Imbolc is traditionally regarded as the first day of Spring.
Life is beginning to stir again. The Celtic festival of Imbolc or Imbolg – pronounced without the ‘b’ sound – is sometimes known as Oimelc, means ‘ewe’s milk’ – named due to the birth of the first lambs at this time, and celebrates the return of fresh milk. Sheep are earlier with their offspring than cattle, because they could crop lower for grass and so thrive on the sparse vegetation in late winter. Cattle would calf around March. Bulbs are beginning to shoot and new lambs are born – the cycle of new life returns to the earth. Imbolc marks the rebirth of nature and fertility. It is the celebration of the gradual dawning of increasing light, bringing nature to life again. Nature is awakening from her winter rest – the long winter darkness begins to break as the daylight hours begin to get longer. Christians celebrate this festival as Candlemas.
“As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens”
Imbolc focuses on the Goddess, both as Mother – as she gave birth to the Sun God at the Winter solstice, and as the Maiden. Brigit was originally considered a form of the Triple Goddess.
Imbolc is a feast dedicated to the Goddess in her maiden aspect, in her guise as Brigid, Bridget, Bride, Brighid, Brigit or Brig – goddess of learning, poetry, prophesying, craftmanship, agriculture and healing. Imbolc is considered a traditional healing time and it is a good time to consider ways to improve your health.
Brigid is the virgin goddess who brings new life to the earth. She is known as Bride in Scotland – pronounced Breed – which is the origin of the word ‘bride’. Imbolc is also known as Bride’s Day. She was christianised as St. Bridget of Kildare, the patroness of sheep and fertility, and she was also known as the ‘Mother of Ireland’.
Briget’s Cross is woven from corn and consists of four arms that meet to form a square centre – a fire wheel.
Traditionally, on this day candlelit processions were led to St. Bridget’s holy shrines – wells
Imbolc is a ‘fire festival’. particular attention was paid to the hearth fire and keeping it alight.
A celebratory dish used to be made from the new lambs’ docked tails.
Bridie dolls are made out of a sheaf of oats and dressed in women’s clothing, and then ritually buried in the earth as a fertility rite. Another custom was to place the doll in a ‘Bride’s bed’ of woven wheat, like a basket, which was placed near the front door, or sometimes near the hearth. A white candle was burnt nearby all night.
Spring cleaning comes from the habit at Imbolc of getting rid of unwanted clutter and preparing for the new season, physically and mentally.
Now is the time to finish old habits and make a fresh start, and realise the world is full of new opportunities.
Imbolc is a time of optimism and for making new plans for the sunny days ahead. Plant the seeds of your plans now and tend them so they mature into your hopes and dreams. Now is the time to renew your New Year resolutions.
Like many Celtic festivals, the Imbolc celebrations centred around the lighting of fires. Fire was perhaps more important for this festival than others as it was also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid), the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. The lighting of fires celebrated the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. For the Christian calendar, this holiday was reformed and renamed ‘Candlemas’ when candles are lit to remember the purification of the Virgin Mary.
Imbolc is still a special time for Pagans. As people who are deeply aware of what is going on in the natural world they recognise that there is strength in cold as well as heat, death as well as life. The Horned God reigns over the Autumn and Winter and although the light and warmth of the world may be weak, he is still in his power.
Many feel that human actions are best when they reflect the actions of nature, so as the world slowly springs back into action it is time for the small tasks that are neglected through the busy year. Rituals and activities might include the making of candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories.
Merlin says “It is called Imbolc in the Druid tradition, or sometimes Oimelc. Although we would think of Imbolc as being in the midst of Winter, it represents in fact the first of a trio of Spring celebrations, since it is the time of the first appearance of the snowdrop, and of the melting of the snows and the clearing of the debris of Winter. It is a time when we sense the first glimmer of Spring, and when the lambs are born. In the Druid tradition it is a gentle, beautiful festival in which the Mother Goddess is honoured with eight candles rising out of the water at the centre of the ceremonial circle.”
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