Interestingly enough, this is actually one of my top three favorite sabbats. My first favorite is Samhain and second is Beltaine. I’ve said before that the solstices and equinoxes aren’t major holidays in my practice and opinion. They’re important, don’t get me wrong, but important for another reason. Those are the markers that I use to follow and ride along the Wheel of the Year. To me, they don’t have much focus for the gods, so I don’t really consider them to be major sabbats.
Imbolc is almost entirely devoted to the goddess Brighid. There are lots of pronunciations given, but I typically use the one I learned first which is Bree-yid. I’m not against or adverse to recognizing her as Bride, Brigid, Brigit, Brig, Brid, or any other familiar variation. She knows who She is.
Brighid is one of the deities I came to a bit later in my studies and practices, only really getting involved and focusing on learning about her particular mysteries when I first began studying with a particular tradition in 2007. I was familiar with her before then; she’s one of the most popular goddesses in Paganism, especially those with a Celtic or Irish bent. However, even when I began with that tradition and had put several months into it, I was still not very involved with her for a while. But, she stuck around in any case and I am very glad she continues to put up with me.
I find her to be very understanding, but not necessarily quiet and patient. She has a definite agenda she wants you to follow if you work with her and will spur you on to achieve results. She does not abide laziness. I really respect her a lot.
Traditionally, Brighid is one of the triple goddesses, not in the typical ‘maiden-mother-crone’ triad of Wiccan thought, but as three that are one-in-the-same, of the same age and appearance. One is the healer, one is the poet, one is the smith. She is closely associated with fire. Flames of the hearth for healing and health, fire in the head which is familiar to those studying bardcraft or similar ways, and the blaze of the smith’s forge.
Fire is an element of transformation. Whatever enters into fire changes to something else. Either it evaporates and becomes steam, it burns to ash, or it melts, changing its shape and texture. Raw food becomes cooked, items heated in a pot of water over a fire release their contents and qualities, turning a pile of roots and leaves into tea or something to be prepared as a poultice for healing. So Brighid is a lady of changes.
She is also very strongly associated with water, but not necessarily rivers and streams like some of the other goddesses in Celtic mythology. Brighid, I have found, is more closely related to wells and springs, waters that rise up from deep within the earth.
Brighid is a very interesting lady. When Christianity came to Ireland, it arrived later than some other regions of Europe (much like the Celts themselves did, but that’s another history lesson/blog entry). Ireland was also Christianized relatively peacefully, compared to what was going on elsewhere, with a large amount of blending and syncretizing between Pagan beliefs and practices and the Christian ones. Because of this, or perhaps as an example of this, Brighid was able to keep a very strong hold on the hearts and minds of the Irish people, who simply refused to give her up entirely even after conversion. So, she became a part of Christian hagiography and was renamed “Saint Brigid”. She still kept her symbols and most attributes, but now instead of being a goddess of healing, she became a saint that could be prayed to, especially for the relief of headaches and had particular ties to midwifery, as she was adopted as the midwife for Christ’s birth. Even now in Ireland, she’s on basically equal footing with St. Patrick.
Imbolc is a time of change, of newness, of awakening. While it might not feel like it yet, this day marks the midpoint between the sun’s rebirth at the Winter Solstice and the time of balance it will see at the Spring Equinox. It is a day that reminds us even in the darkest times of cold and winter, that the light is growing and that warmth will return.
Just this past week, the snow around my house has begun melting and in the morning, if the birds don’t wake me up with their singing, my cat does because he hears them. I know that in some areas, it’s still icy and frigid, and in those places, the recognition of warmth and brightness is even more necessary.
The Wheel of the Year is as follows (some specifics of the dates vary according to tradition, but these are the most commonly accepted):
Samhain – October 31 (winter begins)
Yule – December 21 (midwinter)
Imbolc – February 1 (spring begins)
Ostara – March 21 (mid spring)
Beltane – May 1 (summer begins)
Litha – June 21 (midsummer)
Lughnassadh – August 1 (autumn begins)
Mabon – September 21 (mid autumn)
The common calendar marks the beginning of spring as March 21st give or take a day or so, but is this entirely accurate? Not according to most Pagan traditions. For us, the first stirrings of spring begin on Imbolc – at the beginning of February. By the time of the Vernal Equinox, Earth has awakened. Think of this time between February 1st and March 21st as the time spent between waking up in the morning (Imbolc) and actually putting your feet to the floor to start the day (Ostara).
This shifts the entire perspective of things really and makes sense in terms of days known as ‘midsummer’ and ‘midwinter’. Summer in the Pagan tradition begins with May 1st and ends at the beginning of August. Thus, June 21st, while commonly referred to as the first day of summer is more accurately known by its older name of Midsummer’s Day.
Winter begins on Samhain – October 31st, so the winter solstice is appropriately known as Midwinter, not the beginning of the winter season.
Whether one is Pagan or not, this feels like the time of the year when we are beginning to stir from the sleepy inwardly-focused time of winter and awakening to the new life that is beginning to peek through. For many people, the urge to get outside and enjoy the open air or tackle the monumental task of spring cleaning is a very deeply rooted impulse. We are seasonal creatures and can use the highs and lows of the year to guide us, even when we are feeling as far removed from the natural world as one can get.
To feel in tune with these progressions we should take time to reflect on how this influences our daily lives and what we can do to make the most of this incredible newly awakened energy.
To do this and tune into this magnificent pull of the Earth’s natural rhythms, you should begin planning projects that you have for the year and lay out or begin the first steps of completing them. If you are someone who follows the tradition of setting goals or resolutions during New Year’s Eve, now is the time to really put focus and energy into achieving them. If you’ve been following your goals, make an extra effort to keep the energy going. If you’ve faltered, take this time to collect yourself and give it another push.
Open windows and get fresh air moving again, if you won’t freeze to death by doing so. Good scents to use, if you like aromatherapy or scented candles are lavender, lilac, primrose, lemon, fresh grass, or choose your own that makes you think of renewal or provides that scent of clean, fresh beginnings. Add a few drops of a scented oil to your mop water, get a spray bottle filled with clean water and a few drops of your favorite scent to make a spritzing air freshener, or put sprigs and vases of flowers up and around your home to help welcome spring and get the creative and energetic juices flowing again.
The general feeling of spring is to sweep out the old to make way for the new. Embrace this feeling and let it work for you.
Tomorrow I will celebrate Imbolc with my group of students. I won’t post specifics here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if they come to read my blog, but we will be focusing on Brighid’s light and warmth, her powers of healing, crafting, and inspiration, and making “Brighid Crosses”. For some it is their first celebration of this holiday and for others, they’ve been through an Imbolc with me before. My goal is to share the beauty and mystery of this special time with them. I hope you will all do the same.