What is Imbolc about and how can we honour this ancient festival in modern times? It has much to offer us in this troubled times.
I started exploring the Celtic/Gaelic Wheel of the Year last year, to tap into my Celtic roots and learn a bit more about my heritage in a new way. Last year, when I was attending the Canadian Herb Conference, I learned from one of the speakers that my surname, Beaith, actually comes from Druid times as Beith, which means Birch Tree and is the first letter of the Druid Alphabet! Wow! That was neat to learn about my heritage.
I have found the Folklore around Imbolc quite fascinating. From a northerner, I feel that much of it doesn't apply to this part of the northern hemisphere in Edmonton, Alberta, when on Feb 2nd, we are still in the depths of winter, and it's often our coldest and snowiest month of the winter season. But, we can still connect with the festival and explore what it has to offer us. I think that it would be more appropriate here a few weeks later at the end of February or early March, when we are starting to see signs of spring with poplar buds
What is IMBOLC? Imbolc is an ancient pagan holiday that is celebrated to honour the Celtic Fire and Sun Goddess Saint Brigid. The Word Imbolc can be translated two ways to mean "in the belly" and "in milk". It was a time when pregnant farm animals would start to lactate in preparation for spring birth. Saint Brigid is seen as bringing back the sun and initiating the fertility of spring. Even if it is buried deep under the snow in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we could begin to tap into a kind of stirring and awakening energy, and a celebration of hearth & home.
Imbolc differs from the communal, family focused gathering of winter solstice, in that it takes on an energy of inspiration, shaking off the winter doldrums a bit and dusting yourself off. It invites you inwards on a journey thinking about what DO YOU want to plant and nourish this year? Imbolc lands when we are in one of the coldest and snowiest parts of winter, traditionally when the wolves are howling more, the pantry is getting bare, and we are starting to anticipate gardening weather coming up and beginning to prepare our bodies and homes for springtime.
Imbolc celebrated around February 2nd as the half-way point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, around the same time as the secular holiday Ground Hog Day, and just a couple weeks from the secular celebration of Valentine's day.
Energetics of Imbolc: purity, cleansing, rebirth, spring, renewal, fertility, and hope. Gemstones for Imbolc are: Amethyst, Citrine, Garnet, Turquoise, Ruby and anything that resonates with the Solar Plexus, the birth of all our creations and our fire power.
Plants featured in the Imbolc Box: Sage, Rosemary, Lavender, Milky Oats, Birch, Willow, and wild Roses.
In Celtic Times, this holiday was a celebration of the loosening of winter's hold on the land and the first signs of spring arrival are soon.
Three main types of ceremonies were undertaken:
- Purification with water,
- Blessing with fire,
- Blessings of talismans or charms,
- inviting the spirit of Goddess Brigid into our home, by cleansing the home and baking cakes and treats for her.
Ritual around cleansing
This was done to cleanse the home and prepare the people for the agricultural work of the coming season of spring. Before washing took place, the water was blessed and honoured. Then, some of the water was taken to ceremonially wash members of the household. They would begin by washing the head, then hands, and feet.
A simple ritual I invite you to try is to bless your water, then dip your fingers in and run your wet fingers over your head, hands, and feet, asking these body parts to be cleansed of winter's cold and welcome in the warmth of spring days ahead.
Blessing with fire
Have a bonfire, or light a candle to welcome the warm glow of the flames.
Feasting at Imbolc was all about making offerings to Brigid in hopes of a fertile crop for the year. Food symbolized the power of the sun like milk, cream, eggs, butter, and honey. Build ritual into your baking, so that when you are creaming, baking, stirring, you are contemplating the seeds you want to plant for the coming year, whether the be physical seeds like tomatoes or Calendula, or idea seeds of something you want to nurture this coming year. I love this magical baking tip from Gather Victoria "stir batter clockwise for good luck and good health and counter-clockwise for banishing bad ju-ju. Then bake your intentions into the cake!" When you symbolically eat your intentions, your body receives them and embodies them into your being. Digestion is more than what we eat, is digestion of experiences and ideas as well.
Her recipe is pictured below with a link to her Lavender Rosemary Imbolc Seed Cake. The girls and I are going to try making the cake this week! Looks so delicious!
Simple Imbolc rituals you can try at home:
- Spring cleaning - cleanse your home with water, but also do some spring cleaning purging, decluttering items you no longer need in your home first.
- Purify your body with water - bless the water, offer salt to the water to return some earth elements to it, light a candle to offer light, and enjoy the soak. Release something into the water at the end of your soak. A feeling you want to let go of.
- Smoke cleansing with a smoke bundle, incense to refresh the air.
- Mend & repair items
- Get organized for starting an indoor garden in March
- Cook & bake some Imbolc recipes
- Have a bonfire, light candles with your evening meals
- Do something inspiration for yourself to help bring your ideas you are nurturing into play, such as creating a visioning board!
- Collect young birch twigs and put them in a vase with water and watch the pussy willows bloom forth in the following days
- Collect pieces of birch bark for writing messages. Think about your intentions and hope for the spring season coming up. Choose 1 or more of the following: write down what you wish to manifest in this coming year for: yourself, your community/family, and for the earth? Put your piece on an altar or burn your intentions in a Imbolc bonfire.
- Have a bonfire or campfire in your backyard and enjoy. Share food, stories, offer something to the fire, like. your birch paper intentions if you wish!