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Wiccan Holidays: What Is Imbolc?

Updated on August 13, 2016
WiccanSage profile image

Sage has been celebrating the Wheel of the Year with her family for 25 years as a Wiccan; she's like the NeoPagan Martha Stewart.

The Wiccan Sabbat Imbolc

Winter still has the land in its icy grip, and the hearthfires still blaze brightly to ward off the cold and brighten the depth of the night. But there are hints of thawing on the ground as signs of life and nature begin to stir. The days that seemed so long and dark just a month ago are growing noticeably shorter.

It must be Imbolc… the first fertility festival of the season. Take your last glimpse of winter and prepare to bid it farewell. The spring awakening is imminent.

Imbolc is one of the eight sabbats on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. It is first of the 4 greater sabbats of the year.

Whether this is your first Imbolc, or you’ve been celebrating them for decades, I hope you can take a moment to revel in the beauty of this season with me.

This Way to Spring Thaw

Imbolc rings in the spring
Imbolc rings in the spring | Source

Roots in Antiquity

Imbolc through the ages.
Imbolc through the ages. | Source
Candlemas: Feast of Flames (Holiday Series)
Candlemas: Feast of Flames (Holiday Series)

This book should by no means be looked at for historical accuracy (in fact, if you want a history lesson, it's the pits); but it's a fun read with some inspiring ideas for celebrating-- and that's the strength of this author and why it's worth a place on the shelf.

 

History

This holiday’s origins are not clear, but some form of it may go back as far as pre-Celtic times. Mainly it was observed in the ancient lands that we now know as Ireland and Scotland. It may have been the time to start looking for signs of Spring as part of agricultural planning.

The word “Imbolc” means “in the belly”. It comes from an older Gaelic world, “Oimelc”, which means “ewe’s milk”. It was the time of year the sheeps gave birth and started giving milk. If you can imagine living in the past in a place completely locked in winter’s deep freeze, you can understand the significance of that.

There was no electricity, no supermarkets to go to. You were pretty much trapped indoors, with nothing to do but wait and pray the house held up and no one in the family got sick. By February your firewood and food are getting really low. When the ewes give birth and the milk comes, you have a new food source—and you can breathe a sigh of relief. You’re going to be sustained, and spring is close.

The Many Names of Imbolc

Imbolc
Most common name currently
February Eve
Original Name from British Traditional Wicca
Candlemas
Caatholic/Christianized Version
Brighid/Brigid/Brigit, Brighid's Feast, Brighid's Day, Bride
Some name this holiday after this Goddess
Imbolg
Gaelic, alternate spelling. Meaning "in the belly" referring to the lambing season.
Oimelc
Gaelic, meaning "ewe's milk", again referring to lambing season
Feast of Waxing Light
Generic NeoPagan
Groundhog's Day
American Secularized Version

Any Imbolc Fire Will Do...

Source

Fast Facts on Imbolc

Most common date of celebration: Eve of January 31st; February 1st; February 2nd

Variations: February 12th (old calendar); but keep in mind, Wiccan sabbats don’t commemorate a specific day—they are in celebration of a season. So many Wiccans simply move their celebration to the day most convenient—the nearest weekend, or even the nearest full moon.

Deities: Brighid, of course, due to her connection to the holiday. Imbolc is especially appropriate if you worship any Gods and Goddesses of the hearth/home; fire Gods or Goddesses; young maiden/virgin Goddesses; Young, virile Gods or man-child Gods.

Direction Association: East

Time of Day: Dawn

Colors: Red; white; silver; grey

Symbols: fires; the hearth; candles; lanterns; lamps; snow and snowflakes; St. Brigid’s Cross; cows; sheep, particularly ewes; small, furry, burrowing animals; birds (particularly snow birds).

Tool: Besom (cleansing/cleaning); candles; aspergil (a brush or branch used to sprinkle purified or blessed water)

Activities: any related to cleaning, cleansing, purification. Anything related to domestic duties, such as cooking or cleaning. Anything to do with preparing for spring, such as shoveling away snow, or cleaning and oiling the garden tools, shopping for seeds or planting starter seeds; arts and crafts, particularly those to do with heat/fire (welding, wood burning, embossing, etc.); writing poetry.

Magical workings: cleansing, purification, transformations, protection, energy, artistic inspiration, family harmony.

Please note that correspondences can vary; mine may not match up with every other Wiccan authors. Feel free to follow your own instincts and beliefs as well-- correspondences are not written in stone.

Poll - Tell Me...

do you celebrate Imbolc?

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Excellent Video About Imbolc

Ritual Resource for Imbolc

Guided Rituals for the Turning of the Seasonal Wheel Volume 2: Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane
Guided Rituals for the Turning of the Seasonal Wheel Volume 2: Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane

If you're looking for something to help you with a ritual, try these guided rituals for the sabbats.

 

Celebrating Imbolc

All of the sabbats should be observed in some way, no matter how small. Try to take some time out to perform a ritual, or at least to hold a small rite to acknowledge and meditate on the meaning of the season.

Set up an altar or shrine near your hearth around this time of year. It doesn’t have to be big—a tiny cone incense burner and a red candle and a small bowl would suffice. Make prayers and offerings to your hearth Goddess or any household spirits and guardians. Get your spring cleaning and garden planning underway, too.

On the day of Imbolc, or the most convenient time near it, plan a rite or a ritual. Have a small feast—even if it’s just you, make yourself or go get something a little special for the occasion. At some point, turn on all the lights in the house to symbolize the returning light, then go out into the cold – if only for a little while -- to bid the winter farewell.

Looking for Imbolc activities for families? Try some of these ideas for Pagan kids!

Image Credits


All images are in the Public Domain and found at Pixabay.

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    • WiccanSage profile imageAUTHOR

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      5 years ago

      Thanks, SM! It's always had a special place in my heart, because I was first dedicated to Wicca on Imbolc in 1990 and I am in the service of a hearthfire Goddess myself. I appreciate your comment!

    • SM OBrien profile image

      Sharon OBrien 

      5 years ago

      Very well done! This is starting to become one of my favourite of the sabbats, perhaps because Brighid is one of my main deities but also because of the quiet beauty of the holiday as well. The promise of the spring to come! Blessings!

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