Imbolc: Tradition, Symbolism and Ritual
Ah, like a breath of fresh air, a soothing balm, a shining sliver of hope, with this new moon Imbolc is upon us. At this time of new beginnings in the wheel of the year, all is possible, if only lying just beneath the surface, waiting to burst forth.
Imbolc, or Imbolg means "in the belly," and 10th century Irish poetry tells of this celebration, related to the quickening of the ewe's milk before lambing. It was dedicated to Brigid, goddess of poetry, crafts and prophesy, who was evoked in ancient fertility rites. According to mythology, she was born with a flame in her head and drank the milk of a mystical cow, so becoming associated with fire and milk. She was worshiped by the Filid, a class of ancient Celtic poets and historians. In the Celtic pantheon Tuatha du Danann, she is daughter of the oldest god, Dagda, and has two sisters by the same name.
It is thought these three Brigids symbolized different aspects of the same goddess, with Imbolc honoring the aspect of the maiden. In pre-Christian times, people prepared their homes for a visit from Brigid the night before February 1st by crafting an effigy of her from oats and rushes. The festival itself went from sundown February 1st until sundown February 2nd, marking the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox in Neolithic Ireland and Scotland.
The goddess Brigid was so well loved by the people, she was woven into Christianity as St. Brigid, with the Catholic church claiming that the patron saint was a real person. Whether or not this is true, the obvious commonalities that St. Brigid has with the pagan goddess show her roots. Practitioners of neopaganism today honor Brigid as the maiden aspect of the triple goddess, and celebrate Imbolc as a time of renewal and hope.
Symbols of Brigid
- Flame, which purifies, warms and protects
- Snowdrop, one of the first plants to burst through the snow
- Swan, representing purity and loyalty because it mates for life
- Brigid's Cross, a traditional fire wheel symbol representing protection
- Brigid Doll, as made in ancient traditions
- Serpent, associated with awakening creative energy and transformation
- Sheep, representing fertility and innocence
Colors of Imbolc
- White, for purity
- Green, for new life
- Blue, for protection
- Gold, for fire
Herbs & Rituals for Imbolc
- Bay leaves, associated with the sun, are used for renewal, intuition and protection. Write down some intentions and place them in a jar with bay leaves as a reminder of what you want to manifest.
- Rosemary, associated with fire and creativity, is used for cleansing, protection and purification. You can add rosemary to your bath or recipes during Imbolc for renewal.
- Heather is associated with both cleansing and fertility. Drink some heather tea to connect with its essence and discover what can be swept away to make room for the new to sprout.
You can incorporate our New or Wax candle into your Imbolc rituals, and our Calm foaming milk bath would make a wonderful nourishing addition as well. A blessed Imbolc to you, and whether you celebrate or not, I hope this season brings you comfort, insight and hope.