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Imbolc: Festival of Brighid

Updated on February 4, 2013

Celebrating the Celtic Fire Festival of Imbolc

Imbolc is a Celtic fire festival celebrated on or around the 2nd February each year, and is one of the eight Sabbats marked by witches, druids and other pagans.

As winter begins to draw to a close, Imbolc (pronounced "imm-aulk") heralds the promise of the coming Spring and is the sacred day of the Celtic goddess Brighid. This goddess is also celebrated as Saint Brigid, after the Christianising of herself and her sacred day, which became Candlemas for Christians. The American tradition of Groundhog Day also finds its roots in Imbolc.

This period is known as "Winter turning to Spring" and marks a time of renewal and change, transformation and new beginnings. It is a traditional time for witches to be initiated into the Craft, and for spring cleaning.

Imbolc is my favourite of all the pagan festivals, because, as a kitchen witch, my patron goddess is Brighid herself, and I love to honour her on her special day, as well as spring clean both my home and my life. The symbolism of this festival is potent, and the rituals and celebration that take place refresh both the mind and the soul, leaving you ready to embark upon another special year.

Read on to learn more about this special day and how to celebrate it!

The Wheel of the Year in the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle
The Wheel of the Year in the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

What is the Wheel of the Year

And What are the Eight Sabbats?

Paganism is a nature-based belief and works closely with the passing of the seasons, marked by the turning of the Wheel of the Year. The year is split into eight parts - Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer, and those periods in between - Autumn turns to Winter, Winter turns to Spring, Spring turns to Summer, and Summer turns to Autumn.

Each section of the wheel is marked with a special festival day or Sabbat. The traditional pagan year begins at Samhain (Halloween), in the way of the Celtic people, before moving on to Yule (Winter Solstice), Imbolc, Ostara (Spring Equinox), Beltane, Litha (Summer Solstice), Lughnasadh, and Mabon (Autumn Equinox).

While four of the festivals are marked at the equinoxes and solstices, the other four fall on the same days as more mainstream festivals (because the Church christianized the old pagan festivals and put their own feast days in their place):

Samhain - Halloween, or All Souls Night

Imbolc - Candlemas

Beltane - May Day

Lughnasadh - Lammas

Yule of course coincides with Christmas, while Ostara coincides roughly with Easter. Christmas and Easter both find many traditions originating in their pagan counterparts.

Imbolc

Imbolc can be literally translated as "in the belly of the mother", while its original Celtic name, Oimelc, translates as "ewe's milk" or "the feast of ewe's milk".

Other names for this festival include Imbolg, Gwyl Fair and the Feast of Pan. The Christian equivalent is Candlemas.

Photo Credit: Jupiter Images Corporation
Photo Credit: Jupiter Images Corporation

Imbolc - Celtic Fire Festival

Imbolc is generally celebrated on 2nd February each year, although some are more intuitive with when they choose to mark the festival, opting for the day when the first spring flowers emerge from the ground, such as snowdrops here in my beloved England. In the southern hemisphere, Imbolc is celebrated on 31st July.

Imbolc is a fire festival that traces its roots back to the Celts, who celebrated the goddess Brighid (pronounced "Bree-ed") on this day. As mentioned above, the original Celtic name translates as "ewe's milk" and the name Imbolc itself translates as "in the belly of the mother" - referring to the fact that this festival marked the time when ewes would begin lactating for their forthcoming new lambs. This was a significant time for the Celtic folk as it meant the return of an important element to their diet - dairy produce.

It also signified the start of a new agricultural season. Imbolc symbolises the promise of spring - the signs that are there to remind us that, although winter will be around for a while longer, spring will be forthcoming.

Imbolc is the time when the Goddess in her Winter Crone form gives way to the Spring Maiden, who begins to touch the dead earth and return life to the belly of the Earth mother. Ancient Celtic women would honour Brighid, with the married women honouring the Crone goddess and the maidens gathering gifts to place at Brighid's shrine.

Brighid is a fire goddess whose sacred flame is still tended to this day.

