Hi, my loves and welcome to WiccaNow! Recently I’ve been sharing some rituals and spells, like this Honey Jar Spell for Love and a quick guide to knowing how long a spell takes to work. Amythest has also been a busy bee, sharing this wonderful guide to witches familiars and her top tips for manifesting anything. I want to veer off in a different direction today and talk about one of the 8 yearly Sabbats, namely Imbolc.
Imbolc is the second Sabbat of the year and is a celebration of the start of Spring and the end of Winter. It is celebrated on the 1st-2nd of February in the Northern Hemisphere or the 1st-2nd of August in the Southern Hemisphere. This can vary a little depending on what you believe and where you are celebrating. Some people celebrate it on the first full moon closest to this date, while others choose to wait until the first spring flowers, such snowdrops, begin to emerge.
The History of Imbolc
Traditionally, Imbolc is a Gaelic festival which marks the beginning of Spring. It was widely celebrated throughout Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. For those of Christian faith, it’s known as the Feast Day of Saint Brigid.
Imbolc has a long history and mentions of it have been found in very early Irish literature (4th-8th century) which suggest that it was an important festival in ancient times. Like with many things, this predominantly Pagan festival was Christianized when the church realised that instead of banning certain things they didn’t like, they should just re-brand them. Oh, the joys of marketing and good PR.
Imbolc was traditionally the time when Ewes would have their first Lambs, making it an important time of the year. Imagine that you were stuck inside, with no sunlight, a single fire for heat and nothing fresh to eat for months on end. Most people would have lived in a single room home (easier to heat) with their whole family inside with them. This may have included animals as well. You can imagine that this would have become claustrophobic and incredibly difficult at some point.
The first lambs were a sign of spring, hope and most importantly fresh food. Ewes with lambs would begin producing milk which meant that for the first time in months there would have been fresh food to consume in the form of cheese and milk.
The traditional way of celebrating would often involve special foods, hearth fires, candles and bonfires if the weather was good enough. Lighting candles or a fire was symbolic of the increasing strength of the sun at this time of year. Purification rituals would take place along with some spring cleaning. Again, being stuck in a small house all winter meant that spring cleaning and airing out was probably very necessary by this stage. I love how many of our rites and sabbats contain a good dose of practicality. Make spring cleaning a festival and something to look forward so that it turns from a chore into a pleasure.
What does Imbolc mean?
The word Imbolc comes from old Irish “i mbolg” which translates to “in the belly”. The festival also used to be referred to as “Oimelc” which is translated to “ewe’s milk”. Some Neopagans still use this old name instead of Imbolc.
How to Pronounce Imbolc
What does Imbolc mean to Wiccans?
Imbolc, also known as Imbolg or Imbolic, is closely linked to the Goddess Brigid. In fact, Imbolc is also known as Brigid’s’ Day and is often seen as a women’s holiday which celebrates new beginnings. Due to this, it is often used as a day for initiations into a coven. Sole practitioners might choose Imbolc for their self-dedication ritual. Dianic Witches have traditionally used this day to initiate any new members of their coven.
This Sabbat is a time for Wiccans to celebrate the change from Winter to Spring and to appreciate the lengthening of the days. Imbolc is the midpoint between the shortest day and the spring equinox. It is thought that this is the time of year when the Horned God is growing in power and strength after his re-birth at Yule. The Triple Goddess is stepping into her role as the maiden after having given birth to the Horned God.
Imbolc is a time to cleanse your home and your ritual tools after the long darkness of the winter days. While using the sun isn’t always possible at this time of year (it’s usually the coldest part of winter here in Berlin), candles or lights are often used symbolically in cleansing rituals. It is common to light candles in every room of the house or to turn on every light you have to symbolise the strength of the sun and it’s purifying power.
Putting your ritual tools out into the sunlight at this time of year will purify them and charge them with magical energy. This works particularly well with any metal tools or crystals.
Because the sun is increasing in strength at this point and starting to warm up the earth which has been cold all winter, this time of year is the time to reflect on the wonders of the natural world. The seeds under your feet have felt the first touch of the warming sun and will be starting to germinate. While you may not be able to see this directly, the first growth of the season is taking place and will soon show itself in the form of spring flowers or leaf buds on the trees.
Side note: Spring just might be my favourite time of the year. Don’t you love the amazing way everything turns from the grey and black drabness of winter to the neon green and explosive life of spring? I find it absolutely magical and I can never get enough of that special new green of spring.
How do you celebrate Imbolc?
One of the traditional Gaelic ways to celebrate Imbolc was to visit a holy well, walk “sunwise” around it while praying for good health and then to leave a small offering at the well. This offering would be either a small coin or a “clootie” which was a small piece of cloth. Was this the origin of the wishing well? Water may have been taken from the well in order to bless your home and heath.
Because of the strong association with the Goddess Brigid, many of the older rituals are centred around her. She has long been the Goddess of the Hearthfire, which was an integral part of the home. It was used for the preparation of food and warmth which made it one of the most important things in the house. Without the hearth fire, you would have frozen and starved. No wonder you’d want to perform rituals in thanks of the Hearth Goddess!
