Like many walking a Pagan path, I began this journey as a Wiccan. Although my practice today is no longer Wiccan, I do keep the eight sabbaths of the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year. Imbolc, also called Candlemas, is a Celtic fire festival originally. Imbolc honors the Irish Celtic goddess Brighid (or Bride). Brighid is a powerful goddess, at this time of year she is seen as the Bride doll made of wheat, dressed in white, and placed in cradles on altars and hearths as well as the powerful goddess of wisdom and smith craft. She brings inspiration (especially to bards and poets) and is the patron of brewing, weaving, and dying. Some of Bridghid’s symbols are wheat, Bride’s Cross, fire, and cattle. When Christianity took over Europe, Imbolc became Candlemas and was time when all the household candles would be gathered and taken to the church to be blessed. This connection with fire shows the Brighid connection. The goddess Brighid went on to become St. Brigid of Kildare (where Brighid’s sacred fire was kept). Both the goddess and saint are associated with fires, cattle, dairy, healing, childbirth and fertility, and poetry. Traditionally, women and children make small dolls of Bride and offer the dolls gifts and sing songs. The doll is given a place on the hearth during Candlemas or St. Bride’s Feast (or Imbolc if you’re Pagan). This is one traditional way to celebrate the holiday.
This time of year is cold and dreary in Britain and Ireland, and usually here in the American Midwest. However, this year the past few days have been record-breaking in their warmth and spring-ness. Anyway, this time of year also brings the promise of spring in the lengthening days, re-appearance of birds, and the time to prepare fields for spring crops. Sheep also give birth one of the first signs of a coming springtime. These events in the natural world can give us hope. For these reasons, I celebrate Imbolc more as a natural event or turning of the wheel than a deity based celebration. Later in the month, I will talk about Lupercalia and celebrations sacred to my deities Aphrodite and Dionysos.
Since I do not work with Brighid often, it seems strange for me to celebrate a festival that honors her. Also, I think making the doll and singing songs would be best done in the company of others and for most of my Pagan life, I have celebrated holidays on my own. So for me, Imbolc celebrates the coming of spring. Imbolc is a celebration of hope. I think of these last silent days of winter as the stillness given to us to prepare ourselves for new growth of spring. This is a time to lay the groundwork for new beginnings and better tomorrows. The new year is still young, New Years Resolutions are still new – this is the time to keep going; to root down into ourselves and find strength to sustain ourselves through the next six weeks of winter.
There are many late winter and early spring festivals I participate in not specifically “Pagan.” Valentines Day is one example, a time to celebrate love (or lust) and friendship. From the Catholic Church comes Mardi Gras (usually held in late February), one last debauchery before the cleansing season of Lent. I also incorporate Lent into my practice, giving up meat, dairy, and sugar to purify my body before the equinox (which is usually roughly around Easter so this makes it easy). For me personally, this preparation lays the groundwork for the growth that will come in this year. The fasting and cleaning aspects of this season are what I will continue to focus on this year.
I associate Brighid, and thus Imbolc, with women’s mysteries. I will be writing some posts throughout this early spring and late winter on women’s mysteries keeping with spirit this season. As a triple goddess, Brighid represents women in all phases of life: as the young woman, as the mother, and finally as the mature and wise woman who is comfortable in her power. As a feminist and a woman, I think discussing women’s bodies and the interaction between our bodies, minds, and spirit is important to help both ourselves and others.
III. Personal Traditions
In the past, I have celebrated Imbolc mostly alone, privately. Usually, I only do small personal rituals made up of meditations with as many candles as I can use in pink and white. I have only celebrated Imbolc as a group once. For me though, this holiday with the personal focus on the home, homemaking, and spiritual preparation, it is a private holiday. With Brighid’s associations with dairy products I usually make a feast of scrambled eggs, pancakes (with whipped cream if you like), and cottage cheese. I feel like one important aspect of holidays and celebrations is food. My most vivid memories from childhood celebrations involve food – especially food that was only made once a year for a celebration. Another tradition in my family growing up was breakfast for dinner, usually pancakes or french toast, on snow days and cold winter nights. This seems a fitting way to celebrate a holiday in the dead of winter.
When I was in a relationship with a happily Pagan man, we used to celebrate holidays with friends. Some were atheists and others were Pagans of one kind or another. One of our favorite traditions was the bonfire – and flaming cheese. The flaming cheese recipe found at AntiCraft in their Imbolc 2008 issue. I highly recommend a block of flaming cheese if you and yours are not in a holiday spirit. Like any other time of year, getting together with friends plus plenty of beer and wine is a wonderful way to celebrate the coming spring – and maybe one last debauchery before a season of cleansing.
As a part of the preparation for growth, this is a time for purging of the old and useless. Celebrate those things that are working in our lives and those that are useful or loved. Immediately following Imbolc, I start on spring cleaning: purging, organizing, and deep cleaning everything to keep my home healthy and happy, and prepare myself for the coming spring. Other personal traditions include spring cleaning and general homemaking. It’s this time of year that I plan the herb garden, and any other garden I have access to. I begin to assess the state of my houseplants and occasionally decide it’s time to make any new editions. I admit, I leave up some Yuletide greenery and decor – now it gets replaced with bright pinks, reds, and greens. Finally, comes cleaning out pantries, closets, and deep cleaning everything. This year it seems I have had a head start on that but I will take the time to clean out emotional baggage as well as discard what is no longer useful to me.
I wish everyone a Merry Imbolc and a season full of hope.