long winter. In essence, early spring fasting was often a fast of necessity; later taken in and given religious meaning by the Catholic church.
This is an ancestral practice that we as Pagans can choose to honor as well. Though in our modern lives, we can just pop over to the supermarket for any fresh fruits, veggies, or meat that we'd like, it does us good to remember the cycles of the Earth that our ancestors were compelled to follow. Eating only seasonal, local produce becomes very difficult at this time of year, and it is in this way that I have chosen to honor my ancestors this year.
I have been unable to fast much for the past four years due to pregnancies and nursing, and it's something that I miss very much. Some day, when I am able to be a bit more lax about my nutritional requirements, I would like to undertake a bread and water fast during this Imbolc-Equinox period. For me, fasting is an incredibly powerful tool - meditation becomes easier, divination is clearer and more powerful, and rituals are full of a spiritual energy that can only be found when the body is not devoting its energy to the intake and digestion of food. Obviously it's not for everyone; but if you are a Pagan and have never given it a try, I heartily recommend it! Start small - ingest only water for twelve hours, or give up something special to you for a week and dedicate that sacrifice to the Gods/Goddesses or to your own spiritual growth. You might be surprised at the results you see.
Jones, Mary (2012). Rethinking Imbolc. Retrieved from http://www.adf.org/articles/gods-and-spirits/celtic/rethinking-imbolc.pdf