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First Light in the Darkness of Winter – Celebrating Imbolc

The first Witch’s Sabbat of the calendar year is just about to be upon us. Imbolc is a few days away!

 

What is Imbolc?

Imbolc is the celebration of the first stirrings of life and early signs of spring after the Winter Solstice. From ewes giving their first milk to the first signs of leaf buds and flower blooms. Deep within the earth, in the womb of the Goddess, life is stirring and beginning to make its presence known. It is Celtic in origin and also honors the Goddess Brigid, the patroness of the forge, the well, smithcrafting, poetry, healing, and midwifery. 

This sabbat has the unique distinction of being the first of two during the year tied to specific deities; Imbolc honors the Goddess Brigid while Lughnasadh honors the God Lugh.

Imbolc is spelled a few different ways with different pronunciations. 

  • Imbolc pronounced (imb-olc) or (im-molc) Irish Gaelic meaning “in the belly”
  • Oimelc pronounced (EE-mulk) Old Irish meaning “milk of ewes” or “in the milk” 

Imbolc is traditionally celebrated from sunset on February 1st to sunset on February 2nd. The Celts saw the evening as the start of a new day. In modern traditions, Imbolc is sometimes celebrated when the sun reaches 15 degrees Aquarius, which marks the actual mid-point in the skies for the sun between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.

At Imbolc, we celebrate the renewal of life energy in the Earth around us. This can be a particularly dark and bleak time in some parts of the world, and at times our ancestors would have wondered if the sun would ever come back. They might fear that spring may never happen, and that life would never come back to earth. For them, that would mean no crops, no food to sustain animals that might be used for food, and of course, continued cold weather.

Our ancestors would work forms of sympathetic magick in hopes of encouraging the sun to return more quickly. These often involved lighting fires and keeping them going around the clock as well as making and burning candles.

 

Other celebrations occur around the same time, which are inspired by Imbolc directly or by the traditions surrounding it.

  • Candlemas – a Christianized version of the holiday celebrated in the Catholic church where candles for the year’s church rituals are blessed during the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus.
  • Groundhog’s Day – a day where a prediction is made about the weather for the next few months before the Spring Equinox based on whether a groundhog sees their shadow. It is believed that this tradition comes from an ancient customer based in British weather lore that says, “If  Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
  • Brigit’s Day – known as Lá Fhéile Bríde (law ayl-uh breej-uh) in Modern Irish and Là Fhèhill Brìghde – (lah ayl breej-uh) in Scottish Gaelic. This is a feast day for St. Brigit, the eventual saint version of the Irish Goddess is a day to honor the saint and Goddess herself. In recent years in some parts of Ireland, it has also become a day to honor women’s creativity.  

 

The Goddess of Imbolc

art by Joanna Powell Colbert

Brigid is a unique Goddess in the Celtic pantheon. She is associated with the Sun and fire, and her name translates to “bright one,” “bright arrow,” or “fiery arrow.” Her name has a handful of different spellings, depending on where she is found. Brigid can be pronounced “breeyid” or “breej” and has a few other spellings including Brighid. 

Brigid is the Goddess of the Well and the Forge. She is the patroness of artists, blacksmiths, writers, poets, healers, and midwifery. She is the powerful spark for the flame in the darkness of winter that we all need at this time of year. We honor and thank Brigid for blessings of power, light, fire, and life. We call on her to help light those flames within and to point her arrow in the direction we need to go to guide us closer to our goals. It is within the fires of her forge that we are transformed, and our soul is strengthened.

During the Middle Ages when Paganism was being Christianised throughout Europe, Brigid became Saint Brigid, or Saint Brigit, by taking the image and meaning behind the Mother Goddess and molding her into their traditions. This was a common practice during this time as a way to try and bring Pagans into the Church with more ease. By taking the goddesses and gods they were familiar with and making them saints (along with Christinzing their celebrations, like turning Imbolc into Candlemas) it made it easier for many to transition their belief systems.

So the Celtic Goddess of the Forge and Fire, Brigid, became St. Brigid of Kildare. St. Brigid is associated with sacred flames. She has a perpetual flame that burns in her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland that is maintained by nuns in her service. The tale of the flame’s first light says that Brigid built a monastery in Kildare where she kept a flame burning around the clock as a representation of the “new light of Christianity.” The flame was tended to by 19 nuns in her service, each taking a day to watch the flame, and on the 20th day Brigid would tend it herself.

It is believed that the flame remained lit constantly through the 16th century at her original Christian play of honor. In 1993 the leader of a group called the Brigidine Sisters relit the flame in Kildare. In 2005 the Kildare Country Council had a sculpture made to serve as a permanent symbol of St. Brigid’s flame in the Kildare Town Square in 2005. Brigid’s perpetual flame is still guarded and tended to today by the Brigidine Sisters at Solas Bhride, a Christian Spiritual Center in Kildare that welcomes people of all faiths who wish to honor Brigid,

 

Celebrating Imbolc Today

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At Imbolc, along with celebrating the return of life to the earth, we work with purification and creativity. We work to purify ourselves and our environment from the dull and heavy energies that collect during winter and the season of darkness. We can also create a sacred space for our creative work and setting creative goals for the season ahead.

Today, in traditions like our ancestors practiced, we light candles as an act of magick to embrace the growing light and encourage it to continue to return. They also represent purification, healing, and inspiration for the days to come.


A few simple ways that we can honor the energy of Imbolc include:

  • “spring cleaning” – both physically and energetically
  • dedication or initiation rituals into magickal practices
  • blessing and planting seeds for spring
  • organizing and declutter our magickal space
  • opening windows to air out the home for the first time since fall
  • craft your own ritual candles for the months ahead
  • take a ritual bath using milk, cream, or a milk-based powder blend
  • leave out offerings of cream and honey for Brigid
  • light a cauldron fire for divination
  • hold a baby blessing for a friend or family member (even if she’s still pregnant)
  • make plans for any big projects or events you have coming up this year

 

Imbolc is all about preparation and first steps. During Imbolc, as we start to come out of months of reflection and introspection and begin to reawaken, we get a burst of energy that pushes us to take action toward the goals, dreams, and desires that we have been contemplating. Now is the time to bless and plant the seeds for those new ideas.

An important thing that we need to do during Imbolc is to also look at the things, people, beliefs, and values that we are currently holding on to and releasing anything that we no longer feel are serving us. This is especially true for anything that we feel may not serve the goals or intentions we want to plant now.

This is time to make decisions about our future and commit to those decisions and set a course to move forward and make them happen.


Want more inspiration for honoring Imbolc this year?

Grab my free guide to celebrating Imbolc for more info as well as correspondences for creating your own celebrations. You’ll also find some magickal recipes, rituals, spells, reading spreads, and journaling prompts to help you honor the season of life and inspiration.

 

When spring is truly here at last, may we slide into it unsurprised because of the vision allowed by your inspiring light. – Ceisiwr Serith, “A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book”

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