The celebration of Imbolc (Feb 1st) is a time of new beginnings, of welcoming the first light of spring and of honouring the Celtic goddess Brighid. It also marks the center point of the dark half of the year. Interestingly, the name ‘Britain’ is thought by some to be a derivation of Brighid’s name. Britain was named for an ancient Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, who worshipped Brighid or Brigit and were the largest Celtic tribe to occupy the British Isles in pre-Roman times.
Peoples affection for this Goddess was so powerful that when the Christian faith arrived in Celtic lands the Christian church had to adopt her as a Saint...
St Bride - by John Duncan
Imbolc was also called Oimealg by the Druids, from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means 'ewes milk'. As the Maiden Goddess of this time & because of these reasons of fertility, Brighid was symbolised by White flowers, the Stars and the Milky Way.
Brighid holds the power that brings the dark season of winter through to the light of spring; from conception to birth. Brighid is a solar and lunar Goddess; Her Solar celebration is the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox ie at Imbolc. During this time her moon could be in any of its phases: maiden-like/slender, or full and round like a pregnant belly.
Most importantly at Imbolc, as Brighid's Earth womb becomes ripe with fertility, she symbolizes the great potential of everything yet to come. Yet much of her power also resides in the uncertainties of this fecundity. It is therefore considered taboo to cut plants during this time, as this would destroy the blessing of new life given by the Goddess to the Earth.
Imbolc is the festival of this Maiden Goddess then & from this day to March 21st is her season to prepare for growth and renewal.
The Coming of Bride by John Duncan
Imbolc is a particularly important date in this natural calendar for pagans and farmers alike, as it marks the beginning of the agricultural year. Preparations for spring sowing begins now and includes the blessing o seeds and consecrating the agricultural tools, particularly the plough...
In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation for planting of crops, the plough itself in earlier times decorated to celebrate its importance. Pieces of cheese and bread were sometimes left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows, as offerings to the nature spirits who may have sheltered with us in our yule trees over winters darkest times and are now returned to roam their lands wild and free....
At Imbolc we hear the mysterious tale of the Brigadoon Piper, as nature wakes herself from winters slumber, so to do the mysterious creatures of her realms....
Prior to the eve of Imbolc the home would be given a thorough cleaning in preparation for a visit from the Goddess. The fireplace especially should be cleaned very well and a birch branch should be used to symbolically sweep the floors. Birch has strong associations with Brighid, and has long been used for rites of purification and new beginnings.
A small dish of butter, referencing the fertility of the ewes &; The Goddess, should be placed on a windowsill and a fresh fire kindled, evoking the return of the Sun, in the hearth, to honor the Goddess and the new life that she brings.
The lighting of candles honoring the re-birth of the sun but dedicated to Brighid & floated on the waters of lake, river and ocean, emphasized the balance between male fire and female water energies, an essential harmony if the forces of nature would sucessfully conjoin and beget fruitfullness. Thus the candles also symbolised the reunion of the Goddess and the God.
St Brighid Doll by St Blaze
Brideog or Corn Dolls,
Ideally made by the man of the household (again balancing the procreative energies of nature)before the traditional family or communal feast. Long pieces of straw or rushes would be woven into the shape of a doll and wrapped with white cloth to represent a dress. She would then be decorated with greenery, flowers, and shells or stones and consecrated with a sprinkle of sacred water whilst invoking Brighid's blessings. These dolls were then placed in baskets with white flower bedding, and set before the hearth..
This is the most widely practiced custom associated with Imbolc. These are woven, solar (as opposed to later Christian) crosses of straw.
Old crosses from previous years should be removed to the rafters and the new crosses hung near or over doorways. These are thought especially effective in protecting the household from fire and lightning, as well as blessing all who pass under thhem.
The eve of Imbolc is traditionally the best time of the year to perform divinations enquiring after the future of your family & the best choices to be made.This is because Imbolc as the hearld of the coming Spring is one of the sacred times when the Otherworlds are more easily communicated with. This channel of communication is more open at such special times (including dawn and dusk, but also at some special locations..) due to the seasons changes in the cosmological wheel of nature, impacting the balance light & darkness, and of the spirit worlds beyond....
As ever on this path of learning about the ancient ways, I am reminded that these rituals and practises celebrating the sacred times and tides in our lives and the nature which clothes, sustains and surrounds us, these are bright-shinning ways to honour and celebrate the life we are given, to cherish and nurture the nature around us and the communities we share. These Pagan traditions are simply a down to Earth spirituality, a practice of heartfelt good husbandry/wifery for harmonoius holistic living with our selves and our sacred Earth, both our Mother and our only home.
Blessed Imbolc to you ~