Imbolc, (pronounced "IM-bulk" or "EM-bowlk"), also called Oimealg, ("IM-mol'g), by the Druids, is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means "ewes milk". Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid's snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Ground Hog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.
The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo'gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo'gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid's Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the "water of life" is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.
Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget's Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time.
Deities of Imbolc:
All Virgin/Maiden Goddesses, Brighid, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Gaia, and Februa, and Gods of Love and Fertility, Aengus Og, Eros, and Februus.
Symbolism of Imbolc:
Purity, Growth and Re-Newal, The Re-Union of the Goddess and the God, Fertility, and dispensing of the old and making way for the new.
Symbols of Imbolc:
Brideo'gas, Besoms, White Flowers, Candle Wheels, Brighid's Crosses, Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs.
Herbs of Imbolc:
Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers.
Foods of Imbolc:
Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Raisins, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas.
Incense of Imbolc:
Basil, Bay, Wisteria, Cinnamon, Violet, Vanilla, Myrrh.
Colors of Imbolc:
White, Pink, Red, Yellow, lt. Green, Brown.
Stones of Imbolc:
Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise
Activities of Imbolc:
Candle Lighting, Stone Gatherings, Snow Hiking and Searching for Signs of Spring, Making of Brideo'gas and Bride's Beds, Making Priapic Wands, Decorating Ploughs, Feasting, and Bon Fires maybe lit.
This is an article that appeared in Celtic Heritage....
Imbolc ( Oimealg, La Fheile Bride)
By Ellen Evert Hopman
Saint Brighid is one of the best known and most venerated Celtic
saints. She has been given many titles; The Lady of the Isles,
Bride of the Mantle, Gentle Shepherdess, Guardian of the Cattle,
Protector of the Newborn, Nursemaid to the Sick, Midwife of Mary
and Mary of the Gael. But long before Brighid the saint there was
another Brighid, one whose identity and feast day (February 2) were
gradually subsumed by the later historical figure.
The ancient progenitor of the saint is a Goddess who was known as
Brighid or Bride in Scotland, Brid, Brigit, Bridget and Brigantia
in England, Brigan or Brigindo in Gaul, Berecyntia and Brigandu in
France, Bride, Brigdu, Brig, Breed and Bridh in Ireland and other
Celtic areas. She is a Triple Goddess, said to always appear as
three sisters, each named Brighid. Her spheres of influence are
poetry, smithcraft and healing. She is the Patroness of the Druids
Brighid's sacred bird is the Oystercatcher, "giolla Bride"
(Irish, Brighid's servant) and "Brideun" (Scots Gaelic, Brighid's
bird) which is said to guide people who are under her protection.
Her mother is Boann, Cow Goddess of the White Moon and Goddess of
the Boyne river in Ireland, making cows her sacred animals. She is
also associated with the white mare, the serpent, and red eared,
white bodied hounds who guide travellers to the Otherworld.
Imbolc is Brighid's own festival, one of the four great Celtic
Fire Festivals along with Samhain (summers end), Beltaine (Fires of
Bel, summers beginning) and Lughnasad (the first fruits festival
inaugurated by the God Lugh in honor of his foster mother at her
funeral games). It marks the midpoint of the dark half of the year.
It also marks the beginning of the lactation of the ewes, an all-
important milk festival of the ancients. Along with the streams of
new milk Imbolc marks the time when other fires of life are re-
kindled in the land - forest animals begin their mating rituals and
serpents begin to stir in their lairs. Farmers test the soil to see
if it is thawed enough for the first plowings and snowdrops spring
up in the spots where Brighid's feet have trod.
At this time the Hag of Winter, the Cailleach, who has ruled
since Samhain visits the Well of Youth. At dawn on the day of the
festival she drinks from the Well of Youth and her face is
transformed from haggard old age to the serene and youthful face of
Brighid. For this reason Brighid is sometimes called The Maiden of
the Rising Sun.
It is said that where Brighid walks over the waters or touches
them with her finger the ice melts. And that the land turns green
where she spreads her mantle upon it, or when she breathes upon the
The Cailleach carries a Druid Wand of great power, a white rod or
slachdan made of birch, willow, bramble, or broom. With its magic
powers she can control the elements and the weather. Brighid
carries a white rod too but where the Cailleach's wand brings
storms and harshness Brighid's rod brings warm winds and new life.
