When most people talk about February Holidays, you think of Valentines day or President’s day. But in the Wiccan World, February marks the halfway point between winter and spring. February 2nd or Imbolc, is one of the cross-quarters on the Wheel of the Year. This Wiccan Holiday is all about welcoming the first signs of spring and ushering in good fortune and prosperity. Many Christians celebrate Imbolc as Candlemas or Saint Brigid’s Day( more on this further down the post.)
The History of Imbolc
Imbolc is a holiday that has been given many labels depending on the culture and country celebrating it. There’s been many debates on where the name Imbolc actually comes from. Some say its from the Old Irish world Omeliac which means ewe’s milk, signaling lambing season (and spring) is about to start. Others say its from the word imb-fholc which means “to cleanse/ wash oneself”. Etymologically speaking, the root of the word’s sound m(b)lig breaks down to mean “lactation”. Regardless of where the name comes from, they all represent the same holiday.
As an ancient festival, Imbolc was one of the many Celtic Fire Festivals celebrated year round. It was a way of saying good bye to the past year and welcoming the warmth and life of spring. Many of the Gaels and sheep herding towns celebrated Imbolc as a sign of Spring approaching.
( For those not in the sheep world, modern lambing seasons can start as early as January but February is the most common time of year to start prepping for lambing season(if it hasn’t already started) This accompanied by the first few spring flowers coming up helped to remove the dreariness and dread of the winter.)
Anymore, Celtic sheep herders are no longer the only group celebrating Imbolc. Many people who celebrate Wicca view it as a Women’s day or Day of Empowerment. Many Dianic Covens have their initiations of new members on this day. Even those who aren’t Wiccan have their own celebrations going on that share many similarities and traditions as Imbolc.
Other Holidays like Imbolc
Some of the other Holidays include, St Brigid’s Day and Candlemas(Christianity) The Feast of Nut(Egypt) and The Roman Lupercalia Festival. The Celts also had their own version of Groundhog’s day but with a snake! They have a poem that goes like this:
“Thig an nathair as an toll
(The serpent will come from the hole)
la donn Bride
(on the brown day of Bride (Brighid)
Ged robh tri traighean dh’an
(though there may be three feet of snow)
Air leachd an lair”
(On the surface of the ground.)
The Celts, The Greeks and the English all had their own weather superstitions for Groundhog’s day that signaled a late winter or early spring. Basically, all three groups unknowingly agreed that stormy and cloudy weather signaled that spring was close, while a sunny day meant that more wintry weather was incoming for the last 6 weeks of winter.
The Feast of Nut
The Egyptians celebrated the Birthday of Nut, The Sky Goddess. Mother of 4 Egyptian Deities, she is one of the oldest deities in the Egyptian Pantheon. Her and her husband Geb together control the day and night. Nut is often represented by her water-pot headdress or as a nude woman covered in stars. She is known as a mother figure type goddess and protector of the dead. There’s tons more myths and info around her that we will cover at another time!
The Lupercalia is a widely known festival celebrated by Rome. This festival is familiar to us due to its association with Valentines day and it’s famousness in the Shakespearean play “Julius Caesar”. In 2007, a Lupercal cave was discovered and rumored to be the origin of Romulus and Remus. Since then, the Lupercalia festival has gained a lot of modern pagan popularity.
Lupercalia is probably the Oldest Roman Pagan Festival celebrated. It was rumored to have been started at the founding of Rome(or earlier). Lupercalia was primarily celebrated as a fertility festival until it became a religious holiday supervised by a group of priests known as the Luperci. At that time it became a purification ritual and was no longer as wildly heathen as the original festival. There’s also tons of info you can google to find out more about the story and murder of Remus and Romulus and how it developed into Rome, as well as ways to celebrate Lupercalia yourself!
Imbolc and St. Brigid, the Intertwining of Celtic and Catholic.
Sometime around 400 AD, Christianity reached the Pagan shores of Ireland. As Christianity gained more followers, there were some who were not willing to convert. As a sort of compromise, they were allowed to keep some of their deities but under new names. One of the most widely known is Saint Brigid or The Goddess Brighid.
The Goddess Brighid is known as a goddess of home and hearth. She has been known to bless and protect the homes and farms of those who follow her. Some of the other areas that Brighid’s magic lay include, smith-crafting, healing arts, animal husbandry, poetry, dairy production and the domestic arts. There are several healing wells around Ireland that are dedicated to her and her magic.(Later renamed for St. Brigid for Christianity.)
These wells are:
Dabhach Bhride located in Liscannor
Srith Bhride located in Faughart
Tohar Bhride located in Oughtaragh.
One of the most famous shrines to Brigid is in Kildare. Once a coven of priestesses who tended her sacred flame(similar to Vesta and the Vestal Virgins), Kildare became the Monastery of St. Brigid,Patron Saint of babies, midwives, poets and travelers. In the 5th century, St. Brigid and her followers continued to tend the sacred fires until the 12th century when it was destroyed.
Uncommonly for Christianity, St. Brigid is actually a very strong female who held much importance and power. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if St. Brigid is a person or a Goddess but I do recommend you look up the history of both for some in-depth thought and history.( Links will be at the bottom under Further Reading!)
How to Celebrate Imbolc
Regardless of if you celebrate the Goddess, The Saint or the Season, many of Imbolc’s traditions and festivities tie all three together. Corn Dollies, Feasts, Candles and making Talismans for protections and blessings are just some of the activities associated with Imbolc.