Celebrating Brighid at Imbolc

St Brigid's Well, Kildare, Ireland
St Brigid's Well, Kildare, Ireland

The Celtic goddess Brighid is a Triple goddess. She has three aspects; as goddess of healing, goddess of smithcraft, and goddess of inspiration and divination.

Brighid is a fire goddess associated with both sun and moon, and her sacred flame was tended at her healing well in Kildare, Ireland by nineteen priestesses, until the Church turned her into Saint Brigid, midwife to Mary, and the well became a Christianised shrine to the saint, later tended by nuns. Brighid is thought to be one of the Tuatha De Danann, daughter of the Dagda and half-sister to the god Aengus.

Celebrate Brighid on her sacred day by honouring her flame. Light white candles and invoke Brighid for her healing and wisdom.

On the eve of February 1st, folk would put out a piece of cloth, material or ribbon for Brighid to bless, for it was said that she walked amongst the towns and villages on this night. If the cloth was marked in the morning, it meant she had blessed the household. This custom is continued today.

Another Imbolc custom is to make a Brighid's cross. You can find out more about this beautiful goddess and how to make one of her crosses in the lens below.

Brighid's Healing: Ireland's Celtic Medicine Traditions

Brighid's Healing: Ireland's Celtic Medicine Traditions
Brighid's Healing: Ireland's Celtic Medicine Traditions

Imbolc Foods

  • Foods sacred to Brighid include bread, milk, corn and clover.
  • Traditional Imbolc foods encompass those that honour hearth and home - bread, grain, and vegetables stored from winter, such as potatoes and onions.
  • Dairy is also important, due to the Imbolc connection with ewes lactating milk. A common ritual is to pour milk into the earth, as a tribute to Mother Earth in return for fertility for the coming growing season, and to represent spiritual nourishment.
  • Fresh shoots are a symbolic food - if you cannot access wild shoots, then create your own with some sprouting beans.
  • Another perfect way to honour Brighid and Imbolc is to bake the sacred loaf, by making Irish soda bread or traditional braided bread.

Braided Bread - A Traditional Imbolc Food

Braided Bread - A Traditional Imbolc Food
Braided Bread - A Traditional Imbolc Food

Recipes for Imbolc and the Wheel of the Year - Witch in the Kitchen by Cait Johnson

This is my favourite book for seasonal and festival pagan foods. The book makes excellent use of seasonal produce, and best of all, includes rituals and spells for blessing your food as you cook, as well as meanings, activities and other information for each turn of the Wheel of the Year.

For readers in the UK, I would also recommend the Capall Bann book Pagan Feasts: Seasonal Food for the Eight Festivals by Anna Franklin and Sue Phillips, which contains a wealth of traditional and seasonal food and drink ideas for each of the Sabbat, along with rituals and lore.

Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons
Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons

Practicing witch Cait Johnson celebrates the sacred in each season with more than 80 soul-satisfying and appetizing recipes.

In engaging and inviting prose, the author provides rituals, spells, and meditations for the eight pagan holidays, inspirations for creating a kitchen altar, and ways to prepare for each season. She offers ideas for decorating your kitchen with objects of power and magic--eggs symbolizing fertility in spring, dried orange slices as reminders of the sun in mid-winter--to align our bodies, spirits, and senses to the pace and mood of the Earth's changes.

She includes recipes for delicious, sensuous salads, soups, main dishes, and desserts made from ingredients in tune with the Earth's seasonal gifts. Serve Stuffed Acorn Squash and Fig-Apple Crumble at a Samhain gathering; celebrate Winter Solstice with Pomander Salad and Savory Yuletide Pie; welcome Imbolc with Sprouted Spring Salad and Magic Isle Pasties; or share the harvest at Lughnasad with Spicy Stir-Fried Greens and Sunny Peach Pie.

Witch in the Kitchen invites you to honor yourself and the Earth and delight in the magic that comes from sharing good food with good company.

 

Imbolc Altar

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imbolc Altar at Pagans & Witches Imbolc Gathering & Expo, Reading

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Imbolc altar represents transformation and new life.

Create a shrine to Brighid with figurines, imagery, white candles and a Brighid's cross.

