The Wheel of the Year is turning once again. Today we honor the celebration of Imbolc, the day that marks the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It’s a time where we begin to look for the first stirrings of life during, what for some, can be a very cold and dark time in nature.
A Note About Ancestors
With the increased attention in the magickal and spiritual community around matters of cultural appropriation and misused or rewritten history, I wanted to clarify the use of the term “ancestors” as I’m using it here. When I talk about ancestors in this post, I’m not specifically talking about our personal lineage, but rather our spiritual ancestors as Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches. Many people who are not of Celtic lineage still honor and celebrate the Celtic holidays which makes those that came before ancestors of these traditions, the people who came before and tread the pathways for us to celebrate as we do today.
Imbolc (pronounced I’m-BOL-k) means “in the belly” from the Irish “I bolg” and “ewe’s milk” from the word “oimelc.” In agricultural society this would be the time of year when ewes would have babies and producing milk. Sheep have a short gestation period of around five months. With their mating season being in the mid to late autumn, the new babies would begin to be born around this time. It was the first signs of life in a season of death and emptiness.
But there are other small changes happening too. The sun is starting to set a tiny bit later each day. It might only be noticeable by a few minutes, but it gets longer and longer as the days go on. Small flowers, like snowdrops and crocuses, begin to peek out from the snow and frozen earth. These little signs of life would be reminders to our ancestors that even below the frozen ground, life was preparing to spring forth.
Imbolc is a time when many celebrate the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Her name means “fiery arrow” or “bright arrow” and is the goddess of craftsmanship, smithing, poetry, healing, and midwifery. She is the powerful spark for the flame in the darkness of winter that we all need at this time of year. During Imbolc we can honor and thank Brigid for blessings of power, light, fire, and life. Doing simple candle rituals to call on her to help light the flames within us to spark new life and inspiration is a great way to honor her and the day. We can also ask Brigid to point her arrow in the direction we need to go to guide us closer to our goals we may have set during Samhain when celebrating the Witch’s New Year.
As Christianity began to spread through Europe many of the Old World Pagan celebrations and traditions were adapted by the church to make converting people a bit easier. By celebrating similar holidays, giving people something familiar to honor, it was easier to draw people in. The Goddess Brigid would become St. Brigit, for example, with new celebrations like St. Brigid’s Day being established. The celebration of Imbolc would become Christianized and known as Candlemas. It is a holiday still 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.
As Imbolc came our ancestors would begin to test to ground to see if it was warming up and becoming fertile and willing to accept new seeds. While not a lot was always able to be planted now, if there was a chance to begin the process of planting seeds for the seasons ahead, they took it.
But this was also a time when, mentally, there was a need to get out. Our ancestors often lived in small one or two room homes, often with extended family like parents, in-laws, siblings, their children, cousins, and so on. All the food you have to sustain this large group would be in the home with you, though the Celts were clever and used the cold and snow outside like giant refrigerators and would keep things outside as well. When these first signs of spring would arrive, letting them know that warmer days were on the way, would be a huge time for celebration. People would begin to get outside a little more as the snow would melt and the air slowly warmed, allowing them to get a bit of a break from the cramped living conditions of winter.
In our modern magickal society, Imbolc is a sabbat that some people struggle with. Climate change has dramatically shifted the way nature shows her signs of change, and for many people they simply live in places where they have never been able to relate to this idea of winter into spring. I know I struggled a bit with it when I lived in Southern California because, even though the temperatures may be a bit lower, they weren’t freezing or dangerous. You just may have needed a light jacket over your t-shirt if you went out.
So how can we relate to and celebrate this day even in our technologically advanced, non-agriculturally focused lives?
If we focus on the concepts of rebirth, renewal, and fresh beginnings we can easily find ways to work with the energies of Imbolc. Thing of this as the pregame for spring. What can you do to get ready to really dive into those springtime energies when Ostara, the Spring Equinox, comes around next month? Focus on the symbolism of Imbolc rather than the physical elements that we focus on in nature.
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
Here is a simple spell you can do for Imbolc to help add a little luck, success, and fire to an area in your life that needs some renewed energy.
Imbolc Renewal Spell
- White Candle
- Bay Leaf
- Rosemary Oil
- Cinnamon Incense
- Candle Holder
- Cauldron or fireproof dish
- Light your incense. Hold the candle in the smoke to cleanse and bless.
- Dress the candle with oil while focusing on your intentions for your spell
- Place the candle in the candle holder.
- Create a circle around the candle holder with the salt, being sure to leave a little space in front of the candle to place your bay leaf.
- Use your marker to write on the bay leaf something that you want to give new life to or add some fire to to help it manifest.
- Say the thing out loud and breathe onto the bay leaf to give it some of your energy.
- Place the bay leaf in front of the candle.
- Light the candle and visualize your intention as already being manifest. Do this for as long as you can.
- Let the candle burn all the way down.
- Burn the bay leaf in your cauldron once the candle has gone out to release your intentions into the Universe.