Imbolc is a joyous and much celebrated date on the Pagan Wheel of the Year. Celebrated across the 1st and 2nd February; primarily for many on the 1st February, nature based religions honour this midpoint of winter and the last, usually coldest and most bleak stretch of the journey through the biting dark months towards the Spring time and the rebirth of the Earth.
Imbolc is a marker on our journey through the Earths endless realms of darkness and light, a marker pointing us towards the increasing light of the sun and bringing us a renewed lightness in our souls, as soon the Maiden, now renewed and born from the ashes of the Crone, will awaken and bury her toes in the dirt of our Earth once again, her footfalls bringing blooms and new life with their every touch upon the Earth.
At Imbolc the seasons are readying themselves to reset; more drastic and sudden is the onset of Spring when it arrives than the transition between any other seasons. In the summer flowers and plants change subtly, in the autumn trees slowly change colour and in lose their leaves until they are bare in the winter. Yet as Spring closes in, the first flowers fight through the frosts and snow to lap up what sunlight they can, not caring to take their growth or emergence slowly. This is a time for the very first signs and steps of new beginnings.
Many Imbolc rituals are ones that many people do every year without even realising their everyday actions are in fact a small ritual, either for the home or for themselves, physically or emotionally. My mantra for Imbolc and the weeks ushering us through the snow towards those sunny Daffodils, is to ask myself “does it still speak of who I am, what I do, and what I intend?”, as this is the time of year to clear out the old and set our thoughts to what we want to achieve throughout the next spin of the wheel.
For as long as it has been known, the ritual of the “spring clean” has been carried out, essentially clearing out the old, that which is of no use, stored dust and clutter from the long months inside sheltering from the bitterness of the air. The spaces we spend our time in, and the body and soul in which we live, are purified and regenerated. Snow drops twinkle at us from flower beds and are brought into the home, still very much a winter flower, but the first symbol of new life and the abundance to come of the year. New year’s resolutions set at the beginning of the year are now whittled down to the one or two realistic ambitions and hopes we have for ourselves this year; we cast aside those that we have realised were not right and we begin to work on how we begin manifesting our goals for the year.
Imbolc is one of the Pagan fire festivals seeing some celebrations of this sabbat carried out around bonfires and blazes both reaching for the sky or crackling gently as chants, songs and tales are enjoyed by their warmth. A warmth that is created and honoured in reverence to the returning sun who is now turning the tide and winning the battle to dominate the sky above us.
Brigid, a Celtic Pagan Goddess, and a Triple Goddess, is honoured, worshipped and loved fiercely on this day of change. Worshipped long before the (relatively) recent birth of Christianity and other repressive religions dominated by patriarchal “leaders”, the symbolism and continued reverence and importance of Bridge could not be eradicated by the Christian church. With no other options available to them to procure conformity, Brigid was taken into the Christian Church and slightly renamed as St Bridget, a Patrol Saint of Ireland who watches over midwifery and manual crafts.
Brigid, the Pagan Goddess, has long been known to be the Goddess to pray to, meditate with and leave offerings for, for those wishing for wisdom and guidance with, amongst other things, Smithcraft and Midwifery. A startling coincidence, however what remains important is her time spent as the maiden, inciting lust within the newly risen Oak King, who will quickly learn of both his abundant virility and his love for the maiden.
Brigid takes our hand at this time and leads us away from the darkness it feels we have endlessly endured and gently urges us towards the brightness and kaleidoscope of colours offered to us by the Earth throughout its’ Spring and Summer months.
Set your intentions by a fire
As a fire festival, my first go-to is to wrap up in as many layers I can whilst retaining the ability to move my limbs, and then to build and light a not too small fire in one of my home-made stone fire pits at the bottom of my garden. I will have pre-written my intentions and hopes for the year to come in a journaling entry in my Book of Shadows, and I will copy this onto a piece of paper to smudge around the fire in the frosty air, then burn in the Imbolc flames whilst focussing on the image of my intentions. I ask Brigid and the Goddesses I work with to guide me in my journey through the year, to bring me wisdom and integrity as I work to manifest my goals for the coming months.
Of course not everyone has the space or the inclination to light a fire outside, in the cold, in the middle of winter. If this sounds like you, remember there is no hard and fast rule on fire festival, flames do not have to reach the clouds and roar like Dragons breath above you. Take from the traditional colours of Imbolc and light some candles or one candle in a safe place and either (again safely) burn your intention paper in your candles or simply sit before them and visualise or chant your intentions, asking Brigid and your Deities, if you work with any, to guide you.
White, though a good all round colour candle to use an any and all rituals, using a while candle at Imbolc represents the Maiden, Brigit, in her young and innocent state. It represents the twinkling frost on the ground beneath our feet and covering our Mother Earth in the most precious of beautiful blankets. It represents each unique and fluffy snowflake to fall from the sky, landing around us on the ground, atop our homes and gardens, and sometimes on the end of our nose. It represents the plain, empty and barren nature of the harsh winter months and the ethereal glow of the moon and her moonbeams as she shines down upon us, unaffected by the seasons. A feminine choice of colour if you are looking to work with the duality of the masculine and feminine.
Orange, Red and Gold are perfect choices to represent the return of the sun, of warmth and to represent the fire, the spark of new life and to sit in place as the masculine element to your ritual or altar.
Green is also a good choice for Imbolc, a neutral and calming colour, grounding you in the earth and in your mind. Symbolising the return of green to the trees and the earth when Spring arrives, green will represent hope for new beginnings and of fresh starts to come, when used at Imbolc.
Imbolc is also a time to bring the celebration of warmth and fire into our foods, enjoying a feast of warming foods in our celebrations. Dishes such as curry, chilli and broths made with onions and spices, following with wonderfully aromatic and comforting mulled wine or cider all remind us of the warmth we look forward to in the coming months.
If these dishes don’t get your moth watering, try baking a ginger loaf or spicy ginger cookies. Enjoy (if you’re old enough) a spiced rum or whiskey, add some ginger beer or ale to a favourite tipple or enjoy it on its’ own.
The winter is halfway done today, provisions have lasted, lambing will start again soon along with all other agricultural work to bring new supplies and stocks. Enjoy this celebratory feast day and give thanks and gratitude to the earth for sustaining us through her slumber.
Possibly the most popular ritual for Imbolc is to make a Brigid’s Cross, which is an ancient symbol of a powerful fire wheel. Usually made from reeds or other strong grasses, the cross is hung at the doorways and hearths of homes as a symbol of protection for the home over the coming year. Some prefer to carve the cross into a hearth or into wood or stone at the entrance to their home. It is usual to make a new Brigid’s cross every year at Imbolc.
So there you have it, a little more of my ramblings, this time on Imbolc. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and will come back to read more next time.