Imbolc is the traditional day to re-consecrate farmyard tools.
Equal armed solar crosses (a design that long predates
Christianity) are plaited from rushes to bring luck to the home. In
the Western Isles of Scotland the women dress a doll, name her
Brighid, and place her in a reed basket. On Imbolc Eve, at sunset,
they circle the house three times sunwise carrying the basket and
then move from house to house carrying Brighid's crosses and lit
candles to greet the Bride doll in each home.
The festival of Imbolc marks the true origins of Groundhog Day.
Brighid's snake is said to emerge from its mound, its motions and
behavior determining the remaining days of frost. The serpent is an
ancient symbol of the powers of the earth and of the spirit that
motivates the forces of growth, decay and transformation. As a
serpent sheds its skin it illustrates the eternal powers of renewal
inherent in the land and portends the miracle of spring about to
The Garden, Imbolc 2001
Imbolc is an Irish Celtic Festival that coincides with the birth of
lambs. The goddess Brighid (Scottish Bride, Welsh Ffraid) was
celebrated at this time. She is a goddess of fire and poetry. She is
still invoked in the Gaelic world when the hearthfire is raised in
the morning and covered at night.
Although Imbolc signals the beginning of spring in Ireland, it has a
different meaning for others. I live in Ontario, and it is still the
depths of winter at the beginning of February, and it's still too wet
and cold to plant. So it has come to mean for me the time to plan the
spring planting and order seeds. I have a large garden and sprout
many of my own seeds. You don't need fancy equipment to do this,
although it could make it more convenient in certain cases. All you
need is a plastic tray, peat pots, seed-starting mix, the seeds (of
course!), plastic wrap, a warm place, and a sunny window. Place the
seed-starting mix in a large bowl and add some water, then wait for
the mix to absorb all the water. Then, place it in the peat pots with
a large spoon, arrange the pots in the tray, and plant your seeds as
directed on the seed packet. For warmth loving plants like tomatoes
and peppers, wrap the entire tray in plastic wrap and place it in a
warm spot, where the seed mix will achieve a temperature of 70 to 80
degrees F. As s0on as the seeds sprout, unwrap the tray and place the
pots in a sunny window (one the cat won't sit in LOL). If all the
seeds don't sprout at the same time, just transfer the sprouted ones
to a new tray in the sunny window, and keep the un-sprouted pots in
the old tray, wrapped up in the warm spot. Other vegetables, like
cabbage and broccoli, don't need so much heat to germinate. And
others, like radishes and peas, are best sown directly in the garden
while the weather is still cool.
I eat a lot more greens than I used to. And I have learned new, tasty
ways to cook greens so that absorbing all those excellent vitamins is
not so onerous (see recipes below). If you've never had a home-grown
potato, you're really missing out. So, you ask, what could be so
great about a humble potato, it's not like a tomato after all. But
even the freshest store-bought potato is mealy and tasteless next to
one dug out of your own garden. They're super-easy to grow, too. They
don't like a lot of nitrogen, so you don't have to worry about
enriching the soil or fertilizing. All you do is dig a little furrow,
put down the little potatoes, cover them, and keep mounding the soil
or mulch over the plants as they grow. Water evenly, not too much and
not too little.When the plants flower, you can harvest new
potatoes.When the stalks die back, the big potatoes are ready to
harvest. Remember not to plant potatoes where you've had tomatoes or
peppers, as they're all in the same family and can share diseases.
Onions are also excellent when home-grown and easy to start from sets
or plants. You can start both onions and potatoes while it is still
cool. In zones where there is a freeze, garlic should be planted in
the fall, at the same time you plant tulips and other spring bulbs.
This is traditionally a time of
purification - clean your house! If you
have any Christmas greenery lingering,
burn it now.
Make your own Brighid's crosses and
hang them up, especially in the kitchen
where her influence can bless your food.
Put out food - cake, buttered bread and
milk will do - outside your door:
Brighid and her cow walk through the
neighborhood that night, and will
appreciate your offering.
Leave a silk ribbon on your doorstep
for Brighid to bless: It can then be
used for healing purposes.
Meditate upon what you would like to
see grow in health and strength this
year: for yourself, your family, your
community, the Earth, and ask for
Bride's blessing upon your prayers.