IMBOLC | A CHRONICLE
Celebrated on February 1st, Imbolc marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. What is happening in late winter? Animals, and possibly humans, are responding to natural mating urges. Yes! It’s time to think about growing new life.
The origins of the word Imbolc are dependent upon various scholars’ interpretations. The most common meanings are derived from Irish history. Referring to the pregnancy of ewes, and from the Old Irish i mbolc, the term translates to “in the belly.” The other, believed origin is the Old Irish imb-fholc, which means “to wash or cleanse oneself.” This is a reference to a spiritual or ritual cleansing, not simply one’s regular daily washing.
The most ancient rituals for Imbolc centered around the goddess Brigid. Hers was a connection with spring, fertility, healing, metal smithing, fire, hearths, and poetry. Cormac’s Glossary, a text written by 10th century Christian monks, regarding Brigid reads—”the goddess whom poets adored.”
Nuns in Kildare, Ireland during the early Christian era, tended a perpetual flame for Saint Brigid, a woman born in 5th century Ireland and later sainted. Many believe this was simply a continuation of the pre-Christian practice of women tending a flame in honor of the goddess Brigid. Christian faiths later marked February 2nd as Candlemas and tied the holiday to Saint Brigid as a form of syncretism—combining different beliefs.
Ritual celebrations for Imbolc center on the hearth and home. In particular, taking care to keep the hearth fires burning by invoking the goddess Brigid and her cross, which represents the center of the Celtic fire wheel. It is a reminder of the importance of keeping available a means with which to cook your family meals.
A Brigid’s Cross is usually created by the hands of women, as a symbol of protection. In one Irish home it has been famously noted to contain over two hundred Brigid Crosses wreathed over the kitchen fire. Think of the vastness of two hundred years of family life and meal-making and love—all under Brigid’s protection.
Now is the time to lift your mood out of winter by nurturing new growth in the form of the earliest blooms of the snowdrop flower. If you did not plant bulbs before Samhain the previous year, you may find blooming potted snowdrops at your local nursery to bring into your home.
For Imbolc, candles are lit to raise the energy of fire and seeds are sorted to plan the year’s garden. Milk, in all its forms, especially sheep’s milk, is used to celebrate the first milk of the coming spring. For a lovely celebration, consider making cheese or baking a seeded bread in the shape of a full, round belly to represent the fertility of spring.