10.5.13

Imbolc (February 2)

Imbolc (read /immol'g/ or simply /'imbolk/) is also known as Imbolg in Celtic. It is described as the festival of light because it announces the coming of Spring. This date might be familiar to you because it is also the day of Candlemas in Christianity. The Celtic name itself means "inside the stomach" which is a reference to pregnancy and the beginning of fertility i.e. the first movements of Spring inside Mother Earth's womb. Like all other Celtic festivals, this is a fire festival but it doesn't accent the warmth of the fire but rather its light. This will be logical to most people because (at least where I come from) February is the coldest month of the year (this may differ from country to country) although Winter is already present throughout the whole of January.

The Goddess that is celebrated on this day is Brigid (Brid), the Celtic Goddess of the triple moon, light and fertility. Her symbol is the large moon that lights the dark paths ahead of us in nature. She falls under the category of those Pagan gods who were Christianized without much attempt to really hide it. In Ireland, February 1 is known as St. Brigid's Day. The saint herself lived from 453-523 AD, but despite the fact that we're talking about a Christian saint, she is celebrated in the same places and same ways as her Pagan counterpart. The myth says that St. Brigid was brought up by a magician and had the ability to multiply food and drink and thus feed the people. But there was also a fun side to the story - she could turn water into beer :D Her symbol is the famous Brigid's cross which is made in Ireland even today. Usually, it is made out of reeds or straw and this tradition probably comes from the pre-Christian tradition connected to the preparation of seeds for sowing in the Spring. Brigid's name is pronounced /braid/ in England (like a wedding bride), but in Ireland it is usually pronounced /bri:d/ (breed).

An old Scottish tradition includes the women of a household making an oat-grass dolly (or simply tying the oat-grass together) and dressing it in girls' clothes on the eve of Imbolc. The doll is then put into a Brigid's bed (actually a simple woven basket) along with a bat (that symbolizes the phallus). After all the preparations are done, the women invoke the Goddess by chanting three times: "Brid is come! Brid is welcome!". The doll is then left until morning next to burning candles (but far enough so it doesn't catch fire) and if there is an impression of the club in the ashes of the hearth in the morning, the year is thought to be fruitful. This is a clear metaphor for sex which you can connect to Spring by yourselves :)

On the Isle of Man, there was another tradition. On the last day of January, one person from the household would collect a bunch of reeds or rushes and knock on the door of their family (each family does this separately, just to be clear). The lady of the house (usually the mother) would send someone to answer the door who would, upon seeing this person, wish a warm welcome to Brigid (the person collecting the rushes obviously represents the Goddess herself in this tradition), after which "Brigid" would answer: "God bless the people of this house.". The rushes would then be sprinkled with some kind of holy water. Now why did they need these rushes? Well to make Brigid's crosses, of course! After a satisfying amount of crosses was made, the left-over rushes were buried and the feast could begin. On November 1, the crosses from last year had to be burnt and the new ones would be hung around the house to replace them.

There are two types of Brigid's crosses. The first is actually the Celtic cross (a cross of equal arms inside a circle) and the second a simple cross of equal arms. You can have a look at this link if you want to learn how to make one yourself. :) You can also have a look at my work and instruction in the post entitled "Brighid's Cross" and have a few laughs. :)

In Ireland, there are many holy wells, and most of them are dedicated to Brigid. Even today, people sometimes ask for her help when it is needed and tie ribbons made of various materials on nearby trees/bushes to represent these wishes.

Wells can be associated with water and cleanliness which leads us to the role of February in ancient Rome  Namely, this month was intended for cleansing (Februarius mensis - the time of ritual cleaning). At the very beginning of the month, we have the celebration of Lupercalia (read /luperka:lia/). The main tradition of this festival is a bit funny to me but here it goes anyway. The Luperci, who were Pan's priests, would run practically naked through the streets on this day wearing nothing but a goatskin girdle and carrying goatskin thongs. They would (lightly) strike every passer-by and especially married women. If you were struck, this was actually a great thing because it was believed to bring fertility. This tradition made it until the Christian era and even the famous Mark Anthony played the role of the Lupercus. In time, even women got into the habit of walking around naked because this meant bigger chances of being struck and therefore, more fertility. It wasn't until the Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD) that this tradition was banned, but even he was forced to publicly apologize because the people simply didn't accept this interdiction. This festival of Lupercalia was finally banned in the 6th century.

