Celebrated on February 2nd, Imbolc or Imbolg, (pronounced “IM-bulk” or “EM-bowlk”), also called Oimealg, (“IM-mol’g), by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word “oimelc” which means “ewes milk”. Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders.
It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid’s snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.
The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen.
Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up.
In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.
As with all the Sabbats it is a time to celebrate the changes in the land around us. It is important to be outside to see, feel, smell, and appreciate the way that nature is changing, to pay our respects to the Gods and to seek their guidance for the coming season.
You can either take a walk to a favorite place, where you will be able to appreciate the changes around you, or as this is a time of new beginnings, it can be interesting to take a new route. Whichever your choice, take with you a small amount of spring water, or collected rain water. As you go, take care to notice the signs of new life and growth and wherever you see new shoots, buds, or leaves sprinkle a few drops on the plant and give thanks to the Goddess.
If you should come across a well or a spring, take the time to make an offering to the waters within. If you have finished the water you brought then your offering should be something which will not contaminate the water in any way. Where a tree grows close to this water you can also tie a single hair to one of its branches and ask for a Blessing for yourself or someone close to you.
If you should be lucky enough to pass grazing land look out for the first lambs of the year. If you see your first lamb of the year on this day you can make a wish.
As this is a time of new life and growth, it is appropriate to plant bulbs or flowers or to sow seeds. However, you will need to use your judgement and some local knowledge to decide whether to actually do so at Imbolc or whether to wait a week (or several) until the last frosts have passed. Of course seeds can often be started indoors and planted out a month or so later.
A word of caution here – if you are unlucky and your seedlings or plants fail, try not to read anything ‘significant’ into this. Unless and until you are an experienced and seasoned gardener, or unless you naturally have ‘green fingers’ you are quite likely to have a less than impressive success rate the first few times.
If you don’t have access to a garden, you can always choose an indoor plant to nurture. Many of the herbs that Witches use in their Magic, as well as their kitchen, will grow quite happily on a window sill. Rosemary and lavender are perhaps the two most useful, as well as having a pleasant scent all year round.
Celebrating Imbolc can be as easy as saying a prayer or as complicated as doing an elaborate ritual. The thing to remember is that it be meaningful and done with intent. Remember also that the Imbolc season runs through the actual day of Imbolc until the Spring Equinox; if you miss the exact day, you haven’t missed out on celebrating. The following is a list of activities to do alone, with a partner, or with your child to honor nature and deity as we travel ever closer to spring.
Activities for Imbolc:
- Create a family Imbolc altar, using the correspondences for Imbolc
- Pick a God or Goddess that is traditional to the season, and create a page about him/her for your book of shadows.
- Create an art journal page for your chosen deity.
- Help your children create a poster about the season to display.
- Create a feast using the traditional ingredients of Imbolc
- Imbolc is a time of new beginnings. It’s also a good season for divination. Choose a form of divination you are interested in, and start learning how to practice it.
- At sunset on Imbolc, light as many lights, lamps and candles as you can, to inspire the sun to shine and spring to come.
- If you still have greens in your home from Yule, now is the time to add them to your ritual fire.
- Leave buttered bread out in your home on February 1st to feed the faeries who are traveling on this night. Dispose of the bread in the morning, as the essence of the bread has been consumed. (This is especially fun for kids, similar to leaving cookies out for Santa.)
- Create a door decoration containing three ears of dried corn, representing the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Leave it up until Ostara.
- Make a wand. Priapic wands (those topped with an acorn) are especially traditional.
- Make dream pillows for each member of your home.
- Take the kids out for a walk, and look for signs of spring: bulbs starting to come up, birds or squirrels out, grass starting to grow, etc..
- The goddess Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc Eve. Leave out strips of cloth outside to receive her blessing. The cloth is said to then contain the powers of healing and protection.
- Rake the ashes in the hearth smooth before bed on Imbolc Eve. It is said that if the ashes are disturbed in the morning, Brigid has visited to give her blessings.
- Make candles for the year.
- Anoint your candles for the rest of the year with consecration oil. A simple, all-purpose anointing oil can be create with 2 parts frankincense essential oil, and 1 part myrrh essential oil.
- Make a corn doll.
- Create Bride’s bed (also known as “Brede’s bed, or Brighid’s bed). Bride’s bed is a small box or basket in which you place a cloth liner and a corn doll. Bride’s bed can be left on the altar throughout the festival or left out until Ostara. Between seasons, it can be placed in the home for protection. The attic of the house is a perfect spot to place the bed.
- Spring clean your home and follow with a ritual cleansing or smudging.
- Cleanse and reconsecrate your ritual tools.
- Bless seeds that are headed for the garden in spring.
- Do fertility work.
- Cleanse and consecrate your gardening tools.
- Do weather predictions (see box).
- Cleanse and consecrate your divination tools.
- Make and display Brigid’s Cross.
- Help your kids make butter and discuss the importance of dairy on this sabbat.
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings; a great time to start new family traditions involving the sabbats and seasons. Whether you use the above suggestions or create something new, getting family and kids involved can make the sabbat even more meaningful and joyous.
Here are the Correspondences and Symbols for Imbolc
- Other names for Imbolc:
- Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget’s Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time.
- Deities of Imbolc:
- All Virgin/Maiden Goddesses, Brighid, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Gaia, and Februa, and Gods of Love and Fertility, Aengus Og, Eros, and Februus.
- Symbolism of Imbolc:
- Purity, Growth and Re-Newal, The Re-Union of the Goddess and the God, Fertility, and dispensing of the old and making way for the new.
- Symbols of Imbolc:
- Brideo’gas, Besoms, White Flowers, Candle Wheels, Brighid’s Crosses, Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs.
- Herbs of Imbolc:
- Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers.
- Foods of Imbolc:
- Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Raisins, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas.
- Incense of Imbolc:
- Basil, Bay, Wisteria, Cinnamon, Violet, Vanilla, Myrrh.
- Colors of Imbolc:
- White, Pink, Red, Yellow, lt. Green, Brown.
- Stones of Imbolc:
- Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise.
- Activities of Imbolc:
- Candle Lighting, Stone Gatherings, Snow Hiking and Searching for Signs of Spring, Making of Brideo’gas and Bride’s Beds, Making Priapic Wands, Decorating Ploughs, Feasting, and Bon Fires may be lit.