Imbolc is a cross-quarter day celebrated by many NeoPagans and Wiccans on the fixed date of February 2, or on a changeable date; the exact midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox (February 3, 2019) or when the sun reaches 15 degrees in Aquarius.
Other Names & Associated Festivals Imbolc, Imbolg, Oimealg, The Feast of St. Brigid, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Feast, Ground Hog Day, Imbolgc Brigantia, Imbolic, Disting, Lubercus, Candlemas, Candlelaria, the Snowdrop Festival, The Festival of Lights, the Feast of the Virgin, February Eve
While winter is still going strong, there are signs that spring is on its way. The livestock begin to give birth and there is a promise for the future. The world Oimealg, another name for the festival, means “ewe’s milk”, a hint to the significance of this day.
Imbolc is also the feast of Brigid, the Pan-Celtic fire Goddess of healing and inspiration and one of the Patron (matron?) Saints of Ireland. A Brideo’gas, a corn dolly image of the Goddess, maybe passed between the people and gifts and offerings are bestowed upon it. Since Brigid is the Goddess of Inspiration, the gift may be a poem or song, rather than a material item. Brigid’s crosses are made from wheat stalks and exchanged and hung in the home to protect from fire damage.
One fun tradition practiced in some Neo-Celtic Pagan groups is the Bride’og. The Brideo’gas is carried from home to home at dawn and much noise is made on various instruments, including pots and pans and tin cans, in order to awaken the sleeping spirits of springtime. The group is then welcomed inside and offered refreshments before they move on to torment the next house.
Among Neo-Celtic and some Heathen traditionalists, the plow is also associated with this holiday. In some areas, a plough was decorated and taken from house to house and children sang and asked for treats and gifts. If the homeowner did not comply, their front yard was ploughed up.
Imbolc is another Celtic fire festival and hearth fires may be re-lit, especially using Yule greenery, as keeping this too long invites the faerie folk to stay in the house beyond their welcome. Candles are placed in windows to welcome the spring and spring cleaning and household purification rituals are common.
In Wiccan and similar traditions, the Goddess is honored as the Maiden Goddess at this time. In some cases, she is in preparation for Her coming wedding to the God.
The Christian festival associated with this day is Candlemas when candles are made and blessed. Some Pagans also follow this tradition. It is also Saint Brigid’s Day. Many Neo-Pagans identify Saint Brigid with the Goddess of the same name.
The non-religious holiday, Groundhog’s Day, which falls on February 2nd hearkens to the tradition of weather prediction assigned to this day. The modern tradition that if the groundhog sees his shadow on this day (i.e., if it’s a sunny day) he will return to his burrow for another six weeks of winter is remarkably reminiscent of the tradition that the hag of winter gathers wood on this day and will keep the weather nice for as long as she needs. A very nice day means that she needed to gather a lot of wood, a stormy day means she didn’t need much wood at all.
Another tradition on this day that is not much marked in modern times in the idea that the status of your winter stores determines your likelihood of surviving the winter and that of your livestock “Half your wood and half your hay by Candlemas day”. If you have used up more, you’re not likely to make it without collecting more from an outside source.
Symbols of Imbolc
You may wish to use some of the following items to decorate your altar or your home or to plan a ritual for this holiday.
- Incense: basil, bay, wisteria, cinnamon, violet, vanilla
- Colors: white, pink, red, yellow, green, brown
- Stones: Bloodstone, garnet, ruby, onyx, turquoise, amethyst
- Herbs: Angelica, basil, bay-laurel, blackberry, crocus, celandine, coltsfoot, holly, iris, tansy, violets, thyme
- Symbols: Brideo’gas, besoms, white flowers, candle wheels, Brigid’s cross, priapic wands, ploughs, corn dolly, Brigid’s Bed
- Food: Dairy products, spicy food, lamb and food that was stored through the winter; smoked meats, dried fruit & nuts
- Gods and Goddesses: Brigid, the Muses, Persephone, Demeter, Hestia, Vesta