Brigid is said to visit households on the eve of Imbolc in order to bless the inhabitants of the house. Many of the rituals for Imbolc revolved around the preparation of food and a resulting feast. This makes sense, a time of growth and plenty is coming so you can suddenly afford to use more of your food stores and didn’t need to have such a strict winter rationing system anymore.
Brigid would be symbolically invited into the house and many rituals involve making up a bed for her to sleep in. In Ireland, a family member, as a representation of the goddess, would circle the house 3x while carrying an armful of rushes. They would then knock 3x and ask to enter the house. After the 3rd request for entry they would be invited into the home, would eat a festive dinner and then the rushes would be made into a bed or into crosses.
When everyone was ready to go to bed, clothes or small strips of cloth would be left out for Brigid to bless. A white birch wand was also left next to the bed which had been made up for her, which represented the wand the goddess would use to simulate plant life to start growing again. In the morning the clothes and cloths were brought back inside and were believed to now hold healing powers.
Ashes from the fire also used to be raked in the evening after the fire had gone out. In the morning, the inhabitants of the house would look into the ashes for signs that Brigid had entered the home.
Another fun tradition was to open all the door and windows in the home and invite the goddess in. The female inhabitants of the dwelling would then stand at the open windows and in order to receive Brigids’ blessing.
Who is the Goddess of Imbolc?
Brigid, also known as Brighid, Brigit, Bride and Brigantia (along with many other versions of the name) is the goddess most commonly associated with Imbolc. She is well known in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and many other parts of Western Europe. She is a goddess of Fire and Flame, which makes her a goddess of change (see this post on Candle Magic if you are interested in why fire represents change).
Being the multifaceted power-house that she is, she is also the goddess of transformation, poetry, inspiration, wisdom, metalwork (the forge fire) and education. As a goddess of fertility, she is one of the goddesses who is called on during childbirth in order to keep the labouring mother and child safe.
Legend has it that she is the keeper of the Eternal Flame. Her temple in Kildare was said to be surrounded by a hedge that was impossible for men to penetrate so only she and her priestesses had access. She was charged with the care and protection of the flame. Because she is a goddess of fire, she is invoked in order to prevent its destructive forces. People used to hang Brigid’s crosses over the hearth in order to protect their homes from fires.
Brigid is the Celtic version of the Triple goddess. She is a shapechanger who appears in many forms and is simultaneously a Daughter, a Mother and a Crone.
What are the colours of Imbolc?
The most common colours for Imbolc are white, red, orange and yellow. These colours are often added to an Imbolc altar in the form of candles as candles are a traditional decoration for this Sabbat. All the traditional colours for Imbolc correspond to fire. If you are interested in the meanings of various candle colours check out this previous post about candle magic.
What are some Imbolc Rituals?
There are many Imbolc rituals depending on where you are celebrating. Many cultures who follow Brigid in her various forms will make Brigid Crosses to hang over the hearth for the year. In Scotland young woman and girls used to make a Brideog, which was a figure meant to represent Brigid that was made from Rushes or reeds. They would then decorate this figure with various things, like spring flowers and pieces of cloth.
For Wiccans, it is usually a time to be thankful for the end of the cold Winter and to celebrate the return of the sun and the coming of spring. As mentioned before, this is a time when new members are initiated into a coven, particularly relevant to Dianic Witches. Depending on the leanings of the coven, there might be rituals that only people identifying as female can take part in.
Wiccans who identify strongly with Celtic traditions will often celebrate Brigid on this day and may light candles and perform rituals in her honour. Altars are decorated with candles in Imbolc colours and other decorations might include early spring flowers like snowbells. Some Wiccans will make a special dinner which includes dairy in honour of the festivals original connection with lambs and ewes.
Because many parts of Wicca are quite broad and open to interpretation, this is a holiday that for many is open to interpretation. Do you follow the old Celtic ways? Are you more interested in the coming of spring and the growth of new flowers and plants? Do you worship the sun and enjoy the coming of longer days and more sunshine? Whatever you feel speaks to you the most, celebrate that.
I love the fact that spring is coming and you can feel the growth of new life in the air. The birds are coming back and the light has a different feeling and that’s the part I love about the Imbolc Sabbat. My rituals often include finding a quiet spot outside, wrapping up to keep away the cold and spending a little time with myself and the Divine. I like to acknowledge the quietness of winter passing while celebrating the raucous arrival of Spring with all its brash beauty.
Why is Imbolc sometimes called Candlemas Day?
Candlemas, also known as Candlemass, the Christian festival of lights, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Christian festival that also happens to fall on the 2nd of February.
According to Jewish law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after the birth of a male child. If you count forwards from Christmas (25th of December) the 2nd of February falls exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus.
On the 40th day after his birth, Jesus was presented to the temple in Jerusalem and was officially inducted into Judaism. This was combined with a purification ritual which Mary would have partaken in to cleanse her of the birth. Traditionally, candles are blessed on this day which is followed by feasting. Nowadays, many Christians will still bring their candles to church to be blessed on Candlemas. These candles are then burned throughout the year as a symbol of Jesus, who referred to Himself as the light of the world.
Interestingly, the 2nd of February is also known as Groundhog Day in the States.
So my holidaying loves, I hope this answers your questions on Imbolg!
Until next time,