History and Origins of Imbolc

Imbolc is one of the four greater Sabbats. Most traditions celebrate it on February 1st or 2nd, or on the first Full Moon in Aquarius. Other names for Imbolc, include; Brigantia (Day of Brigid, England), Candlearia (MexicanCraft), Feast of the Waxing Light (unknown), Disting-id (Teutonic), Candlemas (Christian, The Purification of the Virgin), St. Brigid’s Day (Irish), Oimelc (ewe-milk, Celtic), Lupercus or Lupercalia (Feast of Pan, Roman/Strega), Fest of Lights (unknown), Antihestria (Greek, for the Festival of Flowers), and in our culture Groundhog Day.

Some attributed meanings to the word Imbolc are “in the belly” or “in milk” and refers to the pregnancy and lactation of the ewes. This Sabbat is a celebration of Springs coming, and an end to the dark, cold days of Winter. In Celtic traditions, this is a holiday associated with Brigit, and has survived to this day in Ireland as St Bridget’s Day. (Who was reputedly a midwife at the birth of Christ.)

The Romans dedicated the holiday to Venus and Pan, and the Greeks to Diana. In Norse traditions it was known as Disting-id and was a time for readying the Earth for planting, usually by sprinkling it with ashes, salt, andherbs. Candlemas rituals, are done by Catholics. Some of whom bring their candles for the coming year to the church to be blessed by a priest.

Americans celebrate Groundhog’s Day, where we find what our chances of an early spring will be. Imbolc is traditionally a time of new beginnings, with planning, starting over, and making way for the new. In our modern lives the season has little impact our daily life. But for our ancestors it would have been very different. In the northern hemisphere the ground is often still covered with snow at this point, and might have been too hard to till and prepare yet for spring planting. Our ancestors would have been living off of their stores from the previous harvest. This would have been a time of reflection and looking back, at the stores they had put by, wondering if there would be enough, and at the resolutions that had been made. Being mostly house bound this was the best time for working on things for the house. Sitting in front of the cook fire while the stew simmered and working on a quilt, dipping candles from the tallow in the stores, making the small repairs for which ! they would be too busy for during the growing season.

TRADITIONS
Bread spread with butter was left on window sills on Imbolc Eve as a giftfor the Lady, who was thought to visit each household that night, along with an ear of corn for her white cow. For those a bit more modern, try leaving buttered bread, an ear of corn, and a saucer of milk for Brigid on your doorstep. Reputedly butter and butter churns are sacred to Brigit. Sometimes the handle of the churn dash was turned upside-down and stuck into the ground with a cake placed on the flat top.

In Scotland, on the last day of January, the ladies of the household would dress a corn dolly or a sheaf of oats (fertility) in woman’s clothes and lay it in a basket or on a pile of reeds called a “Bride’s Bed” next to the fireplace. A club, rod, or wand (often with a pine cone tip) was laid next to the doll. The women would then call out three times “Bride is come! Bride is welcome!” and discreetly withdraw so that the phallic “God” would impregnate the “Goddess.” When the night was over, the women returned and checked the ashes of the fireplace for some type of sign. This could be the imprint of the club in the ashes, a footprint or any other mysterious symbol. If they find one, the coming year will be fruitful.

DECORATIONS
Decorate your Imbolc altar with Goddess images, lights, and candles, as this is a Sabbat associated with light. Set out a bowl of snow to slowly thaw and remind you of the approaching spring. Corn dolls are also appropriate, as are seeds and any sprigs of early-sprouting plants you can find. Imbolc is a festival of the home and hearth, and you can keep a fire in your fireplace all day or a small fire burning in a cauldron on your altar. Now is also a good time to buy new plants for your house.

HERBS Snowdrop, Bay, Heather, First Flower of the Year.

INCENSE Rosemary, Cinnamon, Wisteria Frankincense, Myrrh, Basil, Jasmine, Camphor, Lotus

COLORS Black, White, Pink, Green, Orange, Red.

FOOD Dairy products, Salmon, Lamb, Pork, Sprouts, Eggs, Spicy foods such as Curries and peppers, onions, Chives, Spiced wines, Seeds, Herbal teas, and round foods.

GEMSTONES Amethyst, garnet, onyx and turquoise

SPELLWORK Catalyst spells, spells for beginnings, rejuvenation spells purification spells, spells for good luck and for future endeavors, and initiatory rites.

TOTEM ANIMALS Wolves, Bears, Stags, Eagle, Raven, Groundhog

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