The Sabbats

Imbolc: Traditional Celebrations for a Modern Time

Imbolc: Traditional Celebrations for a Modern Time

Author: Morgan

This holiday is called many names including Imbolc, Oímealg, Lá Fhéile Bríde, Laa’l Breeshey, and Gwyl Mair Dechrau’r Gwanwyn and was originally celebrated when the ewes first began to lactate. Some older sources mention Imbolc being celebrated on February 13th, although now the date is fixed on February 2nd. This holiday is a celebration of the loosening of winters hold on the land and the first signs of spring’s immanent arrival. Three main types of ceremonies could be undertaken – purification with water, blessing with fire, and consecration of talismans or charms. In addition, the main ritual theme centered on inviting the goddess Brighid into the home, either in effigy or in the form of a person acting the part.

The fire represents the growing light of the sun. Candles are lit to celebrate the increased daylight, and often candles were blessed for use in the year to come; this connection to candles offers another alternate name for the holiday, Candlemas. In my personal practice I light special “sun” candles, and bless my candleholders for the year to come.

Ritual washing was done to cleanse and prepare the people for the agricultural work of the coming seasons. Water was blessed and then used to ceremonially wash the head, hands, and feet. Each year when I do this, I dip my fingers in the blessed water and run them over the body parts in question, asking that I be cleansed of winter’s cold and filled with summer’s warmth to work towards a new season. Then I pour the remaining water out onto the earth thanking Brighid for her blessing.

The main charms and talismans of Imbolc are related to Brighid. First there is the Brighid’s cross, a woven sun wheel shape which represented the cycle of the year and the four main holy days, according to the book Apple Branch. On Imbolc, you can weave new Brighid’s crosses, or bless ones you already have, although it may be better to burn the old and weave new each year when possible. A Brighid’s cross is protective and healing to have in the home.

A second talisman is the brídeóg, or “little Brighid” a small cloth or straw doll wearing white clothes which is an effigy of the goddess. In some cases, the brídeóg would be made from straw saved from the previous Lughnasadh. This doll played a role in ritual after being brought outside, usually carried by the eldest daughter, then invited to enter the home where it was led with all ceremony to a specially prepared little bed. The doll was left in the bed over night and its presence was believed to bless all those in the household.

Another talisman connected to Imbolc is Brigid’s mantle, or an brat Bríd, a length of cloth left out on the window sill over the course of the holy day and night. It is believed that this cloth absorbs the energy of the goddess during the ritual, and can be used for healing and protection throughout the year. This talisman would be kept and recharged every year, attaining full power after seven years.

The ritual for Brighid on Imbolc centers on inviting the goddess in and offering her hospitality. In some cases a woman was chosen to play the part of the goddess, in other cases the brídeóg was used. The door would be opened to her and she would loudly be invited in, shown to her “bed” and offered specially baked bread. Candles would be lit at the windows and next to her “bed”, songs would be sung and prayers said calling on Brighid to bless all present in the coming seasons, and grant health and protection to the household.

A small broom or white wand would be placed next to the “bed”, and the ashes from the fire would be smoothed down in the hopes that the morning would reveal the marks of the wand, or better yet, the footprints of the goddess herself, either of which would be a sign of blessing. Placing the doll in her bed at night would be followed by a large family meal.

In Scotland a hundred years ago when entire communities still celebrated Imbolc in the old way, a sheaf of corn would be dressed as Brighid and taken from house to house by the young girls. The girls would carry the doll from home to home where the “goddess” would be greeted and offered food and gifts. After visiting each home, the girls would return to the house they started from where a party would be held with music, dancing, and feasting until dawn; all the leftover food would be handed out to the poor the next day.

Other rituals involve blessing the forge fires for blacksmiths and Otherworld divinations. In some Scottish mythologies, it is believed that Brighid is held by the Cailleach Bhur during the winter months but escapes, or is rescued by her brother Aonghus mac óg, on Imbolc. In others, it is said the Cailleach drinks from a hidden spring and transforms into Brighid on this day.