An Imbolc altar can include:

* Green and white as a main colour theme

* A Brighid's cross

* Imagery of Brighid, such as art, altar statues or figurines/dolls

* Pieces of cloth

* Spring flowers such as daffodils, snowdrops or crocuses, and early spring greenery

* Boughs of willow wood (always try to take windfall rather than cutting from a tree)

* Red and white ribbons

* Candles in white or green

* A dish or cauldron of water

* Garlands of winter (dead winter twigs, old Yule d├ęcor etc) and spring (green shoots, spring flowers etc) to represent the changing of the two seasons

Do you Celebrate Imbolc?

Do you celebrate Imbolc each year?

See results

Snowdrops Symbolise the Emergence of Spring at Imbolc

Snowdrops Symbolise the Emergence of Spring at Imbolc
Snowdrops Symbolise the Emergence of Spring at Imbolc
Imbolc Fire Festival. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Imbolc Fire Festival. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imbolc Ritual and Tradition

There are many ways to celebrate Imbolc through ritual, either based upon modern ideals or traditions of the past.

It is tradition to light candles on the eve of February 1st to welcome Brighid into the home, and also to leave a piece of cloth or ribbon outside the front door for Brighid to bless when she passes.

Young Celtic women used to gather gifts for Brighid's shrine, while the older, married women would paint themselves with woad and go naked to the Imbolc shrine, to honour the Crone goddess. Today, you might like to create a shrine to Brighid with gifts such as her sacred foods or representations of her sacred animals and symbols (see my other lens on Brighid for more information on these), or spend some time in the quiet of nature contemplating the symbolism of the Crone.

Ritual of Renewal at Imbolc

Spring Cleaning your Home and Life

A primary tradition of Imbolc is the great Spring Clean! Cleaning and clearing your home symbolises much more than simply cleaning your house of dirt - it signifies "out with the old, in with the new"!

Clear out unwanted energy. Let go of unhealthy beliefs or ties to people that are holding you back. Let go of what no longer serves you, so that you can welcome in new opportunity.

Spring clean yourself, by giving your body a treat such as a spa treatment or cleansing salt bath. Meditate, letting go of the past and visualising what you want to happen in the coming year.

Clear the clutter from your home and spring clean it, sweeping out the negative energy as well as the dust. Visualise it leaving your home as you bang your broom or duster outside, watching the dust floating away, taking with it all that is unwanted.

Place crystals such as amethyst and rose quartz around the home to bring positive energy, and hang crystals or windchimes in windows to encourage positive energy (or "chi") to enter your home in place of the old, "stuck" energy.

Imbolc Celebrations

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival 2007

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

While some prefer to celebrate Imbolc at home, either alone or with family, others choose to celebrate as part of a gathering. Witches may gather to hold a ritual if part of a coven, or a group of pagans may simply get together for some revelry and celebration.

You may also like to attend an Imbolc festival, such as the Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival, held every year in the Pennine village of Marsden, West Yorkshire. This festival has been going since 1993 and is usually held either on 2nd February or the first Saturday of February. Unfortunately, there is no Marsden Fire Festival this year for 2013, but it hopes to be back in 2014.

It includes a procession, workshops, fire spinning, the battle of Jack Frost and the Green Man, the Fox Dance and lantern making.

How do you Celebrate Imbolc?

Do you celebrate it in a personal way on your own, or do you celebrate with your family, coven, or as part of a group or festival celebration? Share something of how you mark the day.

How do you like to celebrate Imbolc?

Alone in a personal way or at home with the family

Alone in a personal way or at home with the family

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    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I am in the process of a pre-Spring cleaning. Once all is done I will go through each room I will go through the process of smudging the entire house from top to bottom and all will be done prior to Feb 2nd. I am hoping with the help of my littlest to make the braided bread or at least Soda Bread which I love making. Our altar is always prepared and currently it represents the Goddess and Warrior of Light within.

    • myraggededge 5 years ago

      Clear out a cupboard. I did my messy and untidy wardrobe at Imbolc. It serves a variety of purposes - welcome the Spring with a good declutter, makes room for new stuff and gives unwanted clothes a chance to go to a new home and benefit someone else.

