February 1st marks the beginning of Imbolc (Imbolg or Oimelc as it is known to the Celts, Candlemas to the Christians). This is the first of four fire festivals celebrated by my Celtic ancestors. But unlike the other fire ceremonies, Imbolc’s emphasis is on light, rather than heat. Although the days began to get longer following the Winter Solstice, now the light and longer days begin to become more noticable. This is the time of the first stirrings of Spring in the womb of Mother Earth. We begin to see the first of the crocuses and daffodils peeking through the snow, the spring lambs are being born, we can trade the heavy winter parkas for lighter coats, spring rains bring green grass and Old Man Winter begins his slow retreat.
Imbolc, specifically among the Celts, is associated closely with the Celtic goddess Brigid, who in later times became revered as a Christian saint, St. Brighid. Brighid was considered, Goddess or Saint of the fire, forge and hearth, she is also protector of poetry, healing, childbirth, and inspiration.
Personally I love the stories that surround the Gods and Goddesses and the cycles of Nature. In a Scottish story Brighid is taken captive by Beira, the Queen of Winter. Before the fire of the sun can warm the earth again Brighid has to be freed. So a spell is cast borrowing three days from the heat of August. As Brighid walks free light fills the earth and the land turns green again. There are many versions to this story, as with all oral traditions, many of which you can find online.
Another great group of stories about Brighid/St. Brighid are about Brighid’s mantle. St. Brighid is said to have asked the King of Leinster for land to build an abbey at Kildare. It was agreed that she could have as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Needless to say the cloak expanded to cover all the land she needed for her foundation. In the Hebrides there are stories told of St. Brighid wrapping the new born Christ child in her cloak as she acted as Mary’s midwife in Bethlehem.
There is a belief that Brighid lends her healing powers to any piece of cloth that is left out at Imbolc. This piece of cloth is known as Brighid’s Mantle and it is said that Brighid blesses the cloth as she passes by the house. With each passing year and Imbolc blessing the mantle gains healing power. Brighid’s Mantle was at one time part of the Irish midwife’s equipment and would be placed over expectant mothers and birthing animals to ensure a safe birth. It would also be wrapped around any part of the body that ailed to aid healing.
The weather on Imbolc/Candlemas was often seen as an omen (where Ground Hog’s Day comes from?). As the old saying has it:
If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again.
SOME WAYS TO CELEBRATE IMBOLC:
- This is traditionally a time of purification — clean your house as well as cleaning out any mental/emotional baggage you don’t need to carry.
- If you have a fireplace, clean out your hearth and then light a new fire.
- If you have any Christmas greenery lingering, burn it now.
- Put out food — cake, buttered bread and milk will do — outside your door – Brighid and her white cow walk through the neighborhood on Imbolc Eve, blessing the people and their livestock, and will appreciate your offering. So will her Faerie friends.
- Place lights or candles (electric please) in your windows to welcome Brighid as she makes her rounds.
- Leave a cloth on your doorstep for Brighid to bless- It can then be used for healing purposes. Each year I put a piece of white cotton cloth out to be blessed by Brighid on her rounds. I share a piece of the cloth with friends and family in need of her healing energy. I also have a green shawl that I leave out to be blessed each Imbolc that I wear during my journey work. With it, I always feel wrapped in the Goddess’s protection.
- This is also a time to plant seeds – both physical ones of herbs and flowers – and psychic ones of hopes and dreams. Meditate on what you would like to see grow in health and strength this year- for yourself, your family, your community, the Earth, and ask for Brighid’s blessing for thier growth.
- Weave “Brighid’s crosses” from straw or wheat (even pipe cleaners work) to hang around the house for protection, especially in the kitchen (the modern day “hearth” that Brighid rules). Check out the internet for the directions and/or video that is easiest for you to follow. There are lots.
A Welcome Prayer To Brighid
Goddess/Saint of Healing, Poetry and Smithcraft
We welcome you today
We ask you keep us safe and keep us warm,
And extend your blessing over our home.
Blessed Imbolc to all.
Until next time –
Mitakuye Oyasin (A Lakota prayer reminding us we are all related),