Celebrating the Promise of Spring
Imbolc is the half way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It usually occurs on or around February 1 or 2 in the Northern Hemisphere and August 1 or 2 in the Southern Hemisphere.
It brings with it the promise of spring. The cold winter, a time of reflection and hibernation, is slowly melting away to bring forth new birth, beginnings and abundance. It is also the first of three holidays that focus on spring.
For centuries this day has been celebrated; full of rich traditions, rituals and feasts. A fascinating history, it has survived the test of time and is still honored in modern day Christianity and Paganism.
With the approaching of spring, it is a time to set in motion new ideas, to visualize the planting of seeds and the abundance it will bring forth. Originating from Ireland, celebrating this festival marks the beginning signs of spring, as our days grow longer and the sun becomes warmer.
Symbols and Natural Properties of Imbolc
As with all holidays and celebrations there are symbols associated with it along with natural properties in the form of herbs, gemstones, and colors. Imbolc represents purity, growth, renewal, new beginnings, fertility and abundance. Include these natural properties into your Imbolc celebration, rituals and altar.
Symbols for Imbolc include Brigid’s cross, besoms (brooms), Brideo’gas (small dolls made from oat or wheat straw), white flowers, and candle wheels.
Gemstones to carry, wear or place on your altar are Bloodstone, Amethyst, Black Onyx , and Garnet.
Colors associated with Imbolc are White, Yellow, Red, Pink, Violet, Green, and Brown. These colors are wonderful to wear during Imbolc or to burn candles in these hues.
Herbs for Imbolc include Angelica, Basil, Blackberry, Cinnamon, Coltsfoot, Heather, Myrrh, Iris, Violet, Wisteria and Vanilla. Depending on the properties of these herbs, they are great for drinking tea, burning in your bonfire or as incense. Natural oils made from these are also great for anointing candles, Brigid crosses and even yourself.
Preparing Your Imbolc Altar
When getting ready for Imbolc it is nice to freshen up or create an altar for the holiday. Include fresh white flowers such as carnations, lilies or white roses. If you prefer more colors you can use any of your favorite flowers in the hues associated with Imbolc as listed above.
The use of Imbolc colors on your altar can be in the form of materials, gemstones, shells, or even buttons, what ever you are drawn too. Place photos of loved ones, pets or the Goddess/God you are honoring. If you enjoy using tarot, pick a card for yourself and place it on your altar.
Since it is a time to set in motion new beginnings place objects that represent those things you wish to have enter into your life this spring. Think of your altar as a 3 dimensional wish board. Writing down what you wish to manifest and placing it under a gemstone or candle is another great addition to your altar.
Imbolc Rituals and Activities
Here are just a few of the rituals and activities you can do on Imbolc with family and friends, or on your own :
FIRE AND CANDLES:
Fire, is a big part of traditional Imbolc celebrations. Big bonfires are lit after feasting and the night is spent around it drinking, singing and in general having a good time. If you can, light your fire place or have your own bonfire.
If having your own fire is not possible, candles are a great way to include the element into your Imbolc celebration. Fire is considered a life giving force and represents the return of the sun after a dark winter.
WRITE YOUR INTENTIONS:
As mentioned before writing or journaling about new intentions or things you would like to manifest in the upcoming spring is a great way to bring forth your desires. This intentions do not have to be something completely new they can also include projects or ideas that you perhaps have already planted a few seeds for but want to bring it more to the forefront. Or perhaps, it is something you wish to return too that was set aside.
You can also as a ritual write the intentions down and burn them in an incense bowl (just keep a bowl of water close by). Light the piece of paper using one of your candles, once the paper is lit place it in the incense bowl and watch it until the flames die out. Or, throw it in your fire if you have one. You can also anoint the candle with oils or herbs associated to Imbolc before lighting it.
ENJOY SOME TIME IN NATURE:
Take a walk in nature. Enjoy the surroundings nature has to offer; look for signs of new life, find a new stone for your altar. Meditate on the beauty around you giving your gratitude to Mother Earth. Visualize the winter frost and snow melting away into green sprigs and new buds.
A great way to celebrate Imbolc is by doing a cleansing both spiritually and physically. Taking the tradition of using your besom to sweep out the old to let in the new give your house a good cleaning.
