This week is the pagan festival of Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. It is mostly around the 1st or 2nd of February (2nd this year) but always takes place within the first week. Imbolc was one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar. For them the success of the new farming season was of great importance. As winter stores of food were getting low Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later. Historically, it was widely observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Imbolc was originally a Celtic festival associated with the goddess Brighid and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brighid, who herself is thought to be a Christianization of the goddess. Imbolc (comes from an Irish word that was originally thought to mean ‘in the belly’ although many people translate it as ‘ewe’s milk’. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the centre point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden from February to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal.
Traditionally the Maiden is honoured, as a Bride; corn dollies are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with flowers. Young girls then carry the corn dollies door to door, and gifts are given from each household. Afterwards at the feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen.
Nowadays Imbolc is thought to be related to Candlemas and Groundhog Day, and indeed there is evidence from early Irish lore surrounding weather divination this time of year. Pagans now celebrate this festival by using fire and other forms of light to encourage the lengthening of day. Seed and bud imagery may be used, as well, to promote the growth of new life ensured by springtime. Of course food and music are essential for Imbolc especially those with seeds and milk to symbolise regrowth and ewe’s giving birth. As well as the traditional corn dollies a Brigid’s Cross made from straw or grass are displayed in their homes and spring cleaning takes place to allow room for the goddess to start regrowth in all spaces.
So to celebrate Imbolc why don’t you have a good clean out and a feast afterwards as spring is just around the corner.