As Imbolc Approaches

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments
As Imbolc Approaches

a guide to the Sabbat’s symbolism

by Arwynn MacFeylynnd

Date: February 1 or 2.

Alternative names: Imbolg, Candlemas, Oimelc, Brighid’s Day, Lupercus, the Feast of Lights, Groundhog’s Day

Primary meanings: The name “Imbolc” derives from the word “oimelc,” meaning sheep’s milk. It is considered a time of purification, preparation and celebration for new life stirring, anticipating spring. The holiday is also known as Candlemas; the custom of blessing candles at this time signifies awakening of life and honors the Celtic goddess Brighid, to whom fire is sacred. This Sabbat also celebrates banishing winter.

Symbols: Candle wheels, grain dollies and Sun wheels, a besom (witch’s broom), a sprig of evergreen, a bowl of snow and small Goddess statues representing her in the maiden aspect.

Colors: White, yellow, pink, light blue, light green; also, red and brown.

Gemstones: Amethyst, aquamarine, turquoise, garnet and onyx.

Herbs: Angelica, basil, bay, benzoin, clover, dill, evergreens, heather, myrrh, rosemary, willows and all yellow flowers.

Gods and goddesses: Brighid, the Celtic goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft; all virgin and maiden goddesses; all fire and flame gods, connected with the newborn Sun.

Customs and myths: In Irish legends of the Tuatha De Danaan, Brighid is the name of three daughters of Dagda who over time were combined into one goddess. She was venerated in Scotland, Wales, on the Isle of Man and in the Hebrides. When celebrating Candlemas or Imbolc, spellwork for fertility, inspiration and protection are appropriate, defining and focusing on spiritual and physical desires for the future. Imbolc is a good time to get your life in order — physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Make plans, organize, clean out drawers and closets to bring in the new and clearing out the old. Make and bless candles; light one in each room in honor of the Sun’s rebirth. Carry out rites of self-purification. Burn mistletoe, holly and ivy decorations from Yule to signify the end of harsh weather and old ways.

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OIMELC – February 2

OIMELC – February 2

Down with Rosemary and so
Down with baies and mistletoe;
Down with Holly, live and all
Wherewith ys drest the Yuletide Hall;
That so the superstitious find No one least Branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
–Robert Herrick

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.

THE RITE

Dress in dark colors with much silver jewelry. Outdoors, after dark on the Even,
have the site arranged with a fire in the cauldron and the altar draped in
white, at the Northeast. The fire may be composed all or in part of Yule greens.

Go in a torchlight procession to the Circle. Include a stamping dance, possibly beating the ground with sticks, before the Invocation. The invocation may end with the calling of Hertha, a Teutonic goddess of the earth and the hearth. Call her name three times and at each call beat on the ground three times with the palms of both hands.

A figure representing Winter should be burned in the fire. Communion may consist of Sabbat Cakes or a Twelfth Night cake (there are many traditional recipes) and cider or wassail. A procession may leave the Circle for a time to wassail a nearby orchard. Couples may leap the bonfire. Supplies of candles brought by the coveners are blessed.

Boys puberty rites may be celebrated. These usually include mock plowing by the boys.

Close the Circle and go indoors for the feast.

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