Pagan Holidays - Imbolc, Candlemas, February 2
Brigid's Feast Day
What do ewes, a Pagan goddess, a Christian saint and spring cleaning all have in common? They are each intertwined into the history of the feast day of Brigid on February 1st and Imbolc on February 2nd.
There are as many traditions involved with this day as there are names the goddess is known by; Brigid, Brigit, Brid, Brigantia. Brigid is most associated with fire and water. She is a goddess of the arts of healing, creative inspiration, poetry, and metal craft.
This holiday is one of the four Celtic fire festivals. The word Imbolc may be related to a Gaelic word, Oimelc, which means ewe's milk. However, the etymology is unclear and it may originate from a term that means to "wash all around." Traditionally, this time of year exhibited the first signs of spring and lactation of livestock which meant there would be new animal births soon.
Please see disclaimer and sources at end of article.
Do you celebrate Imbolc?
Time for Spring Cleaning
This anticipation of spring was considered the best time to prepare the home for the year ahead including performing household tasks such as spring cleaning, preparing agricultural tools, and lighting of the hearth fire.
Modern celebrants may incorporate the idea of purification literally and figuratively into their observance of this day. They either do this along with their honoring of Brigid or many have created traditions of their own. It is a good time of year to do ritual for spiritual cleansing and rededicating oneself to a spiritual path.
Of course, clearing the cobwebs out of the corners of your home doesn't hurt either. If this is done in a conscious way, you can actually incorporate spring cleaning into your spiritual cleansing rite as well. Chanting or praying with a duster in your hand may seem silly, but this can be a powerful form of concentrating on a magical task.
The Mantle of Brighid about us,
The Memory of Brighid within us,
The Protection of Brighid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness,
This day and night,
From dawn till dark,
From dark till dawn.
~ From the poem Blessing for Hearth-Keepers by Caitlin Matthews
The goddess was such a popular figure for the people that it became necessary to incorporate her into the Christian church. Brigid was a celebrated protector of women in childbirth. This trait later came to be an aspect of Saint Brigit.
Eventually this day became Candlemas or the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. In Judeo-Christian tradition, it was believed that women were impure for a period of time after giving birth. Legend has it that after the birth of Christ, Mary would not have been pure until February 2nd. Candlemas, or the Festival of Lights, gets its name from the church tradition of purifying the candles that were to be used for the year. The purification aspect may be related to the Pagan festival especially in light of the possible etymology of the word Imbolc being that of washing.
Weather divination was practiced at this time of year to insure that the seasons were turning the way that they should since agriculture was a way of life for our ancestors.
While not directly associated with this holiday, the relatively recent addition of the American Groundhog Day is a humorous take on weather prediction. If the groundhog peeks out of his burrow on February 2 and sees his shadow, then we're in for six more weeks of winter.
One of the most popular traditions for Pagans and Christians associated with Imbolc is constructing a Brigid's Cross. It is usually made of natural material such as rushes or straw in the shape of an equal-armed cross. This symbol hearkens back to the Celtic solar symbol and hints at Brigid's fiery aspects.
You can use this symbol as a blessing of your home by hanging it above the front entrance or near the hearth, which for many modern Pagans has become the kitchen. Honoring Brigid at any time is welcome to the goddess. However, Imbolc is beloved among Pagans as a time for regeneration and hope for the coming year and a special time to bring the blessings of Brigid, the Exalted One, into your home and life.
Brigid Lore and More
A look at how modern Pagans celebrate the feast.
Sampling of Imbolc Rituals
A scholarly book written by a priest from Ireland. It's a bit dry but if you're interested in Irish attitudes and rites regarding Brigid, this is an excellent resource.
Brigid's Flame Keepers
Here is a short list of some groups that are dedicated to keeping Brigid's flame in the world.
Examples of Imbolc Ceremonies
Almond Crescent Cookies for Imbolc
Recipe for a Favorite Imbolc Treat
Crescent cakes have become a modern traditional favorite at Imbolc and Candlemas feasts. This buttery almond crescent cookie recipe is a take on that favorite and is adapted from a traditional Viennese Christmas cookie. They have a nutty shortbread taste, are incredibly easy to make and add a special touch to your festivities.
- 1 cup finely chopped almonds (or other nuts)
- 2 sticks (1 cup) softened unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar plus extra for coating
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).
Lightly grease two cookie sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until well blended. Add in the 3/4-cup powdered sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and almonds and stir until blended. Add the 2 cups flour gradually while stirring. At this point, you will have to knead it until well blended with your hands.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to make the dough easier to handle.
Shape the dough into crescent shapes (see picture) using 1 tablespoon at a time. To make it easier, roll into a string shape first and then shape into a crescent. Place onto cookie sheets and bake for 12-16 minutes until the edges are slightly browned.
Remove from oven and let cookies stand for a couple minutes until firm enough to remove from the sheet. Remove from the cookie sheet and place onto a rack. Let them cool for 10 minutes. Sift the extra powdered sugar over the cookies for the topping and let cool completely.
If you want to skip the crescent shaping process, just roll them into tablespoon-sized balls and bake the same as above. When the balls have cooled for 10 minutes, roll them in powdered sugar to coat evenly and let cool. You can also skip the nuts in case of possible allergy. They will simply taste like delicious shortbread.
Disclaimer and Sources
I've only touched on the surface of some of the possible origins of this holiday. The Christian and Pagan traditions have deep meaning and roots that I can't possibly lay out in a short article here. Below are sources used for this article but scholarship is an ongoing process. My goal here to introduce you to the rich traditions that hold meaning for Pagans and Christians alike.
- Rees, Alwyn and Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage, Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales, London: Thames and Hudson, 1961
- Farrar, Janet and Stewart Farrar. A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook. Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1981.
- Caer Australis - The Celtic Fire Feasts: Oimelc, 2011.