On February 2nd we celebrate Imbolc (im-molc), which is perhaps the least written about of the Fire Festivals of Ireland. This is probably because during this time of year there was little traveling done and there were no great festivals held to celebrate it. On Imbolc, we become aware that the Sun’s energy is slowly growing stronger. Mother Earth is slowly awakening under the Sun’s revitalizing energy. At this time, we call to the Mother to accept this energy and use it to bless us and renew the Earth. We call to the young Sun God to empower him and draw his feritlizing energy back into the Mother.
This holiday was celebrated within the local village, which may also mean that its rituals were even more diverse than any others throughout the island. Travel was hazardous during this time, due mostly to the darkness of the land. It was an important celebration because the hope of Spring must be celebrated or depression will overtake the people.
Imbolc (which literally means ‘in the belly’ of the Mother) is celebrated by Wiccans and Witches throughout the world on this day. It is also known as Candlemas, Oimelc – which means ‘milk of ewes’, (for it is also lambing season) and Lady Day. It is a fire festival and celebrates the coming of Spring. Sweeping the circle with a besom symbolizes the sweeping out of the old energies and sweeping in of new beginnings.
This holiday is also called ‘Brigit’s Day’, in honor of the Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine in the old Irish capitol Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (later changed to Nuns by the Christians) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a Goddess of Fire; Patroness of Smithcraft, Poetry and Healing. Many years ago, the Christian world determiend that keeping this flame lit by their Nuns was blasphemous and the light was extinguished. This cause such an uproar in the world, that just a few years ago the flame was once again lit in Brigit’s honor and remains lit to this day! Thank you Goddess for opening the eyes of others to your great wisdom!
Occasionally, it was said that Brigit had two sisters, also named Brigit. This could be an explanation for the triplicity of the Goddess. Incidentally, another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is in this form that she bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called “bride” in her honor.
It was traditional on Brigit’s day to light sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lit on the hilltops, and chandlers (candle makers) celebrated this as their special holiday.
A particularly nice folk-custom still observed by many today is to place a lighted candle in each window of the house, beginning at sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1), and allowing them to continue burning until sunrise.
This is the perfect occassion for making candles! Hold a candle-making party and try to make and bless all the candles you’ll be using for the whole year on this day. The Roman Church quickly adopted this symbolism as well, using “Candlemas” as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year.
Other customs of the holiday include weaving “Brigit’s crosses” from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making “Brigit’s beds” to ensure fertility of mind and spirit (and body, if desired), and making Crowns of Light (i.e. of candles) for the Priestess to wear for the Candlemas Circle, similar to those worn on St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries. Imbolc is certainly one of the prettiest “lights” of the Pagan calendar!
Another tradition is that at the start of the Sabbat evening, Pagan households darken all lights, blow out all candles, and spend a moment in darkness, symbolic of the darkness of death and Winter. With great ceremony, new candles are lit and carried, amid song and laughter, into each room of the household, bringing the new lights of Spring and the Goddess within. Other rituals include having a priestess represent the Goddess by wearing a wreath or crown of lights or candles on her head, as the aspect of Spring Herself!
As the Wheel turns to Imbolc, may the growing light of Spring and the Goddess burn in your hearts, and may Witches and Pagans everywhere look with joy on the coming year!