For modern people seeking to celebrate Imbolc in a traditional way, there are many options. Rituals can be adapted to feature the brídeóg. If you celebrate in a group, you could have one person wait outside with the doll while the other members prepare her bed, and then the group leader could go to the doorway and invite the goddess in. This could even be modified for use in an urban setting with the brídeóg “waiting” out in a hallway or separate room to be invited in.

Once invited in the goddess can be offered food and gifts as was done in Scotland and stories about Brighid from mythology could be told. Water can be used for purification; blessing with fire or of candles can be done, as well as making and consecrating the charms associated with Brighid. After ritual, the doll could be left in the bed while the group celebrates with a party; to keep the spirit of the way this was done for a modern time all members should bring food to donate to a local food pantry. A solitary celebration could still include inviting the goddess in, placing the brídeóg in her bed, making offerings to her, and a private celebration and food donations.

Imbolc is a powerful holy day with many beautiful traditions. By understanding how this day was celebrated in the past, we can find ways to incorporate those methods into modern practice and preserve the traditions that have surrounded Brighid’s day for so many generations.

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Footnotes:
Carmichael, A. (1900) . Carmina Gadelica. Floris books. ISBN-10 0-86315-520-0
Evert Hopman, E. (1995) . A Druid’s Herbal of the Sacred Earth Year. Destiny Books ISBN 0-89281-501-9
Kondrariev. K. (1998) . The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press ISBN 0-8065-2502-9
McNeill, F. (1959) . The Silver Bough, volume 2. McLellan and Co.

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Back to Basics: Imbolc

Back to Basics: Imbolc

Author: Robin Fennelly

Imbolc is here! The Witch’s Wheel has turned another notch and we welcome the opportunity to turn the heat up, step into the warmth of home and hearth and connect more deeply to those growing fires that are preparing the way for the seeding of Spring’s growth at the next turn.

This year I have decided to go back to the basics in my series of writings for the Sabbats of the Great Wheel. Sometimes the most powerful revelations can be found in the joy of seeing the celebratory act in its unembellished form. I will also be including a simple ritual for each that may be celebrated as a Solitary or added to as a group celebration.

Imbolc is a Fire festival and aligned agriculturally with the first stirrings of the hope of growing light, slowly warming weather and fields that would at mid-summer’s point be lush with flower, fruit and animal life. Imbolc celebrates the new life that has yet to push through the frost-covered ground, yet remains as a strong image of the quickening potential. We revel in the excitement of spying a single shoot of greenery and the first signs of Spring even though snow may still cover the ground. The vitality we feel as the cold winds blow are sure signs that we are alive and vibrant. And this life and vibrancy holds the promise of returning to the warmth of home and interaction with friends and family.

At the time of Imbolc we celebrate the calving season as new life emerges from mother’s womb. Milk flows freely for those young animals that will provide sustenance in the coming months ahead and we anticipate the healing that this new life will bring to the land as hungry mouths graze on lush green fields that will emerge in the months ahead. We celebrate with cheese, and milk and products that contain this protein rich elixir.

We celebrate the gaining strength of the Goddess having given birth at the Solstice to the child of Light and now bathed in the fires of revitalization seen as she begins the transition into the Maiden of Ostara. This is the affirmation of the continued cycle of life and the transformative nature of Deity as source of inspiration for their much love children of the earth in all of our forms.

The Goddess Brighid is often honored at this Sabbat. Brighid, the Goddess of the Triple Flame is invoked as a patroness of Creativity, Mistress of the Purifying Forge and the Healing Mother. She is the simple of the accumulated Hope and Promise that the next few weeks will bring. These are but a few of the gifts attributed to Brighid and at this time of the year, her energies are most aptly felt as the Fires required as both light and heat that mirror the strengthening of the sun’s light that will quicken the seeding of the earth and the sustaining of the life that inhabits it.

And, so at this time of Imbolc I offer a ritual that calls upon the energy of the Goddess, Brighid and the space for communion with her eternal flames. The following is a very simple ritual that empowers candles to be used throughout the year as needed. The gifts of Brighid are called into a large pillar and can be used as a tool of contemplative connection with the Goddess in all of her aspects. The three additional pillars are attuned to her gifts of Creativity, Healing and Purification. These can be lit and used in future ritual and meditation when you wish to bolster or catalyze endeavors making use of these supports.

Note: I could have given you more information about Brighid, but that is part of the basic approach and the beauty of entering into communion with Deity open to the possibilities of what will be revealed.

The Flames of the Goddess

You will need:
1 Tall White Pillar candle and holder
3 Smaller White Pillars and holders for each
White cloth to place on whatever surface you have chosen and your altar space

The color White is the symbol of purity, clarity and the brilliance of all colors lit from within.

Arrange the candles on a flat surface (altar space) on top of the white cloth. Place the tall pillar candle behind a row of the 3/smaller pillars placed in front. Leave a small 3” of space between each of the three

Create Sacred Space in accord with your spiritual path and when your space is readied, come to stand before your altar set with the candles. Pick up the Large Pillar and hold it at your heart center.

Breathe deeply and acknowledge the heat that flows in through nostril and mouth and fills your lungs. Take another deep breath, expanding on this feeling of fullness, light and warmth. Take a third deep breath, and as you exhale offer the intention of this inner heat, the stoked fires within and release its energy into the white candle of the Goddess. This is your breath of inspiration that will invoke the Goddess Brighid. Continue to hold the candle and open to the sensation of this energy filling and connecting to it. Envision this candle as the conduit between Brighid’s Fires and the space of the Goddess and her flames within.

Approach your altar, replace the candle on its holder and invoke the Goddess Brighid:

I invoke Brighid, Goddess of the Triple Flame
She whose flame burns brightest in the work of creation.

I invoke Brighid, mistress of the Forge and transformer
Who purifies and prepares what seeks remaking.

I invoke Brighid, healer and holder of the inner light
That burns away discomfort and dis-ease.

I invoke Brighid, the Fiery Arrow, warrior and patroness
Who brings Will to action and whose sword of Truth
Pierces the veil of illusion.

I invoke Brighid to be with me in this rite of Imbolc
As I seek the flames of creativity, truth and healing.

Take a deep breath, and when you sense the energy of the Goddess is present, make statement: Hail and Welcome!

Turn your focus towards the Large White Pillar. And, as you light it make declaration:

May this candle serve as the life giving flame of Brighid.
May this candle serve as the embodiment of the Goddess in this rite.
May the flame rise in honor of the Fiery One as it lights the way
For the work of this Sabbat of Imbolc.

Spend some time envisioning the gifts of the Goddess flowing in and through this candle. Gaze into the heart of the flame and envision the fires of creative action moving in its light. Gaze into the heart of the flame and envision the fires that heal and cauterize even the deepest of wounds. Gaze into the heart of the flame and envision the fires of purification that reveal the greater truths.

When you feel the fullness of these energies present within this candle, turn your focus to the smaller white pillars.

The Light of Creativity

Firmly holding the first pillar in your hand, bring it up to the space of your heart. As you hold this pillar, pour the intention of opening to your Creative Fires. Envision this in whatever way is strongest for you. It may be seeing the completion of a project you have been contemplating. It may present as the burgeoning of a new idea. Make sure the image is strong and clear in its intent.

Take a deep breath of inhalation and as you exhale push the energy of this intention through the heart center, through your hands and into the body of the white pillar. Take two more deep breaths of inhalation, each exhalation pouring more and more of this energy into the pillar. Lift the pillar to your Brighid Candle and light it from the Flame of the Goddess.

As you hold the newly lit candle of Brighid’s Creativity, acknowledge the power and energy flowing through it. Gaze into the heat of its flame envisioning all that this flame of Creativity holds as potential. Open to the exchange of its energy moving into your physical form, enlivening and quickening the whole of your being and when you are ready place this Pillar of Creativity back on its holder.

The Light of Healing

Firmly holding the second pillar in your hand, bring it up to the space of your heart. As you hold this pillar, pour the intention of opening to your Healing Fires. Envision this in whatever way is strongest for you. It may be seeing yourself completing your physical tasks with energy and strength. It may be seeing yourself as whole, healthy and filled with vitality. Make sure the image is strong and clear in its intent.

Take a deep breath of inhalation and as you exhale push the energy of this intention through the heart center, through your hands and into the body of the white pillar. Take two more deep breaths of inhalation, each exhalation pouring more and more of this energy into the pillar. Lift the pillar to your Brighid Candle and light it from the Flame of the Goddess.

As you hold the newly lit candle of Brighid’s Healing, acknowledge the power and energy flowing through it. Gaze into the heat of its flame envisioning all that this flame of Healing holds as potential. Open to the exchange of its energy moving into your physical form, enlivening and quickening the whole of your being and when you are ready place this Pillar of Healing back on its holder.

The Light of Purification

Gently holding the third pillar in your hand, bring it up to the space of your heart. As you hold this pillar, pour the intention of opening to your Fires of Purification. Envision this in whatever way is strongest for you. It may be seeing the release of what holds you inert and does not serve. It may be seeing yourself through the eyes of your Higher Self and the purification of untrue beliefs you hold about yourself. Make sure the image is strong and clear in its intent.

Take a deep breath of inhalation and as you exhale push the energy of this intention through the heart center, through your hands and into the body of the white pillar. Take two more deep breaths of inhalation, each exhalation pouring more and more of this energy into the pillar. Lift the pillar to your Brighid Candle and light it from the Flame of the Goddess.

As you hold the newly lit candle of Brighid’s Purification, acknowledge the power and energy flowing through it. Gaze into the heat of its flame envisioning all that this flame of Purification holds as potential. Open to the exchange of its energy moving into your physical form, enlivening and quickening the whole of your being and when you are ready place this Pillar of Purification back on its holder.

Let your gaze move from one candle to the next and the beauty of the Triple flames of the Goddess, each strong and centered as energies that may be accessed individually or as a whole. Spend as much time as you wish, sensing the energy flowing between each and the resonance of these flames within your own being.

When you are ready, offer this intention to those seen and unseen:

Before me is the Flame of Brighid
Whole and complete in its energy

Before me are the Triple Flames
All part of me as child of the Divine

Creativity burns brightly in
All of my endeavors as the
Goddess weaves her magick
Of quickening new life

Healing flows with heat and
Strength as I stand full and
Whole in the reflection of
The Goddess’ healing light

Purification sets ablaze that
Which no longer serves and
What remains is the fertile
Space of my Divine Self

Before me is the Flame of Brighid
One shall become three and
Three seek the return to one
Whole and complete in its
Power to Transform

So Mote It Be!

Let the candles continue to burn as you thank the Goddess for her presence and her gifts. Allow the words of gratitude to flow as they will in sincerity and truth. When you have ended this thanks, make declaration of: Hail and Farewell!

Allow the candles to remain burning as you release Sacred Space in accord with your spiritual path. And, as the last action, gently pinch the flames; beginning with the three pillars to extinguish. Extinguish the Brighid candle, last.

The reason for not extinguishing the candles before Sacred Space has been released is the intent that you are bringing the magick and energy of these candles into the manifest and mundane world with you. Any of these candles may be burnt whenever you feel the need for Creativity, Healing, Purification or connection to the Goddess in all of her forms.

May the blessings of the Goddess be ever with you

Please enjoy the accompanying poem in the WitchVox poetry section:
Flames of Imbolc

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Brigid’s Blessing

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Bridget Bright


Imbolc/Candlemas Comments

She is known as Brigid Bright,
Goddess who shines against the night.

At Cille Dara, at the setting sun,
Her sacred flame is kept by one.

Nineteen times the earth turns round,
As sacred springs come forth the ground.

Twenty times the sun has burned,
And now the Goddess has returned.

Alone she tends her thrice-bright flame,
Born of her heart that bears her name.

The Dagda knows Brigid as Daughter,
Triple Blessed by fire and water.

Poets call her name to inspire.
And healers oft gain from her fire.

Wayland too would know her well
As hammer and anvil ring like a bell.

A sorrowful cry did she give meaning,
When first she brought to Eire keening.

Oh Sacred Fire against darkest night,
Burn for Brigid, for Brigid Bright!

Fire in the head…to quicken us.
Fire in the cauldron…to heal us.
Fire in the forge of the heart…to temper us.

Author: Hedgewytch

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Candlemas – The Feast of Light


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THE FEAST OF LIGHT

 

If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas day clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.
– E. Holden

The time has come to call and welcome the forces of light!

Candlemas or Imbolc is the mid point of the dark half of the year. We welcome the rebirth and awakening of the Earth, the earliest beginnings of Spring.

Through Pagan lore, we learn that the Sun God, who is now a young boy, is beginning to feel his growing powers through the renewing energies of the Sun, represented in the lengthening in the daylight hours. The Goddess is awakening from her slumber and rest after giving birth to the God/Child at Yule. She is represented in the Maiden aspect of the triple Goddess. The awakening of the Goddess/Earth, causes germination of seeds and development of buds on the trees, as the powers of the Sun begin to warm and
renew the earth. A celebration of fertility.

Traditionally, Imbolc is a time to prepare for the goals one wishes to accomplish in the coming months, and to clarify and redefine our personal projects which were begun at Yule. the fires of Imbolc represent our personal illumination and inspiration, a celebration of ideas yet to be born. Imbolc has also become a time for new initiations into covens, self-dedication, and renewal of our bows. It is also a time for purification of oneself.

The colors for Imbolc are lavender, white and pink. Herbs include Heliotrope, Carnation, Poppy, Basil and Violet. Stones used for this celebration may include Amethyst for peace of mind or jet for heightened intuition and inner sight.

Offerings of cakes and wine may be presented to the Lord and Lady, to seek their assistance in helping to ignite your creative fires and energy.

May the fires of Imbolc burn brightly within all of you throughout the coming year!

—Author: Titania Morgay

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Brigid, Celtic Goddess of Imbolc

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Brigid, Celtic Goddess of Imbolc

 

Brigit is the central Irish Goddess. She is known as Brigantia in England and Bride in Scotland. She rules metal work and smithy, fire, poetry, midwifery and martial arts–but is primarily known as a major Mother Goddess. Brigit is a face of the Triple Goddess, and able to see all–often represented by an ever watchful eye. The three heart-shaped leaves of the shamrock recall the magical Celtic number of three, as well as the number of Brigit’s faces. From nine to Nineteen priestesses once tended an undying fire in her name at Kildare. Brigid is so central to Ireland that the newly converted people would not give her up, so her name metamorphosed into St. Bridgid, who in Irish Christian myth acts as tender and supportive friend of Mary and as the midwife at Christ’s birth. Barbara G. Walker writes that to the Irish people, however, she continued to be a Queen of Heaven and the mother of all the deities of the new religion. As the Saint, she also matched wits with St. Patrick, who is as mythical as she. At times they seem to be consorts, at others, adversaries. It cannot have helped their relationship that Patrick is known for ridding Ireland of snakes, and since Bridgid the saint descended from a pagan goddess and priestess persona, whose sacred healing totem is the snake. So when St. Patrick says he is ridding the isle of snakes, what he means is he is ridding it of pagans. Nevertheless, Patricius and Bridgid were often considered the primal Mother and Father, and were supposedly buried together at Derry Down.

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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Imbolc, Plus More…


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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Imbolc, Plus More…

 

Oimelc – Imbolc in the Saxon – marks the first stirring of life in the earth.
The Yule season originally ended at Oimelc. But with increasing organization and
industrialization, increasing demands for labor and production, the holiday kept
shrinking, first to the two weeks ending at Twelfth Night, then to a single week
ending at New Year’s, then to a single day.

Oimelc begins a season of purification similar to that preceding Yule. It ends
at Ostara. No marriages, initiations or puberty rites should be celebrated
between Oimelc and Ostara.

The candles and torches at Oimelc signify the divine life-force awakening
dormant life to new growth.

THEMES

Growth of roots begin again. Bare branches begin to swell with leaf buds, and
growth appears at the tips of evergreen branches. The tools of agriculture are
being make ready for Spring.

Xian feasts of St. Brigid, and Celtic feast of Brigit, the maiden aspect of the
triple goddess and mother of Dagda. Her symbol is the white swan. A Roman feast
of Bacchus and Ceres. The Lupercalia, a feast of Pan. The Nephelim or Titans,
those offspring of human-divine unions said to have ruled Atlantis.

Grannus, a mysterious Celtic god whom the Romans identified with Apollo.

PURPOSE OF THE RITES

To awaken life in the Earth. Fire tires to strengthen the young Sun, to bring
the fertilizing, purifying, protective and vitalizing influence of fire to the
fields, orchards, domestic animals, and people. To drive away winter. To charm
candles for household use throughout the year.

FOLK CUSTOMS

The three functions of Oimelc – end of Yule, feast of candles or torches, and
beginning of a purificatory season – are divided by the Xian calendar among
Twelfth Night, Candlemas and Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Carnival). The customs
of all three feasts are derived from Oimelc, with at most a thin Xian gloss.

Parades of giant figures (Titans?) in rural towns in France and at Mardi Gras
and Carnival celebrations. A figure representing the Spirit of Winter or Death,
sometime made of straw, sometimes resembling a snowman, is drowned, burnt or in
once case, stuffed with fireworks and exploded. They symbol of Montreal’s Winter
Carnival is the giant figure of Bonhomme di Neige (snowman).

Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year and St. Valentine’s Day customs.

The French provinces are so rich in Oimelc customs they cannot be listed here.
Refer to “The Golden Bough”.

Wassailing the trees: at midnight, carolers carry a bucket of ale, cider or
lamb’s wool in a torchlight procession through the orchards. The leader dips a
piece of toast in the drink and sedges it in the fork of each tree, with the
traditional cheer (variations exist) of: “Hats full, holes full, barrels full,
and the little heap under the stairs!”.

Who finds the bean in the Twelfth Night cake becomes king of the feast; who
finds the pea becomes queen – never mind the gender of the finders. Rag-bag
finery and gilt-paper crowns identify the king and queen. The rulers give
ridiculous orders to the guests, who must obey their every command. They are
waited on obsequiously, and everything they do is remarked and announced
admiringly and importantly: “The King drinks!”, “The Queen sneezes!” and
everyone politely imitates the ruler’s example.

SYMBOLIC DECORATIONS

Snowdrops are picked for vases, but otherwise no special decorative effects are
indicated. Go carnival, balloons and confetti.

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

Parades, with showers of confetti, gala balls, masks, street dancing, mumming,
winter sports, ice and snow sculpture.

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A Little Trivia from the Celtic Tradition Relating to Imbolc – Learn Your Fortune From the Number of Eyes in a Potato

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A Little Trivia from the Celtic Tradition Relating to Imbolc – Learn Your Fortune From the Number of Eyes in a Potato

One eye: Troubles…wait and learn from your mistakes, put things right.

Two eyes: Presents…rewards, secret surprises, good luck!

Three eyes: Friends…positive partnerships, the freedom to make new friends

Four eyes: New Beginnings…finish what you’ve started and prepare for a fresh start

Five eyes: Travel…changes, brand new ideas, moving forward

Six eyes: Love…deep feelings, listen to your heart

Seven eyes: Wealth…breakthrough to achievement and rewards, as if you are a new person

Eight eyes: Sadness…let go of something that doesn’t feel right or suit you anymore

Nine eyes: Happiness…new energy, joyfulness, easy to release something you’ve outgrown

Ten eyes: Growing…take care, enjoy work and a great harvest is assured.

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