Another interesting tradition on Imbolc is the lighting of Yule plants (holly, mistletoe, ivy, rosemary, laurel etc.) because if any of these plants were left in the house, it was thought that evil spirits would haunt it. The message that this tradition sends is that one cycle is over and that another one is beginning and that we have to be able to let some things go. You're probably familiar with Spring cleaning. Though there is no official date for this cleaning, most people do it and aren't all that happy about it when the time comes. But this cleaning is again symbolic since you often get rid of a lot of things as well as vacuum and do other chores around the house.

Also, in England, France, Germany and Spain, some people believe that if Imbolc is cursed with bad weather, then the Winter is actually over, but if it is sunny on this day, then the harshest is yet to come. Perhaps the message of this is that we can't hurry the transition of the seasons? :)

Motifs of fertility and impregnation (metaphorical, of course) are incorporated into rituals in Wicca. This is usually done by the High Priestess calling the God into the High Priest instead of the other way around (which is the usual way as seen in the Drawing down the Moon ritual). Dancing is also often found in rituals because of its ability to raise energy. The sixteenth-century dance called La Volta is usually connected to Imbolc. I managed to find what it actually looks like on youtube for you :) Though it is thought that it comes from an earlier "witches' dance" in which a man and woman would dance holding each other's hands while standing back to back. 

Even in Christianity, the crown of light is a popular symbol for Candlemas and it is usually worn by little girls who symbolize the just-beginning, young year. In Wicca, you will usually see a grown woman wearing this crown and she will embody the Mother Earth who becomes all the more fertile in this time of year.

In addition to Brighid's cross and the crown of light for decorations, you can also have a stick somewhere on your altar/inside the circle if you like. This stick will be a phallic symbol during your ritual and if you have a bit of spare time in your hands and a bit of good will, then you can make a priapic wand/stick yourself by tying/gluing a pine cone on the top of this stick. Also, it is traditional for the person enacting the role of the Maiden (the High Priestesses' "assistant") to carry a bouquet of Spring flowers with her and the person playing the role of the Crone to have a dark veil/shawl or something like this on her. You will often see a cauldron with a candle in it for the aforementioned burning of old plants (that is, if you can't light a fire anywhere).

I you feel like reading a bit more, then have a look at this post. :)

Sabbat: Imbolc
Pronunciation:
/'imbolk/, /immol'g/
Date: February 2
Other names: Imbolg, Candlemas, Brigantia, St.
Brigid's Day
Phase of the God: Grows up (from the Blue to the Green
God), in some traditions he
impregnates the Goddess
(the Oak King)
Phase of the
Goddess:
The Maiden (rests from rebirth)
Symbolism: Celebrating light, urging the Sun to
show again
Traditions:
Lighting candles in a circle, putting a
bowl of snow on the altar, making
Brighid's crosses and oat dollies, the
Brigid's bed story, burning old plants,
making the crown of light (a great way
is to use birthday candles)
Symbols and
colors:
White, red, pink, green, blue, the
wheel (most often on the altar), the
consectration of seeds, greenery as
decorations, candles
Traditional food: Celtic Cakes
Imbolc Crescent Moons
I would recommend you have a look at
these two great websites:
Imbolc Recipes
Imbolc by Akasha
Appropriate ingredients include
seeds, dairy products (and milk),
as well as refreshing ingredients
such as lemon and vanilla.
Traditional
incens:
Basil

I think that's about it for this post :) expect a nice recipe from me one of these days and as soon as I get the necessary materials, I'll put up a tutorial of my own on how to make a Brighid's cross. 
May you be merry and have a wonderful Imbolc! :D
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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