• NATURE'S RENEWAL •
When winter starts to finally loose its grip, the first signs of spring are not far behind. By the first day of February (in the Northern Hemisphere), the days are lengthening and for many it means to prepare to plant and expect greenery to return... nature's renewal. It also represents a rough center point in time between the darkness of winter solstice and the soon-to-come spring equinox.
That special day—Imbolc—marks another turn on the Wheel of the Year. Its celebration, for many Pagans, is seen as the young Goddess soon ready to blossom into Her womanhood. Many covens and Pagan groups see this time as special for the feminine and all things Goddess. In fact, a number of Dianic Wiccans see Imbolc as the perfect time for initiations; again, turning to “coming of age” as a common theme at this time in the cycle of the seasons.
The history of Imbolc is long and dates back centuries, if not millennia. Ancient Gaelic Irish people saw the day as a time to celebrate Brigid, their goddess (only later becoming part of the Christian tradition, where she became Saint Brigid). They celebrated the day with a fertility festival where some of the last of the prior year’s harvest were laid out as a feast—a celebration that they had survived another turn of the earth, another period of darkness and lack and infertility, agriculturally speaking.
Some other prominent practices for this date was to celebrate home and hearth, particularly by lighting fires and candles, as if to encourage the lengthening sunny days. Of course, not only was fire seen as an important light source, but also could serve as a purification or cleansing force. In fact, this most likely is where the old concept of “spring cleaning” occurred: a chance to clear out the old and welcome the new.
And as much as fire plays a role in Imbolc, water—and its own cleansing powers—also has a large part in practices both ancient and current. As the chalice is the visual representation of the feminine, the water it can hold symbolizes similar importance. Historically for the Gaels and the Irish, this was also a time to make pilgrimages to sacred wells: pools and natural springs the Goddess inhabits. Many seekers would pray for health while walking “sunwise” (clockwise, or deosil) around the sacred “chalice of the earth.”
Weather divination is another practice long associated with Brigid and her festival. Obviously this time of year represented a look forward to the coming growing season; thoughts and intuitions about the future were only natural. Using various signs from the local surroundings by Pagans to predict the near future such as seeing if serpents or badgers would come out of their dens at this time to forecast how soon winter would officially be over. Even non-Pagans today will mark this time in such a way, although its modern manifestation is a groundhog (on February 2nd) instead of a badger or snake.
Brigid is seen by some as the original Goddess. It was believed that she would make the rounds on Imbolc Eve and bless virtuous households with prosperity and fertility in the coming seasons. A common practice at the time in Ireland, for instance, was to invite Brigid into the house and make a bed for her. One of the family members—generally a young woman who has reached childbearing years (or soon will)—would circle the house three times, each time knocking on the door to be let in. On the third attempt, she would be welcomed in, and then there would be a feast meal. After the meal, Brigid’s bed would be made by placing rushes, or reeds, on the floor. In some traditions, it is reported that a white wand made of birch would be placed near the bed, which was an invitation for Brigid to use it in bringing back the spring. Another common practice was to create a Brigid’s Cross, created from more reeds and hung above doorways or windows in the home to protect it from fire or illness.
Many other practices for Imbolc and Brigid’s Day are documented historically, including its eventual inclusion into Christian practice as well as another commonly celebrated holiday/sabbat known as Candlemas. How do you personally celebrate Imbolc? What traditions or importance do you keep at this hopeful time of year? Whatever your path or observation of Imbolc, all can agree that this time marks when the cold and dark will soon be replaced by the renewal of light and warmth…and in turn, a hope of good life and happiness.
We plan on including some wonderfully magical items inside the Imbolc Sabbat Box to help make aid your sabbat celebrations and welcome nature's renewal.
Llyfr & Hugh