Imbolc has three major associations: the veneration of fire and water, the quickening of new life in the womb and world, and the lactation of ewes. So it is both a fertility sabbat (along with Ostara and Beltane) and a fire festival (followed by Beltane, Lughnassadh and Samhain).
The association with fire comes from Imbolc’s place as the midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Celtic in origin, this sabbat celebrates the midpoint of the changing season. It is referred to as “The First Light” and marked by the traditional lighting of candles, signifying purification, inspiration, and growing light.
Fire is also representative of the Goddess Brigid in her aspect of patroness of smith craft.
Another aspect of Brigid is healing, represented by the well. On Imbolc, processions were made to her sacred wells, which were adorned with greenery, signifying the return of spring. Devotees would circle the well deosil, or sunwise, before drinking the waters in order to bring good fortune.
Another translation of Imbolc is “in the belly,” referring to intrauterine fetal movement, also known as quickening.
This is Brigid’s third Imbolc aspect, goddess of childbirth. She is associated with cattle, and Imbolc is the time just before birthing in the early spring. The presence of lactating ewes was of great importance to early Celts, as it often meant the difference between life and death. Ewes only lactate when there are lambs to nurse, and in the intensity of February’s cold, lactating ewes meant humans had milk, cheese and butter.
With its theme of preparation for birth, Imbolc has evolved into an auspicious day for rituals of rebirth as well. It is a time for reflecting on the nature of initiation and the evolution of the magical path. Traditionally at this time, witches are initiated, or the Wiccan “Year and a Day” training begins.
On Feb. 2, the secular world acknowledges Groundhog Day, when the arrival of spring is determined by the presence or lack of the groundhog’s shadow. Ever wonder why a shadow (sunny day) means more winter and not the other way around? It’s a modern weather divination that echoes Celtic folk beliefs. It was believed on Imbolc, the crone goddess Callieach’s grip of winter begins to loosen. She goes forth in search of kindling to keep her fires burning and extend winter a little longer. If Imbolc is rainy, she will find nothing but damp twigs and give up. But if dry kindling is abundant, she has plenty of fuel to feed her fire and continue winter.
In short, Imbolc is the seed that starts the whole wheel of the year turning once again. After the spark of Yule, the hard work of beginning another year occurs at Imbolc. The whole year stretches before you. You have the power to mold it into whatever you desire.
Imbolc serves as an “opening” of a season. Most of the activities and symbolic actions at this time are to sweep away the old in order to welcome in the new. The main thing that must be done again now, just as we did at Samhain, is to purify our houses and our souls so that we carry love into the time of spring planting and new birth.
Be aware that this is rooted in serious sympathetic magic, which is simply using an item or act associated with what you are trying to manifest. The premise is if we humans are healthy and strong in our actions, intentions and habits—so will the fields and flocks and offspring be. If we are cleansed of rancor and fear, and use feasts like Imbolc to teach our children cleanliness and order, the soil and the womb will be wholesome and ready for seed.
Here’s some simple candle intention magic for you to try this week for Imbolc. It’s called Illuminating the Cauldron. Source: The Wiccan Year by Judy Ann Nock.
- Light the candle in the middle first, picturing the first light penetrating winter’s darkness.
- With the second candle, welcome the spring and picture the great wheel of the year turning to the halfway point. The cauldron is the womb of the goddess, the “belly” of Imbolc.
- Think of the magic of the beginnings of life and all the possibility contained as new life emerges as you light the third candle. Each new dawn is a clean slate that can bring you closer to realizing your dreams.
- Imaging the circumstances surrounding your own physical birth as you light this candle. Picture your relationship to your biological mother as a reflection of your relationship to the divine mother. All of us need mothering in one form or another. By facing your own vulnerability, you are preparing yourself for rebirth.
- As you light the fifth candle, focus on the lessons your spiritual path has taught you. There are intimate truths that you have discovered. Give thanks for those challenges met and knowledge gained.
- This candle represents the unknown, the lessons that lie in front of you and all the things you have yet to learn.
- Light the seventh candle and meditate on all the things you wish to change. They can be material, physical, or spiritual. Use your magic to make a positive impact on your life.
- The eighth candle represents the things you most need to heal. These include the physical ailments of yourself and of others, the suffering of the planet, rifts in relationships, and more. Invoke healing into your life and make room for it to begin. Release old wounds and past hurts. Take responsibility for your health in a new way. Focus on the best possible outcomes for situations that are beyond your control or influence.
- As you light the ninth and final candle, welcome inspiration into your practice. Ask the goddess to illuminate her presence in a new way. Sing. Write a poem in her honor. Use the energy of the season to assist you in manifesting your magic in a tangible way. Create a charm, or a new blend of incense. Whatever you choose, ask goddess to inspire you so you can show her beauty in your work.
Next week we’ll talk a little about the roots of Valentine’s Day.