As the Wheel of the Year turns, those in the Pagan Community warmly greet Imbolc (also spelled as Imbolg) on the 1st of February. Imbolc is also referred to as Candlemas and Saint Brigid’s Day. When looking at the Wheel of the Year, we see that Imbolc follows Yule, or the Winter Solstice, and precedes Ostara, or the Spring Equinox. As the midway point between the Solstice and Equinox, it serves as a reminder that Spring is around the corner. This time of year is when the home and land are blessed in preparation for the warmer months to come.
It is tradition that Imbolc is celebrated from the 1st of February until sundown on the 2nd of February. This celebration is of Celtic origin and was observed by the pre-Christian folk of Ireland and Scotland. Today, this holiday is vastly celebrated by Wiccans and modern day Pagans alike. It is believed that Imbolc was originally linked to sheep breeding season, which began around this time. The sheep began to lactate for the season, and as such, this had been associated with Spring and the world coming back to life. In earlier times, this was known as a time of rebirth, which is what was most celebrated.
Likewise, both modern and ancestral Pagans often looked to the Celtic Goddess Brigid at this time. Brigid is the deity often evoked during fertility rites, which are held during this time of year. Brigid also presided over the art of poetry, prophecy, and crafts. She is believed to be one of the most powerful Goddesses in Celtic tradition, and was honored as such. As time had passed, and many of the Celts took on a more Christian lifestyle, the Goddess Brigid was adopted by the Christian Church. Following the adoption of the tradition(s) honoring Brigid, this day became known as Saint Brigid’s Day to those who held to the Christian faith.
Those who honor Brigid, offered tribute to her by making sculptures of her. These sculptures were commonly made out of oats or grass. Once finished, this sculpture was then dressed and placed in a basket overnight. It was thought the sculpture would invite her into one’s home, and bring fertility to the home, the land, and crops. Lamps and bonfires were kept well lit to welcome her. Feasts were also held in her honor.
Though this holiday is still celebrated today by many Pagans around the world, it would appear to be one of the lesser celebrated holidays out of all eight Sabbats. This may be because methods of observation and celebrations held today are, more likely than not, on a smaller scale and are much more private affairs. We will discuss ways to observe, or celebrate Imbolc in this article.
It is important to note that the modern world still celebrates this holiday as a whole, though now many know it by a different name. Both Groundhog Day and Candlemas are observed on the 2nd of February. The basis of Groundhog Day is that, when a groundhog leaves his burrow, should he see his shadow and return to the comfort of the burrow, winter will last for roughly six more weeks. However, should the groundhog exit his burrow and not see his shadow, it signals that spring is approaching. Believe it or not, this tradition has been going strong since 1887. Candlemas is a holiday observed by those of the Christian faith, which celebrates the return of the light, and thus it is tied to Imbolc with respect to its roots. Candlemas dates back to 4th century Greece, where it was also a day of purification.
Traditionally, those who celebrated Imbolc relied on the land. As such, a good harvest was needed so that they would be able to provide for their family. This was a time where many sought assistance from a deity who could ignite that spark and get things going. In this day and age, most of us no longer rely on the land to ensure that we are able to provide for our families. However, this does not mean that we do not need fertility and strength in other areas of our lives. Seeking blessings, or assistance with areas where you may be experiencing difficulties, are common practices for this time of year. Such practices, as you can see, date back to the pre-Christian observation of Imbolc. Likewise, one may also seek assistance with respect to any and all kinds of infertility issues that may be going on. Such things may include actual infertility, not being able to find a suitable mate, or any number of similar issues.
Ways to Observe or Celebrate Imbolc
There are many things that can be done with respect to observing this holiday. Some may choose to construct Brigid’s cross or make a straw doll. Others may choose to have a feast with family and friends. Some may choose to host a bonfire to honor Brigid and welcome the return spring and a prosperous land. Some may keep a garden and herbs, and tend to them during this time. Planting seeds is also a wonderful way to honor Brigid! Some may choose to partake in some good, old fashioned spring cleaning.
With that said, I will share a bit about what my family and I (Sara) do for this blessed day:
Personally, I and my family have a feast with our friends in honor of Brigid, we also tend to the garden and herbs planted, and of course, partake in some spring cleaning! Generally the day before, we can feast and celebrate on the 1st of February. We have a stream not far from our house in the nearby woods. It is a tradition for us to hike to the stream on this day, ensure that it is running clean, and splash in the water with the kids. This is to symbolize purity and fertility. This stream for us is very special because it is a stream that feeds into our well, which provides all the water for our family.
The 1st of February is the day I start preparing the soil in my gardens. You may not live in a climate where this is possible, but it is certainly feasible to start some seeds indoors. I ask Brigid to bless the seeds and the plants. I ask her to give her blessing so that my land may be fertile and promote growth. When I am finished with this ritual, we then light a big fire in a pit. The kids have fun and run around the place, while the adults may snack on a big dinner while the fire burns. We also invite friends over to share in this time. We also recall and share some stories and good times from the past.
After the children are in bed, I make my way to my altar. I cast my circle and light a white candle. I ensure the altar is ready for spring, then I sit for a while and focus on things I’d like or want. I sit with my back straight and my head high, I stare at the fire for a little while, then I close my eyes. I focus on the energy within myself, and I feel it rise. I think of those desires that I want to come to fruition in the coming seasons, establish the necessary goals, and then I manifest energy to put toward those goals. There is no need for words, just the fire and myself. I focus on what needs to be done to ensure a prosperous year, and I focus on how I shall achieve that. When I am finished, I leave the candle to burn down and I sit for a while, for this is Brigid’s night so the fire shall burn a while longer.
As mentioned previously, this holiday is celebrated or observed in a more private manner by many practitioners. It is a time for one to reflect and set intentions. As such, below is a simple ritual for those who prefer to observe this day privately.
A Solitary Imbolc Ritual
Written by AnuSet for Pagan Muses
For this ritual, you will need white candles (tea lights may be used), an altar (which does not have to be fancy), yourself, and your intent.
First light the candles on your altar in deference to the Goddesses of the Spring. Concentrate on the beauty of the flame, and reflect on what you feel inside. Reflect on the things you feel you may need to change within yourself. Do this with the intent to leave those things in the dark when the ritual over. When you feel calm, centered, and at peace with releasing them, recite the following:
“Light to dark, dark to light,
I send what is not needed into the night.
When returns the light of day,
Only lessons learned will still hold sway.”
Imbolc. History.com. 08/21/2018. Retrieved from: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/imbolc
~ Sara Lynn