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Blessed Imbolc, everybody!
Imbolc (also known as Oimelc or Ouimelko) is based on an Irish Celtic holiday. Some see this day as the beginning of spring. Others see it as the height of winter. Some see it as a festival of lights, others as a festival of water. Imbolc either means "ewe's milk" or "of the belly," and either way it's clear that this holiday has something to do with the beginning of life. In Ireland, this would be the time in which sheep gave birth to lambs. In Wicca, the Horned God that was born on Yuletide is now a child who's nursing.
Considering that another name for this holiday is Brigid's Day (Saint Brigid's Day to you Catholics out there), it should be no surprise that the main deity for this holiday is definitely Brigid. Brigid (also called Bridget or Bride) is the Irish goddess of poetry, arts, crafts, medicine, livestock, serpents, sacred wells, and sacred flames. She has two sisters who are also named Brigid, which makes her a triple goddess. In some myths, Brigid seizes control of the seasons from Callieach, the goddess of winter, which is how she is associated with the early stirrings of spring. As for the gods, they're not really mentioned on this holiday. Males can't make milk, after all. Still, it wouldn't hurt to pay tribute to Brigid's father, the Daghdha.
Imbolc is probably the most subdued of the Wiccan holidays. It tends to be celebrated in a very small and private way. Because this day is so personal to many modern Pagans there's a lot of variance in the traditions:
- Imbolc isn't as big of a feasting holiday as other Wiccan festivals, but certain foods are considered more appropriate for a traditional celebratory meal. Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, potatoes, blackberries, seeds, bread, muffins, biscuits, and leafy greens are all suitable. Irish recipes are particularly popular.
- A popular arts and crafts project that modern Pagans enjoy is making Brigid's cross. It's a small cross woven with reeds or grasses. The image I used for this post depicts it. Straw dolls of Brigid are also common.
- Rituals preformed on this day traditionally have a lot to do with letting go of the old and embarking on the new. This is a particularly good time to start creative projects.
- A lot of modern Pagans spend the days leading up to this holiday cleaning up and purifying their houses or culling some of their possessions. That might not sound very fun, but modern Pagans believe that holding on to clutter and unnecessary stuff stagnates energy. Imbolc is all about letting go of the old and preparing for the new, literally as well as spiritually.
- Because of the strong Irish element, some Pagans celebrate Imbolc as a substitution for Saint Patrick's Day.
- Hey Christians! For once, we stole something from you! Candlemas is often thought of as a Christianization of Imbolc. But Candlemas was first celebrated in 4th century Greece while Imbolc was celebrated exclusively in Ireland, so that's not possible (I'm not saying that Candlemas isn't based in some Pagan traditions, I'm just saying that it's not based on Imbolc). Anyway, the particular tradition we took from Candlemas was the making and blessing of candles. Decorating with lots of lit candles is common for Imbolc. It fits in nicely with Brigid being a fire goddess and also with the growing energy of the sun.
- Brigid is also the goddess of sacred wells, so if possible it's good to visit a well, river, or stream. If the water's clean, that can be a good place to practice purifying rituals.
- Of course I can't mention this holiday without also talking about Groundhog Day. It's possible that the tradition has Pagan origins, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it's more of a general agricultural thing than a spiritual thing. "Are the animals out of hibernation yet? Yes? Great! We can start planting now."
Mythical beings associated with the season:
Brigid (Irish Celtic)
Daghdha (Irish Celtic)
Galatea ("white as milk")
Madrigal ("simple song," but it came from a word meaning "womb")
Metrodora ("gift of the mother")
Gwen ("white, fair, blessed")
Columban ("white dove")
Howard ("ewe herder")
Phoebe ("bright, pure")
Glenda ("good and pure")
Vimala ("clean, pure, spotless")
Fun combo time: