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The Sabbats: Imbolc



By the time February rolls around, most of us in the northern hemisphere are over the cold and ready for the warmth of sunny spring days. Imbolc provides the opportunity to celebrate that brighter days are on the horizon and the winter weather is nearly over. Taking place on the eve of February 1st until sundown on February 2nd, halfway between Yule and Ostara, Imbolc is a Pagan holiday based on a Celtic tradition. The celebration honors the goddess Brigid (also Brighid or Brighit), the patron of fertility, poetry, crafts, prophecy, and fire.


This period within the cycle represents when the goddess is rejuvenated and recovered from birth, and god is a vibrant youth. A period of purification and dedication, this is the time when we often begin to hear the phrase "spring cleaning" thrown about - and it's an excellent time for it! Now is when you may want to focus on self-cleansing and preparing for the coming of spring. To restore balance to your life and rededicate yourself to your craft, projects, etc. To self-assess and change direction if necessary. It's also a great time to cleanse your home of any unproductive or unwanted routines, emotions, or notions.


Due to the nature of the celebration, the sabbat is often a more private, low-key affair rather than a full-blown festival as it was back in the day. But as always, it varies for the practitioner. Some may want to go all out with a bonfire from dusk till dusk, while others may be content with getting rid of all those clothes they've been meaning to donate all winter. For those that seek to honor Brigid, the goddess of fire, worshippers may light bonfires or perform fire rituals.


Occurring between the winter solstice and spring equinox, Imbolc's calendar date is February 1st to 2nd. The holiday is meant to be climate-specific, however. Therefore, some may choose to be fluid and celebrate at a time that better coincides with spring weather where they live. Others like the symbolism and stick to the traditional calendar date. Everyone's preference differs!


St. Brigid's Day


In Christianity, the goddess Brigid became Ireland's patron saint, St. Brigid. The church replaced Imbolc with St. Brigid's day, celebrated on February 1st. Traditionally, an effigy of St. Brigid is washed in the ocean then encircled with candles to dry while celebrators make Brigid crosses using stalks of wheat.


Candlemas


Candlemas, a Christian holiday celebrated on February 2nd, contains elements of Imbolc as well. This holiday dates back to 4th century Greece, a day of purification and celebrating the return of light and the sun. The lighting of candles is often used to observe the occasion. The event may be a potential adaptation of the Roman holiday, Februalia.


Groundhog Day


While not directly related, Groundhog Day is another observance of the season change. Groundhog Day began in the state of Pennsylvania in 1887. It started as a stunt by a Punxsutawney newspaper and never ceased. The idea is that a groundhog exiting its burrow will predict the next six weeks of weather based on whether it sees its shadow or not. Originating in Pennsylvania Dutch County, the adaptation is possibly derived from a German Candlemas tradition involving a badger.


Magic


In addition to fire rituals, Imbolc is a great time for celebrating the feminine aspects of the goddess. In particular, fertility, whether it be child-rearing or the creation of an idea. Incorporate foods symbolic of the hearth and home including, bread, grains, vegetables harvested and stored from fall, and dairy products.


Herbs


Whether you use herbs as offerings on your altar, incorporate them into spell work, or kitchen magic, these are herbs you can include (per Ann Moura's Green Witchcraft: Folk Magic, Fairy Lore & Herb Craft):


To burn: basil, bay, benzoin, and celandine.

To decorate: angelica, myrrh, yellow and white flowers.


Activities


It is common to make Brigid crosses as talismans during this sabbat. Other activities may include:


  • Cleansing your altar and ritual tools.

  • Cleansing your divination area.

  • Completing a self-purification rite.

  • Lighting candles.


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