Celebrating the Pagan Sabbat Imbolc
What Is Imbolc?
Imbolc is a pagan holiday that marks the midpoint between Yule and Ostara and is a cross-quarter festival. It is still very cold outside in many regions when Imbolc comes around. It may not seem much like spring outdoors to many of us, but we are already halfway there. The days are gradually growing longer and longer as the waxing year unfolds.
Imbolc is typically celebrated from the sundown of February 1st until sundown of the next day in the Northern Hemisphere. This celebration originated in the Pre-Christian era in the British Isles. Today it is celebrated by Wiccans and other neo-pagan practitioners around the world. This holiday stems from the practice of breeding sheep. The word Imbolc means "in milk" or "ewe's milk". An alternative name is Oimelc which means "in the belly". The birth of newborn lambs happens at this time of the year and lactation commences. Our ancestors would suddenly have a brand new food source to help them survive the harsh winter conditions.
Cross-quarter days are ancient holidays which give us an opportunity to connect with nature. They are less frequently celebrated in comparison to the solstices and equinoxes. They are also important times of seasonal transition. Getting in touch with the cycles of nature is a pathway to acquire the wisdom necessary in order to practice witchcraft. Appreciating the subtle nuances of change heightens our awareness of all life has to offer. These ancient celebrations get us attuned with these seasonal changes and also give us a way of connecting to our ancestors.
Spiritual Focus of Imbolc
Each Sabbat has different areas which we can focus on spiritually. You may want to pick one specific area to work on over the season. Think of your own life. Which of these spiritual concepts compliments the things which you are personally going through? Are you starting a new project which you need to begin preparing for? Perhaps you wish to start a new family and would like to focus on fertility as a goal. Take stock of what is going on with you. Adapt your personal goals with the energies of the season. It empowers our magick to work in harmony with nature. This gives our magick an extra edge and helps us establish a way of approaching life which works in accordance with natural law. It also helps our magick become stronger because we are zeroing in on one thing at a time. Doing too many magickal workings at once can scatter our energies. This renders our powers less effective.
Imbolc is a time of purification. The crone is shifting back to her maiden aspect and life is once again full of the innocence of youth. The hibernation phase of winter is coming to a close. Nature is gradually waking up to the impending spring. Days are gradually becoming longer as the light returns. A time when hope for new possibilities is emerging.
Here are a few areas you could focus on:
Brigid is a much venerated Celtic goddess of fertility. She is also a goddess of poetry, crafts, and prophecy. The Celtic people loved her so much that she was turned into a Saint by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church claims that Brigid was a historical figure who was born in 453 AD. A patron saint of midwives, dairy maids, newborns, and nuns. She was considered to be Ireland's first nun. We pagans know that she really was a deity who shapeshifted into a new role in order to adapt to the times. Not a lot of pagan goddesses have this special honor!
Brigid is central to the holiday of Imbolc. She of the most powerful Celtic deities. A daughter of the Dagda who is one of the oldest gods in Celtic mythology. Myths say she was born with a flame in her head. She also drank the milk of a mystical cow which gave her the gift of prophecy. She returns in her maiden aspect at Imbolc. White and red are the colours of this maiden. Animals associated with her are pig, fox, and cow. You can use these totems to decorate your altar. Blackberries are also sacred to her.
Making Brigid crosses is one of the most popular ways of celebrating Imbolc. Hang these over your doors for protection throughout the year. Burn the ones from the previous year and make new ones as part of your ritual work. There are many sites online which can provide you with instructions on how to make one. You might also honor Brigid by composing a poem since she is a goddess of poetry. If you are not that creative, you might celebrate by having a poetry reading in your home. Placing a corn dolly in a basket or bed on the last night of January in preparation of Imbolc is another popular observance. Fire rituals are another great way to celebrate Imbolc. One tradition is to burn the leftover greenery which adorned your home at Yule.
Making and Blessing Candles
Candlemas is a Catholic holiday which occurs on February 2nd. This holiday can be used by neo-pagans as well. It is a good time of the year to make candles. What better way to pass a cold winter evening? There are so many different ways of making candles. If you search online you can find an approach which suits your level of expertise and the amount of work you want to put into it.
Imbolc is an appropriate time of the year to bless the candles which we wish to use in our upcoming spells and ritual work. You may want to cast a circle if you are blessing a large number of candles. The altar should be decorated with white candles and flowers. Burn one candle as an offering. Remove candles from packaging before blessing them. Ground yourself. Start by taking a few deep breaths. If you are doing a large number of candle you might want to cast a circle first. Whatever words you use to bless your candles should be appropriate to you. It is best to keep it simple if you are blessing all of the candles you will be working with in the future.
