Happy Imbolc!!

Happy Imbolc everyone!

Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Historically, it was widely observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Currently, it is observed by the Irish, Scottish, Manx, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans.

Christians observe it as the feast day of Saint Brigid, especially in Ireland.

We decided to start a tradition in our family of decorating a small area of our house with items that correspond to the current festival.  I’m hoping to add more each year.

This is our shelf right now – the ewes, a piece of artwork by Amanda (her Etsy shop), and a geocoin I managed to find.  We are avid geocachers so that’s just a little piece of our own personal taste thrown in there.

The flowers I just bought at the store this morning.

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According to this site, you can also add a few other things that signify this time of year (I have paraphrased, you can find more detailed information there):

Brighid is associated with the colors of red and white. White for the color of the blanket of snow, and red symbolizes the rising sun. Brighid is also tied to the color green, both for the green mantle she wears and for the life growing beneath the earth.  So you can decorate with a white cloth, and drape a swath of red across it. Add green candles in candleholders.

Since Brighid is a goddess of the Celtic peoples, it’s always appropriate to add some sort of Celtic design. Consider adding a Brighid’s cross or any other item incorporating Celtic knotwork. If you happen to have a Celtic cross, don’t worry about the fact that it’s also a Christian symbol — if it feels right, add it.

Other Symbols of Brighid:  chalices, hammer, corn doll, cows, sheep, swans, a goddess statue, book of poetry, herbs and candles as she is in some way associated with most of these items.

 

Imbolc Details

The history of Imbolc is very interesting, but I’m also interested in the more superficial parts of a holiday, too.  The ways in which celebrating it makes it different from other festivals.  I found some information on The White Goddess.

Incense that is special to this day include Rosemary, Myrrh, Cinnamon and Frankincense.  Traditional decorations are the corn dolly, besom and spring flowers.  A besom is a broom made of twigs tied around a stick.  I first saw one on Etsy (shown below) when I was looking around for Imbolc decorations.  Although they can be used for decoration, Wiccans also use them on their altars and for rituals.  The besom I linked to includes this festival’s colors of red, white, and orange.

Also from The White Goddess:

This is the seasonal change where the first signs of spring and the return of the sun are noted, i.e. the first sprouting of leaves, the sprouting of the Crocus flowers etc. In other words, it is the festival commemorating the successful passing of winter and the beginning of the agricultural year. This Festival also marks the transition point of the threefold Goddess energies from those of Crone to Maiden.

It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth. Alternately, light a kerosene lamp with a red chimney and place this in a prominent part of the home or in a window.

If snow lies on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, recalling the warmth of summer. With your projective hand, trace an image of the Sun on the snow.

Foods appropriate to eat on this day include those from the dairy, since Imbolc marks the festival of calving. Sour cream dishes are fine. Spicy and full-bodied foods in honour of the Sun are equally attuned. Curries and all dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate. Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins – all foods symbolic of the Sun – are also traditional.

There are still a few things I want to write about Imbolc in the coming days – it’s surprising there is so much surrounding it since it’s one of the lesser known, minor festivals!

 

Imbolc and Brigid

Imbolc is strongly associated with Saint Brigid, who is thought to have been based on Brigid, a Gaelic goddess.   The festival, which celebrates the onset of spring, is thought to be linked with Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess.

On Imbolc Eve, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants as they slept.  As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year.  In the 19th century, families would have a supper on Imbolc Eve to mark the end of winter. Often, some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brigid. 

Before going to bed, items of clothing or strips of cloth would be left outside for Brigid to bless.  Ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brigid had visited.  The clothes or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection.  In Mann during the 18th century, the custom was to gather a bundle of rushes, stand at the door, and invite Brigid into the house by saying “Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in”. The rushes were then strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brigid.

 

A Brigid’s cross

In Ireland and Scotland, girls and young women would make a Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy’), a doll-like figure of Brigid made from rushes or reeds.  It would be clad in bits of cloth, shells and/or flowers.  In the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the reul-iuil Bríde (guiding star of Brigid) was set on its chest. The girls would carry it in procession while singing a hymn to Brigid. All wore white with their hair unbound as a symbol of purity and youth. They visited every house in the area, where they received either food or more decoration for the Brídeóg. Afterwards, they feasted in a house with the Brídeóg set in a place of honour, and put it to bed with lullabies. When the meal was done, the local young men humbly asked for admission, made obeisance to the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in dancing and merrymaking until dawn. 

Brigid’s crosses were made at Imbolc. A Brigid’s cross consists of rushes woven into a shape similar to a swastika, with a square in the middle and four arms protruding from each corner. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc.

Today, some people still make Brigid’s crosses and Brídeógs or visit holy wells dedicated to St Brigid on 1 February.

More on her pagan roots, emphasis mine:

The presence of the Brigid’s cross in Ireland is likely far older than Christianity. The Goddess Brigid was one of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Her feast day was the feast of Imbolc, and the cross made of rushes today is very likely the descendant of a pagan symbol whose original meaning may have been locally understood even into the early 20th century in rural Ireland. One remnant of that tradition in the meaning of the Brigid’s Cross today, is that it is said to protect a house from fire. This does not fit with any part of the Christian story of St. Brigid, and so is likely a part of the older polytheistic tradition behind the feast day.[

(Info from Wikipedia)

Unfortunately I do not have any rushes, but I was planning on trying to find something to make a Brigid’s cross.

This page has a tutorial on how to make Brigid’s crosses.

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Imbolc and connection to lambs (Irish)

Also from Wikipedia on Imbolc:

Irish imbolc derives from the Old Irish i mbolg “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes.  A medieval glossary etymologises the term as oimelc “ewe’s milk”.  Some Neopagans use Oimelc as a name for the festival.

Imbolc has been traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes and the lambing season.  This could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February.  However, the timing of agrarian festivals can vary widely, given regional variations in climate. This has led to some debate about both the timing and origins of the festival. The Blackthorn is said to bloom at Imbolc.  The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted.  Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

This seems to be a common theme overall with Imbolc – the return of warmth and the lengthening days.

I also found a nice craft to do with kids: Making Yarn and Craft Stick Sheep.   There are many sheep themed crafts on that page and I can’t link specifically to that craft, but do a cntrl-F search for “yarn and craft stick” and you should be able to find it easily.  One of the steps is to cut wide craft sticks into pieces – I have made the bodies so far and can attest that it’s fairly easy to cut with scissors!  Pictures of our sheep later!

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Here they are! My son (8) made the Orange one and my daughter (4) and I made the purple one. Fun!

Imbolc

Why Imbolc (i-MOLK) is also celebrated on American Groundhog Day, February 2nd (From Wikipedia):

Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.[22]

Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.[23] At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.[23]