Imbolc, also known as Oimelc, Imbolg, Imbloc, and Candlemas, takes place every year on February 2, meaning this is one of the few holidays not dependent on astrology or astronomy for its date. It’s a fire festival, as you could probably guess from the title of this post.
Imbolc is a holiday that is so ingrained in the ancient cultures that celebrated it that it was repackaged by the Church into a Christian version (thinly veiled as a Christian saint day in most cases) and survives today. The holiday originated as a festival in honor of the Great Mother Goddess Brigid, as she’s known in Ireland. At this time of year, she would be a bride waiting for the youthful Sun God to return to her. Brigid is a goddess of creativity, fertility, metal-smithing, and medicine. She was also a protectress, healer, and guardian of children. The Great Mother is a figure in almost every culture, and is ingrained in the psyche of humans to the extent that Brigid and her feast day could not be stamped out when Christianity was becoming a power. Instead, Brigid was made a saint and her festival is now known as St. Bridget’s Day in Ireland. Young women and sometimes young men would customarily dress up as Brigid (or St. Bridget) in old clothing or carry her image through the town.
In other countries the holiday survived in similar ways. France has the Feast Day of St. Blaize, a saint of winter protection and healing (consider the English word “blaze” and note the festival is a fire festival). Romans dedicated the holiday to Venus, and the festival was near their great festival of Lupercalia. The Greeks made the day the Festival of Artemis/Diana. Crocuses are associated with the Roman and Greek festivals for this holiday. Finally, the Nords knew Imbolc as Disting-tid and was a time to ritually prepare the earth for future planting.
Imbolc is a time to prepare for the shedding of winter in favor of the coming of spring (obviously) but it is also a time for new growth and birth, making plans and wishes, shedding negativity (an Irish tradition buried negativity at a crossroad so it couldn’t escape on the eve of Imbolc), and love (St. Valentine’s Day and the Lupercalia fall close to this Sabbat).
Some ways to celebrate Imbolc:
- Light candles. This is, after all, a fire festival to lure back the sun. Light a candle for a few hours and let it burn down (practice safe candle practices, please! Don’t leave the candle burning alone–fire is good, but a bonfire in an apartment is not)
- Meditate. Meditation on the Sabbats is usually a good idea, in my view. It clears your mind but you can also focus your energy on the importance of the holiday and the energy of the Earth. Five minutes is all that’s required, and then you can celebrate in other ways!
- Make a Candle Wheel. You wear this on your head with candles on it. I’m not sure I would like this one, personally, but it is an old tradition.
- Make a Sun Wheel. Also known as Brigid’s Cross. An equilateral cross bordered by a circle.
- Cook traditional Celtic or French or Swedish foods such as Honey Cake or Swedish waffles.
- Read the tarot for the coming year. This is my favorite. Shuffle the cards and lay out 7. There is no specific meaning attached to the position of the cards, but the further down the line a card is (reading from left to right) the later in the coming year the properties of that card will come to you. My reading from last year was pretty accurate. You probably won’t know for certain what the cards will signify to come until you review them next February, but they can give some idea.