Some pagans believe that it is a bad idea to blow a candle out. This is thought to be an attack on the element of fire by the element of air. You can buy yourself a candle snuffer if you wish to avoid this confrontation. Snuffing out a candle with a metal spoon also works very well.
Imbolc Is Linked to Fertility
Imbolc is a time of kindling the light. This is the new light of the year which will help things begin to grow and guide us forward as we become more active. A sensitive time of the year when growth is at the earliest stages. Aspirations are emerging and are not fully formed. It is not yet a time to demand results or fruit to our labors. It is time to make decisions about what is important. This makes it a time of conception.
Valentine's Day is about honoring love and fertility. It fits very well with the fertility themes of Imbolc. Fertility was important in the agrarian societies of our ancient ancestors. Spring sabbats often have elements of fertility as a magickal focus as we are preparing for the coming year. Some animals start mating as the weather warms up. Birthing and sexual energies are very much a part of this season.
Preparing Our Seeds for Planting
Seeds represent a new beginning. Planting a seed is an unpredictable process. Will the seeds we plant will grow into healthy plants? Seeds are symbolic of potential. There are times when what we plant doesn't grow at all. Engaging in new activities can be like planting a seed. We all have ideas about things we want to do with our lives. Some things come to fruition. Some things don't even get past the initial planning phase. What can you do at Imbolc to make sure the seeds you plant thrive?
Don't plant too many seeds! There is only so much that we can accomplish in our lives. If your energies become scattered you may not accomplish much at all. We haven't yet exited the introspective time of the year completely. This sleepy time of the year is a great time for journaling and reflecting on what you wish to grow into. Develop the plans you wish to execute when the days grow longer. Soon the energies of the waxing Sun will give us longer days to get more and more work done.
Preparing for Growth
Prepare and fertilize the soil in which your plans and projects will begin to grow. Give your life the conditions necessary in order for your aspirations to thrive. This can be done literally by working in your garden or symbolically. In some climates it may be a little too early to go out and work in the actual soil. Gather the resources you need to succeed in the coming year. These could be seeds or sketches of how you wish the layout of your garden to look. Look at what you need to bring your plans into fruition. Use meditation to consider what each seed you plant shall be. What does each seed need in order to grow? Are there career development classes you could take? Perhaps some networking will get the ball rolling. It could be that you need to shift your financial priorities in order to maximize what you want to do with your life.
Making offerings of milk at Imbolc is another tradition. You may make use of plant based milk options if you are a conscious consumer looking out for animal rights. Pour milk or cream on the earth in ritual. Giving back to the earth that we take so much from is a great way to show gratitude for the forces which sustain us.
You can also choose to drink milk as a festive beverage. It is a great way to relax at the end of the day. Heat up some milk and add cinnamon, honey, and vanilla extract for an Imbolc themed beverage. You can also have this as a ritual drink or as part of your feast.
Trying New Activities
Be open to doing things a new way. Imbolc is a great time of the year to try doing something unexpected which you have never done before. This Sabbat occurs when the Sun is in the sign of Aquarius which is one of the least conventional astrological signs. Work with this energy to do something unpredictable and out of the ordinary. Trying out some new activities brings refreshing change into our lives. We all need a breath of fresh air to uplift and inspire us. New activities get us thinking outside of the box. We may find success in our endeavors as we explore different ways of doing things. We may gain valuable insights and meet new people. Try something small like visiting a new neighborhood or going to an exotic restaurant. Is there something different which you have always wanted to do? Do something out of character. It is a great time to be spontaneous and unpredictable.
Protective Magick at Imbolc
Health is a magickal concern at this frigid juncture on the wheel of life. We frequently will experience colds and flus. Winter keeps us indoors and this means that we may be coming into contact with more germs. It is a good time of the year to drink remedies which strengthen the immune system.
Iron is a metal ruled by Mars and it is frequently used in protective work. Hanging an iron horseshoe in your home is a good way to celebrate Imbolc. Iron spikes buried at the four corners of your home can also help keep you and your family safe. Some stones useful at this juncture of the wheel of the year are clear quartz, hematite, rose quartz, and iron.
Celebrate the Growing Light!
Imbolc is when we begin to transition away from winter! We all need a little bit of festive celebration to help us get through the last leg of the bitterness and cold. I hope you have enjoyed some of the ideas I have shared with you! Feel free to share your own midwinter inspirations in the comment section below!