Imbolc is the first of the Celtic religious festivals after the Winter Solstice.
From the shortest day – the very depths of Winter we now emerge into the dawn of a new Spring, a new agricultural year gets under way and so it becomes important to do 2 things: shed any old accumulated impurities or toxins, and bless the provenance of new life emerging.
Imbolc is the day of the goddess Bride or Bridie, hence Bridie dolls are made, she is also known as Brigid, who later became known as St Bridget and is celebrated on the 1st of February, half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is also the Christian celebration of Candlemas, signifying the light and warmth returning, and purification.
Traditionally Imbolc is a day for blessing the Springs and Wells, flowing water, and praying for the flowing lactation of ewes, hence Imbolc translates from Middle English to mean ‘milking’. It has also been associated with the Roman ritual of Lustrations in which individuals and communities ceremonially rid themselves of impurities before they can handle sacred objects, or perform sacred rites. It would involve ritual washing or fumigation to drive out any impure thoughts or energies.
Imbolc then is a time for gestation, for getting ready by ritually shedding any detritus that may have gathered in our thoughts and our bodies, and purifying ourselves from anything which has accumulated in the darkness, as we move towards the light.
First signs of Spring
Snowdrops appearing through the frost/snow, vixens barking in the night for a mate, the appearance of buds on some trees like Willows – the Celtic sacred tree of this month.
We begin to notice the change in the light – we gain 2 minutes and 7 seconds more light each day from the Solstice, and that accelerates to 3 minutes by mid February, but the real way of knowing that change is happening is to listen to the birds. There is a very subtle change in the tone of their songs, and the individual notes around now, which grows towards a crescendo later in Spring, but if you listen in very carefully you can hear them proclaiming the return of the light and with that the joy of warmth and growth of life.