While Brigid is the main goddess celebrated for Imbolc, you can work with plenty of other Sun and Spring Deities, or chose your token patrons. If you don’t work with any of the gods, simply focus on celebrating the coming of spring and good weather!
Imbolc and the Cycle of the God and Goddess
If you follow the cycles of the God and Goddess, then you remember we left off at Yule with the Birth of the God. Imbolc being the halfway between Yule and Ostara focuses on the Goddess feeding the God to strengthen him until it is time for him to rule over the Spring and Summer.
The strength of the God is believed to tie into the strength and fruitfulness of the harvest. In a time where the harvest means life or death over the winter, you can understand why it was felt to be so important.
While we have grocery stores with food available all year round now, it doesn’t hurt to use the magic and energy of the God and Goddess to help your home, your work or an actual garden. We could all use a little more magic in our lives.
Activities of Imbolc
If you’ve been following along as we cover each Festival, you’ve probably noticed a reoccurring theme, fire, feasts and frivolity.(Say that 5 times fast!) The Festivals were a time to gather up plenty of good food, share drinks with friends and family and celebrate with music and dancing. And even though most of us are still at home there’s no reason we can’t do the same!
Activities for Imbolc include:
Crafts specifically for Brigid
Make a Brigid’s Cross– Following the history of St. Brigid/Brighid and Imbolc, asking the goddess for her blessing and Protection is a common element of Imbolc. Making a Brigid’s cross from straw, hay or reeds and then leaving it outside to be blessed is still a very popular custom today. Check out Colorful Crafts and Wicca Spirituality for a good tutorial on how to make your own Brighid’s Cross.
Brighid Doll– Make a corn dolly to represent the goddess( or reuse your corn mother doll from Lammas!) This, combined with Brigid’s bed and wand, were used to invite the goddess into your home to bless it and it’s occupants. Brigid’s wand especially was used for fertility and prosperity.
Brigid’s Bed– Using a wicker basket or a (cardboard) box, make a bed for your corn doll and leave it on your altar or by your hearth. Decorate it with flowers and ribbons and line it with a soft cloth to keep your doll comfortable.
The Priapic Wand- Using the branch from a fruit tree and a pine-cone, this wand is great to decorate your altar with or to leave with your Brigid doll. Due to it’s Phallic shape, people have used the Priapic wand as a tool for fertility spells and rituals.
Dispose of your Yule Tree-If you haven’t already disposed of your yule tree(if it was a real tree) then now is the best time. If you have a safe area, burn your tree( or a branch if you don’t have a safe enough space). By burning the yule tree, it signifies the ending of the previous year and the start of the new year. This allows us to move on to better things instead of holding on to the past.
Bless your animals and/or outbuildings– By sending positive energies to your animals and or farm, it allows the God to gain strength which will allow for a stronger/better harvest. People have modernized this practice to include blessing and cleansing your indoor pets, houseplants or your home bringing in good health and prosperity.
Take a Nature Walk- See how many signs of Spring you can find while you are out. Are there flowers starting to bloom, can you see or hear birds and other animals. Gather up stones, flowers or grasses to decorate your altar with.
Plan out your garden- Speaking of gardens and outside, now is the best time to plan out and research your garden. Check out what zone you live in, start your indoor seedlings that need prepared and order any seeds you don’t have yet. If this is your first year gardening, check Pinterest for tons of ideas and information!( And come back next week when we talk about ordering seeds and planning out your garden!)
Cleanse your sacred space– As with each holiday, taking the time to cleanse and reorganize your home or altar helps to remove stagnant energy, renew intentions and admire your personal space you’ve created. Plus check out the correspondence lists for herbs and incense to use and decorations you can add to your home at this time.
Set intentions– Much like how the New Year, New You is popular, now is the time to set goals for the coming season. Maybe you would like to plant a garden this year, or you want to go outside more. Perhaps you want to work on your shadow work or meditation properly. Now is the time to set your goals and intentions and work on them. Check back in on the next holiday to evaluate your progress and make changes.
Make or Dedicate candles– With this being the start of the year and approaching spring, now is a good time to cleanse and charge all of your tools. Make candles or decorate them to celebrate Candlemas and Imbolc. You can use dried flowers and herbs to decorate the tops or sides of candles you have( Warning! Adding Dried Matter can cause a fire hazard so always burn candles in a supervised area!!!) If you plan on doing spells for protection, money, self love, prosperity and more throughout the next few months, gather the tools to charge and empower them now so they are ready when you need them.( Check out our Tips for beginners board on Pinterest for more info in things like this!)
Divination– Take some time to work with your divination or meditation of choice. Focus on what you need to “grow” over the coming season.
Making good foods-Winter is a time for thick hearty foods. Potatoes, soups and stews all feature during this time. Foods featuring dairy, eggs and pork were also very popular during this time.
Celebrating the Holiday Imbolc the Wicca Way
I tried to keep this relatively simple to keep it from being overwhelming. But I hope you learned a little about Imbolc as well as some things to celebrate it yourself! For recipes, tutorials and more history on Imbolc, don’t forget to check out our Pinterest Board on everything Imbolc. Until Next Time!
Slán go fóill! (See you soon!)
If you would like to learn more about Imbolc, Brigid or any of the topics listed here, I recommend you check out the following list of books and websites as well as our Pinterest page!
“The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint” by Seán Ó Duinn
“The Apple Branch” by Alexei Kondratiev
“Finding Brigid in Ancient Lore” and ” More Brigid in Ancient Lore” by C.S.Thompson and Clann Bhríde