I sang in a band called Alunah for 11 years and a lot of my lyrics were inspired by paganism and the power of nature. Imbolc is one of my favourite celebrations, usually celebrated on the 1st or 2nd of February.
'Feast of Torches' off our 4th album Solennial, was inspired by this very festival and the opening lyrics sum it up perfectly:
Beneath you feel the earth begin to fall.
The heartbeat of the stirring mother.
Our winters' debt, is paid.
To darkness, as she drove it down.
Along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, Imbolc is one of the four Celtic festivals. Traditionally it marks the beginning of Spring, of the lambing season and the hopefulness of new life. The original name for this festival was Imbolg which means "in the belly", we celebrate the earth being pregnant, the returning of the light and witness awakening and rebirth in nature. Others say it originates from the Old Irish imb-fholc, "to wash/cleanse oneself". It is a mysterious time, we do not suddenly see nature boom, but we start to see the new beginnings poking through the soil.
The Catholic Church in their attempt to christianise pagan festivals, proclaimed 2nd February as 'The Feast of Purification', when Mary went to the temple to be ritually cleansed after giving birth. Here she met the aged holy man, Simeon, who prophesied that the infant would become “a light for revelation". To celebrate this, candles are blessed in church along with a candlelit procession, and the day became known as Candlemas. Many refer to Imbolc as Candlemas and vice verse, although similar in some respects, they are very different in what they represent.
The pagan fertility Goddess Brigid or Brighid is honoured during Imbolc. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry fire, the sun, the hearth and brings fertility to the land. Brigid is a symbol of the light and power returning from dark winter into spring. Imbolc represents the Goddess changing from the Crone to the Maiden, and Brigid is in her Maiden aspect during this time.
One way in which people honour Brigid is by making a Brigid Cross, traditionally they are made from reeds, but various pliable alternatives can be used. People also make Bridey Dolls which are handmade dolls containing herbs, flowers, stones or crystals. They are placed in the centre of a home (usually a fireplace or hearth) and Brigid's energy and potential is welcomed for the year ahead. Brigid has many symbols and all can be used in celebration of the Goddess.
- White Snowdrops: In the Western Isles of Scotland, white snowdrops are known as 'Bride's Footprints' as they light the way towards spring and new life.
- Swans: These beautiful creatures mate for life and represent loality and faithfulness. In Ireland swans migrate at Imbolc, and their departure is a sign of spring approaching.
- Sheep: Imbolc marks the beginning of the lambing season, and many eat ewe's milk cheese to celebrate.
- Flame: Imbolic is one of the fire festivals, and Brigid is a sun Goddess. Fire is a very important symbol at this time of year.
- Blackberries: This fruit is sacred is Brigid and were used to for healing and to attract prosperity. The blackberry was also known as a Goddess plant, its leaves are used for everything related to female fertility.
- Ginger: This is used to revitalise and stimulate one's energy and fire.
- The Rowan Tree: Traditionally the Rowan tree is a protector and warder of evil, if you ever see a branch placed on someone's doorstep, this is why. It also has a connection to the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. Rowan berries also have a tiny five-pointed star on the bottom, very similar to the pentagram.
- The Willow Tree: Willow is also associated with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. It symbolises feminine energy, and provokes consciousness, confidence and imagination.
Healing Spells for Imbolc
Invoke Brigid with blackberry leaves. Dip nine leaves in a natural water source and lay them on a burn or a red inflamed area. Say to each leaf as you lay them on the wound- "Three ladies came from the East, One with fire and two with frost, Out with fire, in with frost!"
Devote a white candle (for unity) to Brigid, hold it in your hands and close your eyes. Take some time to think of your new healthy and vigorous self, full of vitality. Light it and say:
Here lies myself, My life and spirit shines brightly as this flame does! I devote this flame to you (name of the Spirit/God-dess), May you always be here for me and look after me and my soul!
Close your eyes and see yourself in healthy body and mind, see yourself going about your daily business but with more energy and power, try to remember how this feels for when you open your eyes again. When you are ready, open your eyes and let the candle go out.