Today marks the High Holiday of Imbolc. A Blessed Imbolc, to all!
This holiday is particularly important to me because I am a new daughter of Brigid and am going to be doing a dedication / initiation ceremony to her this weekend. This holiday has some pretty cool associations and history, and its the first in our modern calendar year. If you’re hoping to celebrate a year of rituals, now is the time to start!
Imbolc is a holiday that goes way back – specifically the Neolithic era. If you weren’t aware, many modern pagan holidays were not actually celebrated by our ancestors. Really, the Solstices were some of the most popular days to celebrate, and various sprinkled cultures celebrated harvest times and Beltane, but some of the days we celebrate now were interjected by modern figures such as Gardner. Imbolc appears in Old Irish literature, and is suggested in Megalithic structures aligning to the sun at this time, which indicates it has a far reaching history.
The name “Imbolc” comes from a Celtic word, oimelc, meaning “ewe’s milk.” Also called St. Brigit/Brides’s day or Candlemas, this holiday is celebrated in the transition time between Winter and Spring – the coming of the light again. In ancient times, it may have been celebrated more fluidly based on the physical changes of the seasons, but today it is traditionally celebrated on February 1st (or August 1st in the Southern Hemisphere). The core focus of this holiday is hearth and home, specifically the energy of the hearthfire as the power of the sun is returning. It is also a time to bless the family, fields, and livestock.
For those of us living less close to the land, this is still an opportunity for us to honor what our fields and livestock are. Is it our job? Our friends? Our art? Our writing? What is it that sustains us in the dark times and leads us into the light? It is an excellent time to consider what we want to bless in our life.
Of course, I highly recommend honoring Brigid on this holiday as it is directly associated with her. Few holidays are directly associated with a specific God or Goddess (Lughnasadh being the other one that comes to mind), so this offers us a chance to connect to a specific face of the divine in a new way.
Suggestions for Celebration
Consider decorating with the colors of flame: orange, red, and yellow. White represents winter and brown the earth, so these colors also work well. Think in very neutral tones – the tones of the chilled earth in this time of slow awakening. Brigid’s flame is a most important element in this particular holiday, so evoking that in whatever way you can is highly suggested. Candles make a beautiful centerpiece or just overall ambiance for your space.
Adorn the altar with any naturally budding flowers (if they are local). Be sure to ask for permission to take the flowers from their environment. Amber incense or resin is symbolic of the sun, while frankincense is great if you are doing some sort of interfaith ceremony. Oil lamps, corn dollies, Brigid’s crosses, and brass bells or cymbals are also significant to this holiday.
Due to the associations with livestock, lamb is suggested for this holiday. Dairy based dishes are also important as this time of year tended to mark when ewes gave birth. Consider having some sheep’s cheese, if such a thing is available to you. Seeds, winter vegetables, and dried fruits are also great.
Consider performing some sort of blessing ritual. This could be a house blessing, the blessing of a relationship, job, person, the land, or whatever you wanted it to be! There are many ritual suggestions available online with a quick google search, but it is ultimately what you want it to be!
Winter is a time where it is not recommended we do magic (as the earth is slumbering), so consider focusing more on blessing than any magical working.
Consider mindfully eating/drinking a dairy product if you’re able and thank the Mother for her bounty.