What is Imbolc?
Early February is known by many names, Saint Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Setsubun in Japan, and Imbolc in Ireland. In the Northern Hemisphere we celebrate the oncoming Spring. It may be cold and snowy, but the light has noticeably increased. Imbolc is a time to brush away the dense energy of Winter, and welcome the warmth of Spring.
Imbolc (“Imm-bulk”) is an Ancient Celtic Seasonal Celebration held on February 1st, at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is one of four Cross-Quarter holidays on the Celtic Wheel of the Year. Weather divinations by animals such as groundhogs are common at this time, foretelling how much longer winter will last.
Where does Imbolc come from?
Celebrated by the Gaelic Celts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, Imbolc comes from an Old Irish word, meaning “in the belly,” a reference to the pregnant sheep at this time of year. The name reveals the significance of the lambing season. The survival of the Gaelic Celts depended on the success of their crops and livestock, and the re-introduction of fresh sheep’s milk would have ensured their ability to thrive. Signs of new life would have been greatly welcome after a long, cold winter.
Imbolc is also strongly associated with the Gaelic Goddess Brigid, and her Christian sister, Saint Brigid (the Mother Saint of Ireland). In Gaelic mythology, Imbolc is when power shifts from the Cailleach, the Winter Crone Goddess, to Brigid, the Goddess of light, hearth, and creativity. Many of the traditions and rituals performed at Imbolc are done in honor of Brigid, in appreciation for her life-giving support.
How is Imbolc Celebrated Today?
Today, the meaning of “in the belly” can be seen as the energy of life stirring within the belly of Mother Earth. Very little grows in early February, but underneath the surface, the roots and soil are waking up. Imbolc is associated with the quickening in pregnancy, that time when a mother first feels life growing inside her. She may not show much of a belly, and others will not see the movement, but a pregnant woman knows there is a child growing inside her. This is the energy of Imbolc: the beginnings of beginnings.
In nature-based spiritualities, Imbolc celebrates the decrease in stress caused by the scarcity of winter. It marks the end of the darkest days. Rituals and ceremonies performed at this time can reassure the mind, body, and spirit that brighter days are coming. It is a time of hope.
Many of today’s celebrations are rooted in practices that honor the Goddess Brigid and her Christian sister, St. Brigid of Kildare. A Brigid’s Cross can be made by folding rushes or reeds into a spiral-like shape with four arms. Corn dollies are also made in her honor. Because Brigid is a fire Goddess, people build bonfires and light candles at Imbolc. It is also customary to put out the fire, and tidy the main fireplace, hearth, or oven at Imbolc. Rekindling the fire is a symbolic act of reigniting the fire that sustains life within the home. Cleansing rituals are common at Imbolc as a way of sweeping away the dense and dark energy of winter. To usher in the joy and hope of Spring, people feast on breads (especially ones made with seeds), and sun-shaped desserts.
How Can You Celebrate Imbolc at Home?
Spend Time In Nature
Go outside and spend time with the trees, the rushes, and the wind. Feel the cold on your cheeks. Breath in the crisp air. Notice the colors, shapes, and views only visible in Winter. Remember you are a part of Mother Earth.
Tend to your Hearth
Brigid is a fire goddess associated with the hearth. The Ancient Celts usually had a central fireplace that was both living room and kitchen. At Imbolc they would perform rituals in gratitude for their fires. Today, we can give thanks to our fireplaces, wood stoves, ovens, and even HVAC systems… Let the fire go out, clear away ashes, sweep the area, and dust the mantle. Scrub your stovetop and clean your oven. Turn off the heat, and say a prayer to your Heating System. And then…, build a fire, bake bread, and turn the heat back on. Light a candle, and give thanks for the warmth.
Imbolc marks the beginning of the Celtic Spring, a good time to start your indoor planting. I choose to believe my thoughts and energy have power, and I like to direct that power into my seeds. I ‘program’ them with my hopes and dreams, visualizing them pregnant with the energy my intentions of abundance, health, and joy.
Cleaning can be a magical act that improves both the quality of your home and your spirit. Sweep and scrub your home while visualizing any gloomy energy being washed away. Energetically cleanse your home by burning rosemary, sage, or cedar. Brigid is also a Goddess of thresholds, so this is a good time to clean your front door with a magical wash of water, lemon, and pine.
Brigid is the Goddess of poetry and smithcraft, associated with all creative endeavors. At Imbolc, this energy corresponds with the regenerative powers of the Earth. You can align yourself with the creative side of Imbolc by making stuff. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.” So, make a meal, paint a watercolor, write a poem, knit a hat, decorate a corner of your home, etc…
I update my altars seasonally, refreshing them with each turn of the Wheel. An altar is a sacred space that represents your beliefs, commitments, and spiritual practices. Colorful fabrics, statues, feathers, incense, Tarot cards, and stones can activate your spiritual mindset. Here are some things you can add to an Imbolc-inspired altar to help you align with the energy of this time of year:
- Colors: white (for the snow and ewe’s milk), green (to encourage plant growth), and red (symbolic of the fiery life-force). When in doubt, look to the color palette of your own environment.
- Seeds and sun-shaped cakes.
- Weather divination animals (groundhogs, badgers, snakes)
- Broom (symbol of cleansing)
- Brigid related items: Brigid’s cross, corn dolly, or image of St. Brigid.
- Stones: garnet, amethyst, ruby
- Tarot Card: Star (for rebirth and hope),
- Tools from your creative practice
Imbolc In A Nutshell
- Celebrated on February 1st, Imbolc is a Cross-Quarter Holiday on the Celtic Wheel of the Year
- It was originally celebrated by the Gaelic Celts, but it is also known as St. Brigid’s Day.
- It is a time to honor the end of Winter and the stirrings of Spring.
- You can celebrate Imbolc in your own home by:
- Spending Time in Nature
- Tending To Your Hearth
- Get Creative
- Planting Seeds
- Creating a sacred space that connects you with the energy of the early, early Spring.
May this article support your joy, purpose, and power. Take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t.
With love and magic,