There is a reason we have the saying, spring cleaning. When you clean and declutter your space it allows for clarity; creates space for new and invigorating energy to enter into your life. A perfect way to prepare for the abundance to come.
After cleaning your home it is wonderful to do a smudging. First open windows and doors to let in fresh air for a few minutes, close them as you are going through each room of your house using a smudge stick to clear out the energy.
Also smudge your friends, family, pets and yourself too to rid any negative energies surrounding yourselves. Burning incense of the herbs of choice for Imbolc will also freshen and rejuvenate the energy in your home.
HONOR THE GODDESS –
Make your own Brigid doll or cross to honor her on this day. Here is a great tutorial for how to make your own Brigid doll.
Celebrating the Goddess Brigid
The Goddess Brigid is the Deity honored during Imbolc. She is the Goddess of fire, protector and bringer of light and healing. She is considered to be a triple Goddess as she posses all the qualities of the three stages of woman; the Maiden or Virgin, the loving and nurturing Mother, and the Sage or Wise Woman.
During Imbolc it is the Maidens and Virgins whom are represented and honor the Goddess Brigid. During the festival, girls and young, unmarried maidens make Brideo’gas (small dolls made from oat or wheat hay) as a representation of the Goddess Brigid; ribbons, shells and stones are used to adorn them. A basket, lined with white flowers is then used as the dolls bed, in which the maidens carry through out the day and night. Gifts from older or married woman may be bestowed upon the doll as an offering to the Goddess.
Brigid crosses are also fashioned out of hay and given as a symbol of prosperity and protection in the coming year. In the homes of maidens the hearth fire is put out and raked before bedding down; in the morning, the ashes are examined for any signs that Brighid had passed there way.
The Goddess Brigid is also known, and revered in the form of St. Brigid and honored by Christians on St. Brigid’s Day. The saint represents many of the same aspects and protects maidens and virgins. She is believed to be a great healer, in Ireland, many travel from around the world to visit Brigid Wells, for healing or inspiration.
Brigid is not the only Goddess represented on this day any deity representing fertility and love are also honored; Eros, Venus, Aengus. Also other virigin/maiden Goddess such as Athena or Gaia are celebrated, through prayers and burning candles in their name.
The Origin of Imbolc –
Imbolc, originated during the middle ages in Ireland and is one of the Great Sabbats or Pagan holidays. It is a celebration in honor of herd animals, mainly sheep, that have become pregnant and are now producing milk. It was a signal that spring was approaching. The word Imbolc comes from the Gaelic words i mbolg,” in the belly” and oimelc, “ewe’s milk”.
Milk was a representation of life, as it meant offspring were growing in the belly of the animals. On a practical level it provided a source of nutrition and sustenance for the communities who cared for the herds.
Once the life giving flow of milk began, preparation of spring planting commenced. Blessings of the seeds, farming tools and land were performed to ensure an abundant harvest.
Maidens and virgins were honored during this period as well, representing fertility, abundance and purity; manifesting into the Goddess Brighid. She later became Christianized as St. Brigid.
To this day she is honored by Christians on the feast of St. Brigid’s Day, celebrated at the same time as Imbolc. When the Christians were converting pagans; they adopted many of the holidays, traditions and symbols of paganism, to make the transition easier.
Other names or holidays that have origins rooted in Imbolc are Candlemas, The Festival of Lights and the Feast of the Virgin. Christians refer to it as St. Bridget’s Day. Even our Groundhogs Day has roots from Imbolc.
Just as we look for the Groundhog’s shadow to tell us whether it will be a long winter or not, they turned to Cailleach, a hag in Gaelic tradition. It was believed that if she had to walk the forests to gather extra wood, it would be a long winter. This was determined by whether it was a sunny or overcast day. If it was sunny, it meant she was gathering thus an overcast day was desired.
Imbolc, was and still is a celebration promising of spring, new beginnings, and renewal. It honors life giving forces and beings, the hearth, warmth, abundance and home in all forms and manifestations.
Wishing everyone a wonderful Imbolc and abundant new spring!
Featured Image Via Otherworld Illustrations The Art of Christopher Bell