    • Missmerfaery444 6 years ago

      Usually at home on my own or with a friend. Last year I made Brigid's crosses with a friend, this year I am going to honour Brighid with a pathworking and a good spring clean!

    As part of a group, coven, gathering or festival

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      • anonymous 4 years ago

        Having my first Imbolc with pagan/AP friends I met in college! :D We're starting a campus club for pagans too, so we figured we could celebrate and work on the club at the same time. I'm making most of the dinner, and we'll sit outside and have a few rituals. It's gonna be great!!

      Photo Credit: Fotolia
      Photo Credit: Fotolia

      Imbolc Crafts

      * Make a Brigid's Cross

      * Make a Bride doll or Imbolc poppet, or corn dolly

      * Bake a seed cake

      * Make Brighid's crown

      * Make a priapic wand to bless new plants

      * Make candles

      Best Books for Imbolc Crafts, Rituals and Family Traditions

      This beautiful treasure of a book is utterly wonderful and especially ideal if you have children and want to include them in your festival rituals. It contains stories, crafts, foods, activities and more to share and enjoy at each celebration of the Wheel of the Year.

      Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions
      Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions

      Relying on age-old learning methods, such as songs and storytelling, Circle Round fills this void with techniques that are truly rooted in traditions. This priceless resource offers guidelines for helping children discover the different facets of the Goddess tradition--from altars to sabbats--and suggests recipes, creative projects, and other activities resuscitating the values of family in our latchkey society.

       

      Here is another beautiful book that focuses on sharing the joys and wisdom of the pagan holidays with the family. Activities, crafts, and a wealth of ideas celebrating each of the festivals, as well as including information on teaching children about themselves, nature, fairies and animals.

      Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children
      Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children

      Part 1, "Handbook for Earth-Connected Parenting," gives techniques for developing a child's inner wisdom and sense of the sacred: dream journals, visualization, Tarot play, talismans, and interactions with the natural world

      Part 2 is a guide to the specific seasonal festivals, and offers a comprehensive collection of practical and enjoyable ways to celebrate the sacred days of our ancestors. Make a bean rune divination system, gather smudge sticks, grow grass pots, assemble a "dream pillow," create altars the authors offer easy-to-follow suggestions.

      Includes suggested reading and resource sections for locating additional information and materials for creative projects.

       

      Are you Interested in Celebrating Imbolc?

      Would you celebrate Imbolc having learned more about it?

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      Thank you for visiting! I hope you enjoyed this page about my favourite pagan holiday. Please share your feedback, stories and thoughts here.

      Love, Light and Blessings!

      Your Thoughts About Imbolc? - Please Leave your Comments and Feedback Here

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          Missmerfaery444 3 years ago

          @idakanga-gales: You're welcome, and happy birthday for tomorrow! :)

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          idakanga-gales 3 years ago

          Wonderful page! I'm new to the Goddess' teachings, and this information was extremely helpful. My birthday just happens to fall on 2/2, so I think I'm going to give myself the gift of some of those wonderful books you referenced. Thank you!

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          LasgalenArts 4 years ago

          Today is Imbolc and I've found your page to help illustrate our traditions to my Facebook following. This evening we share our table with friends. There will be fire, food and my alter today. That's of course after I clean this house top to bottom.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Being born under an Earth sign, I like fire rituals because they really charge my energy...that in itself is like a personal, inner cleansing...which will flow over into the actual cleaning of the house lol. Perfect time for it, as we will be expecting house guests in a few months! lol

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Being born under an Earth sign, I like fire rituals because they really charge my energy...that in itself is like a personal, inner cleansing...which will flow over into the actual cleaning of the house lol. Perfect time for it, as we will be expecting house guests in a few months! lol

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Interesting site - thank you. Just to let you know that the Marsden Imbolc Fire Festival is not taking place in 2013 but will hopefully be back in 2014.

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          miaponzo 6 years ago

          Thanks for sharing your life ... :)

        • WildFacesGallery profile image

          Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

          Really a fascinating read. I always find it intriguing (and yet somehow annoying) to read about pagan holidays that were later turned Christian. Change is the only constant I suppose.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          I think I would have liked to have met the goddess Brighid