Celebration of Imbolc

Imbolc is the celebration of quickening. It is a sacred holiday to the White Goddess Brighid. Imbolc is traditionally held on February 1, midway between the Winter Solstice and Ostara. At this time of year in northern Europe, sheep began lactating in preparation for giving birth. In Scotland, the Cailleach, the Crone and Queen of Winter, is reborn as Brighid, the maiden of spring. It is said that if you saw the Cailleach gathering firewood on Imbolc, that we would be in for six more weeks of winter. This is probably the origin of Groundhog Day in the United States.

The name “Brighid” means “The Exalted One.” Her father was the Dagda, or the “Good God.” She represents abundance, wisdom, and matters of the home. Brighid is often represented wearing white, to symbolize her purity. This is probably where we get the tradition of brides wearing white on their wedding day.

Spiritual Significance of Imbolc

Imbolc marks the end of the reign of the Winter Queen, the Cailleach, who rules the darker part of the year, from Lughnasadh to Imbolc. At Imbolc, the Cailleach is reborn as Brighid to rule the lighter part of the year, from Imbolc to Lughnasadh , when the Cailleach shall return again.

Imbolc represents quickening. As lambs yet to be born first begin to move about in the bellies of the ewes, so the first stirrings of the new life of the coming spring are seen in the land. Chaos begins to yield to the Order that spring and summer shall bring.

From a psychological perspective, the dark chaos of the unconscious mind gives birth to the new insights of the conscious mind in the coming year. This is a time for making resolutions, for casting off old bad habits, and beginning plans to create new positive habits. The creativity that lies within the darkness of your unconsciousness mind begins to bubble forth and stirrings of new ideas come to the fore.

As you celebrate Imbolc, consider which energies will be necessary to bring your new ideas and thoughts to fruition. What needs to be purified within you in order to make your plans happen? Just as a farmer must clear the ground before the new planting can begin, so must your old unproductive ways of thinking and doing things be cleared in order to give birth to new ones.

Symbols of Imbolc

Besoms are a traditional symbol of Imbolc. A besom is a special type of broom, consisting of a bundle of sticks tied to a handle. This broom is used in ritual purification; so many people construct it out of trees with purifying properties. White flowers of any variety are also symbols of Imbolc. The white again represents purity. Wheels made of candles, especially white candles, are symbolic of the returning Sun, and are therefore sacred to this time of year. At Imbolc many Groves meet in circles with lit candles in hand. Brighid’s Crosses are typical decorations for this holiday. These crosses, made of reeds or straw, represent the wheel of the Sun.

Gods and Goddesses of Imbolc

Imbolc is sacred to the Goddess Brighid (also spelled Brigit, Brigid, and Bride). She is a triple Goddess of poetry, healing, and blacksmithing. She is also considered to be the Matron Goddess of the Druids. Her festival day is February 1. The God associated with this holiday is Aengus. He is the Irish God of love. Imbolc celebrates the reunion of the God and the Goddess. It is also a time for the celebration of fertility, and of getting rid of old habits and ways and purifying and cleansing in order to make way for the new. Brighid and Aengus embody all these ideals.

Colors of Imbolc

White represents purity at Imbolc. Pink represents romantic love, and red represents passion.  Yellow at Imbolc symbolizes the return of the Sun. Green reminds us that spring is coming, with the promise of new life.

Traditions of Imbolc

Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds adorn many altars at Imbolc. It is a time to bake cakes, muffins, scones, and breads. The leaven in bread represents the quickening aspect of Imbolc.  Celebration of Imbolc includes rituals of purification and early spring cleaning. Since Brighid is a Goddess of Light, many Imbolc rituals involve lighting candles. When Imbolc was absorbed into Christianity, it became known as Candlemas. Brighid is also a Goddess of the East, and this direction has special symbolism in Imbolc celebrations. Many people celebrate this holiday by beginning with a purifying bath. Draw a bath scented with purifying herbs (hyssop is a favorite) and place lighted candles around the tub. Many also cleanse their homes of negative energy by sweeping them with branches of birch or hawthorn. Since Brighid is a Goddess of poetry, music and chanting are a large part of any Imbolc ritual. Healing rituals are also performed on this day, and it is a good day for blessing newborn infants or for blessing babies still in their mother’s womb. 

Winter SolsticeAlban ArthanYuleRebirth
February 1ImbolcImbolcQuickening
Vernal EquinoxAlban EilerOstaraYouth
May 1BeltaneBeltaneYoung Adulthood
Summer SolsticeAlban HeruinLitha or MidsummerAdulthood
August 1LughnasadhLughnasadh or LammasMaturity
Autumnal EquinoxAlban ElvedMabonOld Age
November 1SamhainSamhainCroning