Imbolc / Candlemas

                At Yule, we celebrated the rebirth of the sun and the Sun God.  Imbolc (falling around February 1st or 2nd) continues that celebration of the return of the light.  Imbolc is one of four Celtic fire festivals (along with Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain).  It is a small reminder in a cold, dark, and harsh time that warmer, brighter days draw near.  It is a celebration of hope.  Imbolc marks the half way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it is that little oasis in the middle of a long trek through the desert – or perhaps we should liken it to the first flower pushing up through a carpet of snow.  For people in the northern hemisphere the days are still cold, wet, and windy, with the sun’s light a faint gray glow on the horizon.  With the harvest well behind him, ancient man’s pantry would be getting a little empty around this time of year and what was left was probably less than fresh.  The birth of new livestock and the first hints of spring were call for celebration.

The Celts celebrated Imbolg (or Imbolc) taken to mean “in the belly”.   This referred to the pregnancy of the sheep they herded.  Another name for the holiday is Oimelc (“ewe’s milk).  Being a pastoral herding society, the birth of the sheep and subsequent supply of sheep’s milk was a big deal.  The milk was a major part of the people’s nourishment and to give thanks to the gods for their bounty, the Celts would pour a bit on the ground near their doorways or leave a small bowl out as libation.

February 1st marks the feast day of Brigit, a mysterious figure whose been called both goddess and saint.  Much of her mythology as goddess has been lost to the ages.  She is often thought to be a triple goddess though some Celts and Romano-British pictured her as a single deity called Brigantia.  She was a goddess of sovereignty and war in this aspect - wearing a crown and wielding a globe and spear.  The kings may have married her symbolically to rule in her name – the land united to the crown.  Brigit has also been viewed as a dual goddess - Bride as the youthful spring goddess of fertility and life and the crone Cailliach (or her Scottish version, Beira), bringing about destruction and death in the winter months.  While mythology seems to separate these beings into distinct entities, some believe them to two sides of the same coin.  Brigit’s roots are old and grow deep.  She’s called by many names in many regions and has countless epithets.  Some say she is the daughter of Dagda and in one of her aspects she is said to have taken Bres the Beautiful as her lover, though other accounts call her a virgin goddess (K & K).

Brigit is heavily associated with the element of fire and as a triple goddess she rules the creative arts, healing, and blacksmithing.  She is the fire of inspiration – that sudden brilliant spark of creativity.  Well loved by bards and poets, the goddess offered protection and insight into their craft.  Brigit presides over the fire of the hearth as a healer and a fertility goddess.  She was said to have taught the healing arts and herbal remedies.  She is also patroness of dozens of healing wells and sacred springs.  Brigit was called upon for the protection of domesticated animals and farmed crops.  She was also concerned with human fertility and it wasn’t uncommon to call upon her to protect women during childbirth as well as their newborn babies.  As matron of blacksmithing, Brigit played teacher to the first smiths.  She taught her pupils how to make and tend the sacred flame and how to forge tools and weapons (K & K).

Saint Brigid’s history is as mysterious as that of her goddess persona with accounts of her life being written well after her death.   Many of the goddess’s qualities and associations overlap that of the saint.  Born out of wedlock to a slave, it was prophesied that Brigid would be a “conspicuous, radiant, who will shine like a sun among the stars of heaven.”  The story tells that a pillar of flame shot from Brigid’s head upon birth.  She was renowned for her purity and charitable nature and revered as a healer.  Countless tales talk of her prayers being answered by God.  Saint Brigid founded two monastic institutions including the famous Kildare and an art school complete with scriptorium and metalworking.  “Brigid died at Kildare on February first...” which marks her feast day, also known as Imbolc (K & K). 

The Christians have their own observance on February 2nd - Candlemas, also called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin or Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  This marked the day in which Mary first presented baby Jesus to the church.  It was law that a woman could not attend church after giving birth, as she was considered unclean.  Mary was made to wait 40 days from December 25th before re-entering the church and dedicating Jesus to her god.  This day was marked with a great feast for the Lord and a candle procession.  On this day, it is customary to bless all the candles to be used in the church for the coming year.  Parishioners are welcome to bring candles from home to receive the blessing as well.

How can you honor Brigit and celebrate Imbolc?

Leave a candle burning in the window (or maybe one of those LED candles for the sake of safety) as an invitation to the lady.  Ask that she bless your home in the coming year with good health on all levels, inspiration, and fertility whether that means children or a raise.  Leave a libation for Brigit in thanks for her blessings – a bit of buttered bread and milk. 

Encourage the spring and the returning sun by doing sympathetic candle magick or lead a ritualized procession by candle light.  If you enjoy crafts, make a wreath or crown of candle light to use or wear in your own rites.  We suggest you go the LED candle route if you decide to make a crown.

Gather around the hearth to honor the lady or do a magick working at your hearth or fire pit.  Study the magickal properties of trees and add something special to your fire to correspond with your work.  Use a branch of rowan or birch for protection, ash for divination, study, or to promote intellect and wisdom, or apple for love or fertility work.

Make a Brigit corn dolly - It was customary for the last bit of grain (usually not corn, but wheat) to be made into a corn dolly at Lughnasa.  It was believed that the spirit of the grain was housed inside the last sheaf which would become the first seeds of the next planting season, continuing the cycle.  Make your own corn dolly or use the one you made at Lughnasa if you aren’t planning to dispose of it ritually.  Dress her in white as the spring bride and place her in a “Bride’s bed” made of a blanket, on a pillow, or in a basket.  Add a phallic shaped wand and/ or walnuts for fertility or abundance. 

Bride's Bed

Create a Brigit’s Cross or Sun Wheel - The Brigit’s Cross may have been connected to the planting season of spring in the same manner as the corn dolly, or it may have been employed for sympathetic magick to strengthen the growing sun for the coming season.  The crosses were traditionally made on February 1st with straw or reeds.  Hang your Brigit’s cross on your front door or over your mantle for prosperity, protection, and fertility.

Brigid's Cross

Any time between Yule and Ostara (the spring equinox) is great for deep cleaning.  Rid your home and mind of all that does not serve your highest good as you embark upon a new year.  This is also the perfect time to cleanse and re-consecrate your altar tools.  Cleansing can be done in many ways.  The most popular and easiest are smudging with a smudge stick or incense or asperging (sprinkling) the item with a holy water.  Items can also be left out in the sun light or the light of a full moon.  And depending on the tool, it can be held under running water, passed through a flame (very carefully), or even buried.

However you decide to celebrate Imbolc, set your intention to welcome the coming of Spring and all things fresh and new.

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K, Amber & K, Azrael.  Candlemas – Feast of Flames.  Llewellyn Publications, St Paul.  2001.