Imbolc / Candlemas February 1-2
Imbolc, in the Celtic seasonal calendar marked the beginning of the lambing season and signaled the beginning of Spring and the stirrings of new life. It is Feile Brighde, the 'quickening of the year'. The original word Imbolg means 'in the belly', and therein you have the underlying energy. All is pregnant and expectant - and only just visible if at all, like the gentle curve of a 'just-showing' pregnancy. It is the promise of renewal, of hidden potential, of earth awakening and life-force stirring. Here is hope. We welcome the growth of the returning light and witness Life's insatiable appetite for rebirth.
It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle. ('Spring cleaning was originally a nature ritual' - Doreen Valiente). it's a good time for wish-making or making a dedication.
Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit), so loved as a pagan Goddess that her worship was woven into the Christian church as St Bridget. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is a Goddess of Fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. She is the Triple Goddess, but at Imbolc she is in her Maiden aspect.
Some of the symbols attributed to Brigid are:
The Snowdrop. The first gift of Spring in the bleakness of Winter.
The Swan. The swan mates for life and represents loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness. Swan feathers are a powerful amulet.
The Flame. Imbolc is a Fire Festival and fire of all kinds is associated with Brigid - the fire of creativity, the protective hearth fire, and her fire wheel - the Brigid Cross, which heralds her as a Sun Goddess.
Brigid's Cross. This is a traditional fire wheel symbol - found at the hearths of homes throughout Ireland and beyond as a symbol of protection. A customer in the shop recounted finding a hearth in Ireland, in recent years, adorned with over 200 Brigid Crosses - 200 years in the life of a hearth and a family, overlit and protected by Brigid.
Brigid Doll. A very old tradition involved the making of a Brigid doll which can be included in ceremony and/or placed in 'Bride's Bed' to bring fertility and good fortune to the home.
The Serpent. In Celtic mythology Brigid was associated with an awakening hibernating serpent which emerged from its lair at Imbolc. Traditionally serpents were associated with creativity and inspiration - the powerful Kundalini energy of the Eastern Mysteries. Paths of earth energy were called serpent paths and at Imbolc they are stirred from their slumber.
Sheep. Brigid's festival is at the beginning of lambing - eat ewe's milk cheese!
Imbolc Colours: White and silver for purity, green for the fresh burst of life.
Herbs of Imbolc
Blackberry: Sacred to Brigid, the leaves and berries are used to attract prosperity and healing. A Goddess plant, belonging to the planetary sphere of Venus.
Coltsfoot: Coltsfoot or 'sponnc' (Gaelic) is a herb associated with Brigid. A herb of Venus, moves emotional and physical stagnation and is used magically to engender love and to bring peace.
Ginger: revitalises and stimulates the 'fire within' - helps alignment with the rise of Kundalini serpent energy at this time of year!
Trees of Imbolc
Rowan: Luis, or the Rowan, is the tree usually assigned to this time of year in the Celtic (Ogham) Tree Alphabet. It has long associations with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. It is also known as the 'Quickening Tree' and is associated with serpents. Traditionally it protects and wards of evil. A sprig of Rowan can be put near the door of your home (we have a whole tree), or a sprig worn for protection. Rowan berries have a tiny five-pointed star on the bottom reminiscent of the pentagram.
Willow: The fourth tree in the Celtic Tree alphabet - S Saille, is also long associated with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. Willow is the great 'shape shifter' of consciousness and emotion and symbolises feminine energy and the lunar cycle. Its branches are flexible - expressing movement and change rather than resistance. It is a tree of enchantment and dreaming, enhancing the confidence to follow one's intuition, and inspires leaps of imagination.
Ideas for Your Altar
Decorate your altar with snowdrops, swan feathers, a Brighid Cross, a Bridey Doll, white and green candles.
Things to Do
Make a Brigid Cross
Brigid Crosses are traditionally made from reeds but can be made from several alternatives so long as they are pliable. Here in Glastonbury we have often used willow which grows plentifully on the Somerset Levels and also because of its symbolism. It needs a long soaking and is perhaps not the easiest to work with but makes a wonderful cross. Go for a walk, see what you can find in the hedgerows and on the river banks, use straws or even cut long strips of paper.
Begin by bending your reeds and hooking them into each other as in the first figure and follow the diagram. When it is the size you want it to be you will need to tie the four ends, the four quarters - with string, thread, ribbon etc. Decorate the completed cross with ribbons and swan feathers if you have them - whatever is meaningful for you.
Make A Bridey Doll
Here is a basic shape to work with. It can be as simple or as complex as you wish. The possibilities are endless - you don't even need a sewing machine as it's quickly made by hand and a joy to do in a circle of women and daughters. Even very small children can be involved with this. Either use plain fabric or choose a piece to recycle from a piece of clothing that has particular meaning for you. Fill her with wool, or herbs and dried flowers, a special stone or crystal, even a prayer or wish for the future on a tiny piece of paper. If you choose you can make her a dress, decorate her with ribbons and beads. Include her in your Imbolc celebrations. Her home is wherever the hearth/heart of your home is.
Or do it in a different way, like this.....
From S Saille, an Imbolc Poppet
Each year I make a doll of Spring, a Brigid doll.
I take a walk out on the Levels,
usually somewhere I have not been in a while or
a path I have not walked at all.
I create the poppet as I go using what I find as I walk,
some years these have been mainly based around
reeds, other times twigs and grasses.
Each is unique and incorporates the energy of that
Winter passing and that Spring arriving.
One walk to make it, the next day I keep it with me to
charge it, then I formally welcome it into my home,
welcoming the potential of the year to come
and the energy of Brigid, Goddess of hearth and home, into my home. Then she is put to bed, under tree or under hill or in a stone circle. My annual ritual.
Seeds are sublime and magical - pure potential! Plant each one as representing your hopes, ideas and dreams.
Bake A Cake
Or make a seed cake to share, full of potential. Tie it with silver, or white, or green, or any combination of ribbon.
Simple Seed Cake
A pinch of salt
I teaspoon baking powder
caraway seeds 25gms/1oz
Two eggs, beaten
Four tablespoons of water
Set the oven to 400F/200C and grease and line a 6 inch cake tin.
Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into your cauldron or a large bowl and then rub in the butter.
As you do this think of family and friends, think of the small personal things that you would have them benefit from as Spring flows into their lives.
Visualise light flowing into the mixture, fire of truth and illumination, if you wish, use a rhyme.
Stir in the seeds and sugar and then the eggs, mix with just enough water to give a mix that softly drops off your spoon.
Stir in patience for the coming Spring, this is still a time of waiting.
pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for one hour, then reduce the temperature to 375F/175C and cook for a further half to one hour until the cake is golden brown and well risen. leave this one to cool in its tin,
May you enjoy.
A simple stirring rhyme might go like this:
Continuous motion, May all things flow, Circles of magic, Let the power grow, Elements mixing, Accept my plea, As I wish, So mote it be.
From The Kitchen Cauldron by M S Saille.
As part of your celebrations, light candles (the Flame of Brigid) and make wishes for your family and friends - the simplest form of candle magic. Don't leave burning candles unattended, EVER, and allow them to burn down completely.
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