Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the pre-Christian Celtic calendar, associated with fertility ritual, was subsequently adopted as St Brigid's Day in the Christian period, and in more recent times has been celebrated as a fire festival, one of eight holidays, festivals (4 Solar and 4 Fire/lunar) or sabbats of the Neopagan wheel of the year. Imbolc is arguably one of the predecessors of the Christian holiday of Candlemas.
Imbolc is conventionally celebrated on 1 February although the Celtic festival commenced on January 31. In more recent times the occasion has been generally celebrated by modern pagans on Feb. 1 or 2. Some neopagans relate this celebration to the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which actually falls on Feb. 4 or 5.
Evidence of how Imbolc was celebrated in Ireland derives from folklore collected during the 19th and early 20th century in rural Ireland and Scotland, compared with studies of similar customs in Scandinavia. Like other festivals of the Celtic calendar in Irish mythology, Imbolc was celebrated on the eve of 1 February, which marked the beginning of the day according to Celtic custom.
The festival was traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, soon to give birth to the spring lambs. This could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February.
The name, in the Irish language, means "in the belly" (i mbolg), referring to the pregnancy of ewes, and is also a Celtic term for spring. Another name is Oimelc, meaning "ewe's milk"; also Brigid, referring to the Celtic goddess of smithcraft, to whom the day is sacred.
That Imbolc was an important time to the ancient inhabitants of Ireland can be seen at the Mound of the Hostages in Tara, Ireland. Here, the inner chamber is perfecty aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain.
The holiday is a festival of light, reflecting the lengthening of the day and the hope of spring. It is traditional to light all the lamps of the house for a few minutes on Imbolc, and rituals often involve a great deal of candles.
St. Brigid's day
In the modern Irish Calendar, Imbolc is variously known as the Feast of St. Brigid (Secondary Patron of Ireland) and Lá Feabhra - the first day of Spring.
One view is that Christianity in an attempt to reconcile the popularity of this festival with its own traditions, took over the feast of Imbolc and effectively redesignated it as St Brigid's day.
One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan home on St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid's Bed. The young girls of the household or village create a corn dolly, adorning it with ribbons and baubles. The older women then make a bed for Bridig to lay in. On St. Brigid's Eve (Jan. 31), the young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the corn dolly, and are later visited by all the young men of the community who must treat them and the corn dolly with respect. Meanwhile, the older women of the community stay at home and perform other ceremonies.
Before going to bed, each household completely douses its hearth and rakes the ashes smooth. In the morning, they look for some kind of mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or morning.
On the following day, the Bride's Bed is brought from house to house, where she is welcomed with great honor. Since Brigid represents the Life Force that will bring people from the backside of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year. People often will tap her effigy with an ash wand as well, perhaps an old remnant of more potent fertility rites that were once practiced.
Today, most modern neopagans celebrate it on the 1st or 2nd, the 2nd being more popular in America, perhaps because of the holiday's later identification with Candlemas. In the southern hemisphere it is celebrated in August.
Some modern Pagans argue that the Christian feast of Candlemas, whose date depends upon Christmas, was a Christianization of the feast of Imbolc. On the other hand, there is no evidence that Imbolc was celebrated in pre-Christian times anywhere other than in Ireland whereas the celebration of Candlemas began in the eastern Mediterranean.
Imbolc is often defined as a cross-quarter day midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara), and the precise midpoint is half way through Aquarius (in the northern hemisphere) or Leo (in the southern hemisphere). By this definition Imbolc in the northern hemisphere coincides with Lughnasadh in the southern hemisphere.
Fire is important for this festival as Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid) is the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. The lighting of fires represents the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.
References to the festival of the growing light can even be traced to modern America in the Groundhog Day custom on February 2. If the groundhog sees his shadow on this morning and is frightened back into his burrow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter. The custom comes directly from Europe, and Scotland in particular, where an old couplet goes: If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year.
During the Winter, the Maiden is with the Dark Lord and the land is bare.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Adapted from Edain McCoy's The Sabbats
Cleanse and cast the circle. Then call the elements in the manner with which you are most comfortable. We used the corner callings from Spiral Dance, by Starhawk.
The high priestess takes the chalice from the alter and holds it up to the sky.
HPS: Blessed Lady Goddess, we humbly ask your presence at our circle tonight as we honor you at this season.
Coveners: Blessed be the Lady.
The high priest takes the athame from the altar and holds it up to the sky.
HP: Blessed Lord God, we humbly ask your presence at our circle tonight as we honor you at this season.
Coveners: Blessed be the Lord.
The Virgin Goddess leaves the circle. She comes to the edge of the circle with her candle wheel in her hands. She should stand at the West quarter (the doorway to the Land of the Dead). The high priestess will cut a doorway in the circle and allow the Goddess to enter. Everyone should greet her in their own way (verbal, motion, etc). The Goddess should walk three times clockwise around the inside of the circle, and come to a stop before the alter and kneel before it, facing North.
The coveners should walk in single file to the altar starting with the person to the altar's right. This will make the procession head clockwise. When everyone is back in their places holding their lighted candles, the ritual can continue.
HP: Behold the light. The God has returned for his bride.
Blessed be the light which warms. Blessed be the God.
Blessed be the Wheel which turns. Blessed be the Goddess.
The child God steps out from among the rest and stands before the bride, who is still kneeling. The God bows to the goddess and she to him. Then they do a few flowing dance steps around the circle without touching each other, but conveying the idea of awakening sexuality. When they are finished, they lift the besom from its resting place on the altar. The Goddess should hold the straw part and the God the stick. They should make sure they do not physically come in contact with each other while they do this. The high priestess stands in front of the besom and takes it from them by grasping it firmly with both hands. The Goddess and God step back to take their places with the rest of the coven.
HPS: With Imbolc we sweep away the last vestiges of winter.
The Coveners turn and face outward from the circle. The Priestess moves counterclockwise around the circle behind the covenors, sweeping from the center outward. As the High Priestess passes each covenor he or she should voice either aloud or silently all the things that he or she wishes to have swept from their lives. When this is finished, the Virgin Goddess and the child God step forward again and take the besom fromt he High Priestess in the same manner in which it was given. Then the High Priestess steps back and the Virgin Goddess and child God place the besom back onto the altar, and again take their positions among the covenors around the circle.
HPS: The God has claimed the Goddess bride and the Wheel of the Year turns on. Who is Goddess?
All women: I am Goddess.
HP: Who is God?
All men: I am God.
HP and HPS: Who is Goddess and God?
Coveners: All living beings are Goddess and God.
HP and HPS: And who are we?
Coveners: We are the children of deity. And we are deity. We are part of the creative life forces which move the universe. we are microcosm and macrocosm. We are part of all that is.
Partake of Cakes and Ale
HPS: Though we are apart, we are ever together - for we are one in the spirit of our goddess and God. Merry meet. Merry part.
Coveners: And merry meet again.
All: Blessed be!
Ground, release the circle.