Imbolc: The Celtic Celebration of Spring
The beginning of February is, on the Celtic calendar, Imbolc, one of the four major fire festivals in the Celtic year. The others are Samhain, Beltane, and Lughnasa. Each one starts a season. To most people in the western hemisphere, February is the midst of winter, but to the Celts, it is the start of Spring. While Imbolc is still part of the dark half of the year to Celts, it marks the return of the sun, the coming of the light. So this celebration is all about hope and rebirth. In the cold dark of mid-winter, Imbolc promises that all is not lost, that life will bud again.
Imbolc is February 1st and the Celtic season it begins runs until May 1st, which is the fire festival of Beltane. The key themes of this time are:
--rebirth / renewal / new growth
--inspiration and insight
--cleansing / purification
--innocence / childhood
--possibilities and hidden potential
--light, warmth, the return of the sun
--home, hearth, and fertility
February 1st also is the feast of the Irish saint and the goddess Brigid. Click here to learn about them and the Imbolc activities connected to them. Many Celtic folk traditions in relation to Imbolc have to do with Brigid (saint or goddess) and several were discussed in lasr week's post. This post is about some other activities for the Celtic season begun by Imbolc and some reflections for the new season.
So what are some activities which are appropriate for this time in the Celtic year? There are traditions related to Brigid mentioned in the previous post, such as making a Brigid Cross or a doll, but there are other traditional activities and appropriate activities for Imbolc time. One traditional activity is to give the house a good Spring cleaning. This addresses the idea of cleansing, but it also has to do with new growth. Out with the old to make room for the new. Putting out Brigid’s mantle is another traditional activity for Imbolc. Both the goddess and the saint are associated with healing, so a folk custom is to take a white cloth and hang it outside overnight for Brigid to bless. Then, during the year, the cloth is used to cover a sick family member or, if it’s small, is used to wipe the relative’s brow for comfort and healing. Another healing activity is to visit holy wells and to bathe with or drink the water in order to get better. Afterwards, it is customary to leave an offering. This is done by tossing a coin or something silver into the well, or tying a ribbon to the nearby sacred tree (in Ireland, there is always a tree next to the well) or dressing the well with flowers and greenery. If you do not live in a Celtic country, you can visit a natural spring instead.
Making bannock bread is a third traditional activity for Imbolc. While people in the U.S. and Canada may associate bannock bread with native people, it actually originated in Scotland. It is a quick bread made in a skillet. Customarily, a loaf was given to girls and young women as a blessing and another loaf was put out at night for Brigid (or the local wildlife) to enjoy. See http://outlanderkitchen.com/posts/jocastas-auld-country-scottish-bannock-from-drums-of-autumn for a recipe.
Some other things appropriate for the season Imbolc are:
--Lighting candles to celebrate the return of the sun / light / warmth
--Engaging in creative activities. The Celtic goddess Brighid, whose feast coincides with Imbolc, was associated with serpents. In folklore, serpents are connected with intuition and imagination, so do activities which use and develop these.
--Imbolc is the beginning of Spring (by the Celtic calendar) so go for a walk in the woods or a park—but do so meditatively, rejoicing in / appreciating the trees, budding flowers, and wildlife. Give back to nature, e.g., recycle, donate to a wildlife preserve, volunteer in an animal shelter, or plant a tree.
--If you chose to plant a tree, consider planting a willow or a rowan. The willow is associated with intuition and imagination. In addition, it is renowned for its ability to bend without breaking. Imbolc is a time of new growth and in order to grow, a person needs to be flexible. The rowan tree is appropriate as well because it rules the time in which Imbolc occurs and it is associated, in folklore, with serpents. Click here to read more about the rowan and the characteristics of those who are born under the sign of the rowan tree.
--Think about what you would like to reap this year and plant seeds (literally or metaphorically) to bring about your needs and desires.
--Blackberries are sacred to Brighid, so make a pie or a crumble! In folklore, blackberries provide protection from evil forces.
--Use ginger in your cooking or drink ginger ale or ginger tea. Ginger is considered a red herb, one that stirs the fire within you (Imbolc is a fire festival and Brighid is a fire goddess).
--Both St. Brigid and the goddess Brighid are connected with milk and dairy products, so eat some creamy foods, e.g. cream of chicken soup or a creamy pasta (or maybe indulge in some ice cream!).
--Since Imbolc is partly about cleansing, take a relaxing, meditative bath. Add some spring water to celebrate nature and / or add some fresh herbs, such as lavender. Maybe burn a birch wood scented candle during the bath (birch wood is white so it can symbolize purity and / or milk).
Whatever you decide to do, remember Imbolc is about rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings. So start anew with whatever you feel needs fixed or added to your life. Finally, make time to play. Live and enjoy life with the enthusiasm of a child.
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