Imbolc - the Celebration of Light
Imbolc (also known as Imbolc in Old Irish) is one of the four Celtic fire festivals which are celebrated in the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. The festivals are called fire festivals because a part of their tradition is lighting up bonfires which symbolize a certain aspect of the festival being celebrated. During Imbolc, fire doesn't represent warmth but light which fire gives us. Many don't take this into account, but for our ancestors, fire symbolized life and was the manifestation of the Sun on Earth. Therefore, fire also represents the Sun's light which we truly miss during these winter months. We have had enough of long winter nights and somber skies. By lighting a fire we evoke light to return into our lives.
Traditionally, Imbolc is celebrated on February 1. But, since this festival represents winter's midpoint, its date can be determined by the astrological arrival of the Sun at 15°of Aquarius (which in itself represents the midpoint of winter). This is why we celebrated Imbolc on February 4 this year.
Since Imbolc marks the midpoint of winter, it announces the imminent arrival of spring for which we should now prepare. Therefore, it also marks the beginning of the sowing season and the necessary preparation of earth. It is also the time of lambing and thus the time when ewes begin to lactate. To our ancestors, these were the first signs of oncoming warmer and more pleasant days which brought with them a time for work (further sowing, taking care of the crops and harvesting them). Nowadays, not everyone practices farming, but this is why work manifests itself in other ways. Either way, we all have to wake up from our winter sleep sooner or later and begin to actively work. It's interesting that the very name Imbolc can be translated as "in the womb" which alludes to the warming of the earth, melting of snow and the awakening of the earth in every respect.
Using the analogy of sowing, we can say that before every planting, regardless of whether the seed is real, conceptual, emotional or of another sort, it is necessary to prepare the land for this. We have to plow the field and somehow cleanse it (i.e. loosen it up) and enrich it so it is as fertile as possible. Since most planting is done in spring, we have to use these last winter days for preparations. If we plan to start off a new project, get into a new relationship (friendly/romantic), or plant any other type of seed, we have to cast away anything that inhibits us and anything that is superfluous. It is best to free ourselves from any baggage so that we may continue to walk along our path calm, poised and optimistic.
This time of year, the Celts especially celebrated the goddess Brigit which is known as the goddess of fertility (especially that of the crops), fire (it was believed that she melted snow with her fiery staff and thus pushes on the Wheel of the Year towards spring), inspiration, wisdom, knowledge and healing. One of her main symbols is Brigit's cross which is known as a solar symbol (the Sun wheel) but also as one of the possible representations of the Wheel of the Year. The emphasis is most definitely on the hastening of the wheel's rotation so that the warm spring days awaiting us may come as soon as possible.
Still, this year, at least for me, the light aspect of this festival is most prominent. Light can represent many things - inspiration, purity, innocence (which reminds us of the Goddess this time of year who is in her Maiden aspect as well as the God who is still a young child awaiting his time of ripening before he reaches his full potential and strength), new opportunities, rationality and so on. But of course, everyone will experience this festival in a different way.
Regardless of how you decide to celebrate it or how you experience it, I suggest you ask yourselves two questions. Before you look ahead to your future, steer your vision inwards and ask yourselves what you want to achieve in the months to come and how you can make this happen. Springtime brings fertility, accomplishments, new ideas, sources of energy and inspiration. Try to harmonize yourselves with these vibrations and bring fertility into your lives.
Finally (and with a small delay), I would like to wish you all a happy and blessed Imbolc! May you be filled with light and purity!