I know I have written about Imbolc before, but it is the first of the festivals to appear in any year, and as such, it is an important point in the pagan calendar.
Imbolc is the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of the lambing season and the first stirrings of new life in the land. At this time of the year, all of nature is pregnant, and only just visible. The celebrations which surround Imbolc reflect this. It is not the flashy celebration of life which will come later, at Beltane. Instead, Imbolc celebrates the hope of new life and the welcome return of the light.
Imbolc is a time to let go of the past and look to the future. It is a reflective celebration, a turning inward to attempt to work out the thoughts and habits which no longer serve any practical purpose in your life. It is also a great time for spring-cleaning, although this is an aspect of the festival that I personally struggle with!
For those who want to identify the festivals with a specific deity, Imbolc is one of the great Fire Festivals held in honour of the Goddess Brigid (or Bride, Brigit, Brighit, and a host of other spellings). She was held in such esteem that the early Christians converted her into St Bridget rather than attempting to discredit the worship of her. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry, and smithcraft. She brings fertility to the land and its people, and as such is closely connected to both midwives and new-born babies. She is one of the Triple Goddess, appearing at Imbolc in the guise of the Maiden.
It is traditional to light every lamp in the house at sunset on Imbolc – even if only for a few moments. Alternatively, light candles in each room in honour of the rebirth of the Sun. If there is snow on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, while summoning thoughts of the feel of summer.
Celebrate by having a simple meal of meat and dairy products, remembering that this is only the start of the bounty that this year will bring.
Imbolc is one of the lesser-known festivals in the Celtic pagan calendar. It marks the point in the year where the first signs of spring begin to emerge, and the world turns back from the dark quiet of winter to the warmth and life of spring. It is a time for bringing new ideas and projects into the light, and for moving to actively grow projects which have been building over the winter months.
Imbolc is the perfect time for that cleaning that you have been putting off. Get rid of anything that is cluttering up your home, and scrub all the surfaces down thoroughly. If you can bear the drop in temperature, open all of the windows and let some refreshing clean air flow through your home. Making the cleaning part of the celebrations is one of the easiest ways to encourage the whole family to join in – just remember to donate things that can still be used to appropriate charities instead of simply throwing them away.
While Yule is a celebration of the rebirth of the sun, Imbolc is when its return first truly begins to be noticeable as it grows in strength. Candles are a practical response to this, as it is frequently too impractical to celebrate with a bonfire, whether due to weather or regulations. Have your feast lit by the warm glow of candles, and prepare for the blessings to come in the year ahead.
Feasting and Food
No true celebration is really complete without a meal to go with it. At Imbolc, it is important to concentrate on foods which honour the hearth and home – breads, grains and root vegetables are all appropriate, as are dairy products. After all, this is the festival designed to celebrate the beginning of lactation in both cows and sheep.
Brigid (also spelt Brighid, and Bridget) is one of the daughters of the Dagda, and part of the Tuatha de Dannan. She is the patron of poets, bards, healers and magicians, and is particularly connected with prophecy and divination. She is a fire goddess, and deeply tied to the light of the sun. This means that any form of ritual healing or divination by candlelight is highly appropriate as part of any Imbolc celebration.