While much of the nation will be celebrating husky dudes body-slamming each other for the rights to fondle an oddly shaped ball the first of February, I will be celebrating the sacred holiday called Imbolc.
Imbolc is one of eight holidays on the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year is a representation of the passing of one year through its four seasons. It is marked by the quarter days – which are the two solstices and the two equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days – the midpoints between the quarter days. The quarter days mark the beginning of one season and the ending of its predecessor. And, ergo, the cross-quarter days mark the midpoint of each season. Imbolc, which occurs sundown on February 1 through the following sundown, is one of the cross-quarter days.
Imbolc is a Celtic Fire Festival. It goes by several other names, as well, the more common being Candlemas and Brigid’s Day (or St. Brigid’s Day). This is a celebration of making it to the halfway mark of Winter, and a looking forward to the light of the coming Spring. It is a way of instilling hope for the rebirth of the light from the darkness of Winter. Just as pregnant mothers experience what is known as the quickening when the spark of life is said to enter the unborn child, Imbolc could be called the time of the quickening in Mama Earth’s womb.
Imbolc marks the beginning of the agricultural year. It is the time when seeds are sown to make ready for germination and maturation. It is the time when ewes are giving birth to the first offspring of the year, and filling their udders with the first milk of the season as lactation begins. (In fact, Imbolc translates to “in the belly”. Oimelg, another name for the holiday, is a Gaelic word that translates to “ewe’s milk”.) In some areas of the world, this is the first day of plowing in preparation for the planting of the crops.
According to Irish mythology and custom, Brigid is the goddess most commonly associated with Imbolc. This is a Celtic Fire Festival, and Brigid is the Celtic goddess of Fire (the forge and the hearth). She is also the goddess of inspiration, healing, smithcraft and midwifery. Brigid is often associated with serpents. This association holds a strong link with the Kundalini energy of Indian lore. On this sacred day in February, it is traditional to look for serpents emerging from the womb of Mama Earth as a means of weather divination, a tradition that is echoed by the American celebration of Groundhog Day.
While She is often associated with healing, and has had many bodies of water dedicated to Her, Brigid is most strongly aligned with the element of fire. Being the goddess of smithcraft, the fire of the forge is Her domain. As goddess of midwifery, She provides the spark of life that enters the womb during the quickening of pregnancy. As a solar goddess, She bestows the gifts of light and inspiration (as when as idea dawns on us), and the vital and healing energy of the sun, itself. As a Triple Goddess, Brigid can appear in the form of maiden, mother or crone. Imbolc finds Her in Her maiden form.
Imbolc is a festival of purification and preparation for the passing from the season of Death (or the crone phase of the goddess) to the season of Birth and New Life (or the maiden phase of the goddess). It is a celebration of the coming of the light of the growing sun – the sun that will bring warmth and vitality back to the earth and its inhabitants, as well as provide food from the fields, orchards and gardens. Traditions of Imbolc are often centered around these themes of light and fire and purification. Imbolc is also a good time for initiations, commitments and dedications … you know, new beginnings.
There are several traditions associated with the revelries of Imbolc. Corn cakes and oat cakes are popular treats to share during the celebration. Brideogs, dollies made of corn or cloth, are made in the image of Brigid. They are dressed in white and/or adorned with a crystal to symbolize the purity of the Maiden and the renewed soil of the earth. Fires are lit in fields and in hearths, and candles are lit for protection, purification, and to honor the sacred flame of Brigid. It is also common practice to place a besom, or broom, by the door to symbolize a sweeping out of all that is old and stagnant to make way for the new that will inevitably arrive with the resurgence of Spring.
Another popular craft used in Imbolc celebrations is the Brigid’s Cross. These are hung in homes and farm buildings to honour Brigid and to protect the buildings from fire and lightning. Brigid’s Crosses were traditionally made of reeds, but are today made with any number of materials. As Brigid is the goddess of inspiration, it seems appropriate for one to be as creative as one likes when fashioning a symbol in Her honour.
For this year’s Imbolc celebration, I have decided to light candles around my home, and to make a Brigid’s Cross. I am hanging the Cross in my workspace at home for inspiration and creative sparks when I’m working on art/craft projects or writing projects. I made mine out of strips of braided raffia. (I have no idea where to find reeds near my house.) I’ve included a video below which shows how to make a Brigid’s Cross. Should you feel so inclined to make on yourself, please post a photo of it in the comments. I’d love to see your handiwork!
Happy celebrating! And, if Imbolc is new to you, may I suggest that you take a moment – perhaps during the half-time show of the Super Bowl – to offer up a little nod of gratitude to Brigid for Her bright influence in your life. Even if you’re only thankful for all the lights and fireworks and creativity that went into those commercials and that half-time performance. After all, those are what make the Super Bowl worth watching!