The circle is turning, and Imbolc is coming ever closer.
The Winter solstice, when the sun was at its lowest point denoting mid-winter is behind us. The Spring equinox, that is mid-spring is still some weeks ahead of us and denotes the ‘height’ of that season. But, in between is Imbolc, a moving into the season of Spring, and metaphorically, a knocking on Spring’s door and walking through it, and waving goodbye to Winter. It’s the start of something new!
‘It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.’ Rainer Maria Rilke
What follows, today, is an outline of the meaning of Imbolc; followed by an article tomorrow highlighting some great ideas for a meal (for yourself and/or friends and family) to celebrate the event, followed by another article day latter of some suggested Imbolc liturgy and ritual for you to try/
Yes, it’s time to celebrate in all kinds of ways!
Date: 2 February
Thought: ‘It’s the start of spring. Let’s celebrate’
Incense: Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon
Decorations: Corn Dolly, Besom, Spring Flowers
Colours: White, Orange, Red
Imbolc then, is halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring equinox, and is the first of this year’s in-between or Celtic ‘quarter-cross’ days.
Imbolc, or Candlemas, or Brigid’s Day as it is sometimes called takes place on (or about) 2 February. The date can vary, and the ancients’ way of reckoning would mean their new days would start the evening before from our viewpoint: so some, now, may be celebrating this Imbolc on the evening of 1 February, whilst others may choose the evening of 2 February. You get to choose.
Pronunciations vary for the word Imbolc, but the ones I prefer are ‘ih-mulk’ or ‘ee-mulk’ [with the stress on the second syllable], related to Oimelc and which means ‘ewe’s milk’ in Scottish Gaelic, and which is pertinent to this time of year
Imbolc was an important ‘fire festival’ to ancient Celts and Druids, and still is to latter-day ones, too. Those ancients celebrated Brigantia at this time, and she is linked to fertility, childbirth and milking – hence the association of Imbolc to milk or ewes milk, a sign that spring was on its way.
‘You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep the Spring from coming.’ Pablo Neruda
During that ancient Imbolc ritual it was customary to pour milk (or cream), a libation, onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving, as an offering of nurturing, and to assist in the return of fertility and generosity of the earth to its people, and the return of Spring.
Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came out from their winter dens may, it is said by some, be a forerunner of the North American idea of Groundhog Day.
For instance, some believed that if Imbolc was bright and sunny, this was because the (pronounced “kah-luhkh”) – the Divine Hag – had ‘engineered’ good weather so she could gather plenty of fire-wood, and so they would know winter would last longer. A bad weather day meant that the Cailleach wasn’t out and about looking for winter fuel and had stayed home, snoozing, and so winter would be almost over. Naturally, every one wanted the foulest of weather for Imbolc.
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.
Many churches celebrate the ritual purification of Mary and/or the presentation of the Christ-child at the Temple, at this time. Because the sun would still be low in the sky and light in the evening would be dim, and because early Romans believed candlelight would scare away evil, and because Jesus is the light of the world, candles were specifically used (for all or some of those reasons) at this time – hence Candlemas. A wonderful time of thanks, a great time of remembrance and hope, and an opportunity to look forward.
The Church quickly associated this time with Saint Brigid, and noticed that that saint had many similarities with Brigantia. On the evening before Imbolc many people would have had a special meal (and, a meal was aside a meal for Brigid), especially as it was that night that Brigid, unseen, was said to visit households and bless the residents therein.
Brigid (usually pronounced by some as ‘breed’) is the traditional patroness of healing, poetry and smith craft, which are all centred on practical and inspired wisdom.
And, many people, especially in Ireland would recognise the beautiful little crosses made from reeds which are called Saint Brigid’s Crosses and are thought to protect the homes for a year if they are hung over the doors.
In the Northern Ireland a family member, representing Brigid, would circle the house three times carrying a corn-dolly, a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy) made of rushes and clad in bits of cloth, shells and/or flowers. They would then they would knock three times on the door asking to be admitted. Ofcourse, they would be allowed in, and would devour the special meal set aside for Brigid, thus conferring a blessing on all in the house.
Brigit, ever excellent woman,
golden sparkling flame,
lead us to the eternal Kingdom,
the dazzling resplendent sun.
St Brigid is one of my favourite saints. As well as being a very noble lady, she was eminently practical. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without anything for its residents to drink. When the lepers, whom she nursed, were thirsty, they implored her for beer, but there was none to be had. She immediately prayed and changed the water, which was used for the bath, into a most excellent beer. She is also is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. An interesting story, don’t you think? And, probably just the kind of person I’d like to invite to my next party!
So, Imbolc is a season of change, and it’s here where the first signs of spring and the ‘return’ of the sun are celebrated. It is the start of a new beginning, a season of fertility and growth, a time of planning new things in your home, at work, in your life. It’s an opportunity given by the Source of All, God, the Universe to start something new, a time to be bold, a time to grow. It’s time to celebrate. How will you celebrate it?
Tomorrow they’ll be an Imbolc article on how to celebrate the event with food: ‘Your Special Imbolc Meal’, and the following day an article on: ‘Your Powerful Imbolc Ritual & Liturgy: Ideas & Resources’.