For centuries, many different cultures and religious groups have celebrated major landmarks that signify the changing of seasons, particularly the winter solstice, the spring equinox, the summer solstice, and the autumn equinox. These days are often called “quarter days”, and they signify the shortest or longest days of those seasons. While these are still celebrated today, many are unaware of the other four major sabbats, or holidays, that many ancient cultures have celebrated for centuries – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.
The History of Imbolc
With Imbolc (pronounced IM-bulk or EM-bowlk) only a few days away, it is important to understand the impact this ancient tradition has had on many religions, cultures, and ways of life even today – and how to celebrate and rejoice in all that Imbolc has to offer. Traditionally deriving from the Celtic word imbolg, meaning in the belly, Imbolc signifies the time of the year when sheep begin to lactate, creating new birth and life, while the grasses begin to green and grow as the earth transitions into spring.
Imbolc falls on the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, however there is not a definite date that everyone always celebrates on. This is because the beliefs and traditions surrounding Imbolc relate to the beginning of spring which will vary from region to region. Traditionally Imbolc is celebrated from February 1st through sundown on February 2nd, but today, some groups will celebrate Imbolc around February 2nd to February 7th.
No matter what day you decided to honor the changing of seasons and the transition out of darkness into a new, brighter spring, the ideals are still the same. Since Imbolc signifies the transition into spring, many cultures believe that Imbolc represents the stirrings of new life, of new birth, pregnancy, and expectancy of renewal of the earth and all that it offers us. This ancient Celtic tradition is a time for us to let go of the past, clear our minds and homes (“spring cleaning”) to make space for new beginnings, and look towards the bright future ahead of us. Many people believe it is the perfect time to put those New Year’s resolutions into effect with dedication.
Who Celebrates Imbolc?
While all these sabbats have groups that have celebrated them in various forms, the most prominent is the Pagans and Wiccans from Celtic cultures. The Celtic Pagan’s celebrated Imbolc by honoring the Goddess Brigid (also called Brighid, Bride, and Brigit). The Goddess Brigid was revered as the goddess of healing, renewal, fire and hearth, and fertility – both fertility to women and to the land. Brigid was considered one of the most powerful Celtic gods as the daughter of Dagda, the chief Celtic deity, and a Tuatha De Dannan, or the first inhabitants of Ireland. She appears in many different Celtic literatures and poems over many centuries as a powerful goddess that started many Celtic traditions.
Brigid was highly revered for so many years that she was eventually incorporated into Christianity as Saint Brigid, one of Ireland’s three patron saints, as a means to help Celtic people ease into the new religion as it began to spread all over Ireland. Just like in Celtic Paganism, Brigid is associated with milk, fire, midwives, newborns, and healing throughout Christianity and Catholicism. Saint Brigid is always celebrated on February 2nd on Candlemas (a Christian holiday), similarly to Imbolc, as a way to honor all that she did for her people – healing, smithing, fertility, and so forth – and to help the spread of Christianity.
Over time, Imbolc has been practiced less and less, but as Paganism, environmentalism, and new ways to honor the earth become more popular again, more people are putting a focus on celebrating the major days that transition us into new seasons. Anyone, religious or not, can celebrate Imbolc by simply making an effort to get outside and appreciate the earth and environment. People of all different religions and cultures continue to practice Imbolc in a variety of ways that are special to them.
Imbolc Traditions and Practices
One of the major ways that the Goddess Brigid has been celebrated for centuries is by making a Brigid Cross. These crosses (pictured above) are traditionally made from reeds or straw but can be made from any type of outdoor material you may find near you. The only requirement for the material is that it is pliable! These can still easily be made with many tutorials available online.
This cross is even revered for Saint Brigid as an archetypal symbol of Ireland. While many Christians believe the Brigid Cross originated for Saint Brigid, it’s roots are much deeper and highly connected in Imbolc traditions. Many Celtic people utilized the Brigid Cross as a way to welcome the Goddess into their homes in order to receive fertility for new marriages and the land, healing, prosperity, and good fortune into the new season. Now and days, Christians put these on their doors to signify they are celebrating Saint Brigid and welcoming brighterWhat is days ahead.
Many people also still do crafts and alters to honor the Goddess Brigid. In particular, Brigid dolls were crafted by women and their daughters in large groups to rejoice, celebrate, and honor the fertility Goddess. These can be created as simply or complex as you want, making them a great activity to still do in your home today. This can be included in your alter to honor Brigid and the new, sunny days that await you.
Other additions that many people still enjoy adding to their alter include seeds (or planting seeds outside) and plants to signify the spring growth that is coming. Getting outside and planting these seeds can serve a real-life symbol to the growth you will experience throughout the season. Additionally, incorporating some type of fire – usually with candles – is an important aspect of your alter because the Goddess Brigid is the Goddess of fire and light.
Incorporating all aspects of the elements is a great base for any altar, especially one that honors the changing of seasons. Some people add incense to signify air, a form of water that is important to you, and other elemental tools. No matter how you choose to set up this sacred space to honor the transition into a new season and out of the darkness of winter, there is no better way to honor Imbolc than by getting outside and reveling in the first days of spring!