Alternate Names – Oimelc, Brigantia, Imbolg, Brigid, Feast of Lights, Celtic ‘Candle Festival’
Druidic Name – Imbolc
Christian Equivalent – Saint Bridget’s (Bride’s) Day, Candlemas: the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin (2nd February)
Place in the Natural Cycle – Imbolc (pronounced ‘im-molc’) is the cross-quarter festival that heralds the start of the spring quarter of the year and the end of the winter quarter. Even though Imbolc occurs at the coldest time of the year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably longer. Oimelc, an alternative name for this festival, means “sheep milk”, as this is the lambing season.
Imbolc is a festival of waxing light and purification, heralding the potential of spring. It is associated with the Celtic goddess Brid (pronounced ‘breed’) (also called Bride, Bridhe, Brigid or Bridget). In terms of the Goddess cycle, Imbolc is the point at which the old, winter aspect of the Goddess, the Crone, is transformed into the Maiden (the Virgin Goddess, Brid).
In its Christian form, Imbolc is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, in which candles are lit at midnight as a symbol of purification (hence the common name for this day, Candlemas). It celebrates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Jewish law dictated that the mother of a male child had to be purified by ritual 40 days after the birth. The Christian Church also appropriated the day more directly, by designating the Goddess Brid as Saint Bridget of Kildare, and recasting her festival day as Saint Bridget’s Day. Just as Brid was the Goddess of poetry <http://www.byzant.com/poetry/> , healing (particularly midwifery) and smithcraft, so Saint Bridget became the patron saint of these areas.
Imbolc traditions center around light and purification. Candles may be lit in each room of a house to honor the returning sun, or in each window from sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1st) until dawn. This is an appropriate time to cleanse or bless your house, to seek inspiration, and to purify yourself of limiting thoughts and negative attitudes. Dairy foods are particular appropriate to eat on this festival of calving and lambing.
Imbolc may mean ‘in the belly’, a reference to the seeds of life ready to stir again in the cold earth, and to the purification of the Maiden so that she may conceive the divine child at the following festival, Ostara.
Gather together as many light sources as possible. Suggestions include white candles, flashlights, incense sticks, and small oil lamps for indoor gatherings. Outdoors, consider torches or a well-tended bonfire.
For the activities in this ritual you will need: some ice or snow; a cauldron or cup of soil and a seed; you personal journal and a pen; ale or buttered toast for an offering; corn husks for decoration; and any white items. This Brigid’s color as Maiden aspect of the Goddess.
Arrange your light sources in a pleasing manner around the ritual space, but leave them dark. The center of the altar holds a coal or other fire source from your hearth or that of the groups leader. It is the only thing burning at the start of the ritual. Next to the fire source, leave a container of ice or snow. On the other side place your seed, the soil, and dish.
Corn husks are scattered on the surface of the altar like a cloth. Your personal journal and pen sit at one corner. The offering of toasted bread or ale rests on the other corner.
Before starting the invocation, go to your door and open it, saying, “Brigid, I welcome you to our sacred space. As you enter, bring with you the fires of warmth and fertility.” Traditions similar to this are very old, the opening of the door symbolically making way for the powers of light.
Go to the center and pick up the sacred fire. As you walk the circle reciting the invocation, begin igniting the light sources in that quarter of the room. This creates the visual effect of the circle of magic coming alive around you.
East ~I welcome the Air, and the rising sun. Let the light-filled wind bring inspiration and the breeze of new beginnings.
South~I welcome the Fire, and the noonday sun. Let the purifying light of the Spirit bring energy and courage with which to walk my path daily.
West~I welcome the Water, and the setting sun. Let the twilight bring thoughtfulness and wisdom to my magick.
North~I welcome the Earth, and the resting sun. Let the moment of fertile darkness give my soul peace, and my magick foundations.
Center~Light the God and Goddess candles now from the sacred flame.
“I welcome the Spirit of ever-burning truth and light. Let your fires be ever present in my mind, my heart, and my magick.”
Meditation and Visualization
Sit in the center of the light generated around the room. Look at the flame of the sacred fire until you can see it in your mind’s eye clearly. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, continuing to visualize the flame. See it slowly growing in power and beauty until the fire encompasses your whole being, restoring strength, health, and insight.
Once you feel the energy of that light filling you to overflowing, shift your awareness. See yourself as you sit right now, with light shining all around you. Slowly shrink that light down into one brilliant spark that resides in your heart chakra, banishing any shadows that hide within. This ember of the Spirit, this light of truth is always with you, empowering and guiding your magick.
Sit quietly pondering the significance of light ion your magic and everyday life – when you feel ready – open your eyes and make note of any insights in your journal. Then continue with the ritual.
Stand in place, raise your hands toward the sacred altar, close you eyes, and whisper this chant three times.
“The Goddess in me, in my understanding. The Goddess in me, in my heart. The Goddess in me, in my spirit. The light in me, in my body. The light in me, in my mind. The light in me, in my soul.”
Put your arms down, open your eyes, and say “I welcome the light.”
Walk up to the altar now and, taking the container of soil and seed in hand, raise it to the heavens:
“This soil of Earth is also the soil of my spirit. Today I plant the seed of _____ (fill in with a quality that you wish to develop) in this loam to be warmed by the returning sun, and grown with love.” Plant the seed in the soil, and put the container in front of you on the altar.
Take the container of partially melted snow or ice and raise it upward, saying,
“This is the Water of the Maiden who returns to Earth today, generating life and fertility with her warmth.”
Pour the melted snow into the container with the soil and seed.
“This Water shall likewise nourish the seed of ______ now growing in my soil.”
Pour the remaining liquid out to Earth as a libation. If this ritual takes place indoors, save the snow or ice until he circle is closed, then take it outside. After the ritual, the soil and seed should be transferred into a large pot and placed in a sunny window to activate the magick.
Even in ancient days this festival included a time for omen observation, specifically to figure the weather to come. That’s how Groundhog Day got started! So consider taking a walk outside to see what signs you can discern from Nature’s storehouse of wisdom.
A great activity for kids is making their own Imbolc candles. All you need for this is melted wax, a wick, and an old milk carton that acts as a mold. Allow the kids to add any powdered herbs or aromatic oils they wish, then keep this safely stored away for next years festivities.
Closing the Circle
North~Under the moonlight the resting Earth lay until the dawn brings her new birth.
West~The Waters recede with the setting sun, but magic continues when the circle is done.
South~The Fires die down, the candles go out, but within my heart there lingers no doubts.
East~The Air calms, but breath of Spirit remains. Merry part, and merry meet again.
Instead of dismissing the center point, go to your door again, taking with you the toasted bread. Toss the bread out the door for the birds, saying,
“Accept this gift of bread to nourish the children of the winds as my thanks to you Brigid, for your presence…for sharing the fire from your hearth to bless, inspire, and heal me. May I keep these emebe4rs safely burning in my heart.”
Close the door. “So mote it be.”
When disassembling the Candlemas altar, make sure to save one corn husk or sheaf of wheat. Wrap it in white cloth and put it in a safe place until next year to bring providence.
Post Ritual Foods
Any seed items can symbolize new beginnings and fertility. For example, bake spiced pumpkin or sunflower seeds – the spices considered representative of the sun’s warmth.
In group settings, it’s fun to have a post ritual ale-brewing party. Once it’s made, each person can take home a bottle and tend it as a symbol of the group’s unity. Then next Candlemas, the ale can be served during the ritual to honor Brigid.