Thursday, February 2, 2012

What is Imbolc?

Imbolc prayer

You've probably seen people wishing each other a Blessed Imbolc today on Twitter, Facebook...or even that strange place called "real life."  This is my first Imbolc, and I'd like to share with you some of the things I've learned about it.

When is Imbolc?

Imbolc, or Candlemas, is the Sabbat after Yule and before Ostara on the Wheel of the Year.  This year it falls on February 2nd.  Imbolc is also called Candlemas and is a festival celebrating the first sign of Spring.  The milk begins to engorge the udders of the livestock, which is why Imbolc is called Oimelc, or "ewe's milk."  The sun is getting brighter and it is getting warmer.  Spring is coming soon, and below the soil, quickening has already began.  It is an important day in the agricultural year.
Preparations for spring sowing, hiring of farm workers for the coming season, fishermen taking out their boats after staying in for the winter season, seaweed gathering on the coast to be used for fertilizer, and the gathering of shellfish all begin at that this time. The larder of the housewife and the hay stores of the farmer were also checked to make sure that only half had been consumed. (Imbolc Traditions)
Imbolc is halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.  The Romans called this Lupercalia.  It was a day of purification, with the Roman men wearing thongs and scourging each other with bits of hide.  With her white wand Brighid used her white wand to bring spring to winter and smiles into the venom of the cold.

The oldest celebrations of Imbolc and Samhain go back to prehistory, in the Irish Neolithic period.  Wiccans define Imbolc as a cross-quarter day, since it falls between a solstice and an equinox.  It is also one of four fire festivals.

The goddess Brighid on Imbolc
Who is the goddess Brighid?

Imbolc has a strong connection to the Celtic goddess Brighid.  On Imbolc, February 2nd this year, we honor the her.  The goddess's name, Brighid, is pronounced like "bride" or "breed."  There are many variations of the goddess's name.  When her name is spelled Brigit, it's pronounced like "Bri-get," with the last syllable sounding like the word "get, with another pronunciation of the same spelling being "breet."  Her name spelled like Bride is pronounced "Bree."  Other spellings of the goddess's name are: Bridey, Briggidda, and Brigantia.

Brighid is a triple goddess.  This means she is one and three simultaneously, or a "triune" goddess.he has two sisters, also named Brighid.  Brighid is viewed as the maid aspect of the maiden,/mother/crone cycle, and her sisters are the mother and crone.  Brighid's name is derived from the Celtic word "brig," meaning "The High One," "The Bright One," "Lady of the Shores," "Brigid of the Green Mantle," "Bright Arrow," "Sacred Midwife and Healer," or "Exhaulted One."  She is the daughter of the Dagda, and therefore one of the Tuatha de Dannan.  She is the patroness of poets, bards, healers, or magicians, fugitives, blacksmiths, cattle, and corn, as well as the patroness of fertility, childbirth, protection of all children, and midwifery.

The goddess Brighid
One side of her face is very ugly, while one side of her face is very pretty.  She is fire goddess and lit the fires in the hearths of poor people.  Nineteen priestesses are dedicated to keeping Brighid's sacred flame burning at her shrine in Kildare.  Now Catholic nuns tend the goddess's sacred flame, in the name of St. Brigid of Kildare, whom I talk about later.  Brighid's flame lights out way and kindles the light inside of us, helping is in difficult times.  At her birth she was bathed in cow's milk, which is why Imbolc is called Oimelc, or "ewe's milk."

How do you celebrate Imbolc?

There are many wonderful ways to celebrate Imbolc.  Some of the crafts you can make for Imbolc are: a brideog, Brighid's crosses, and Brid's bed.  Along with the crafts you can make, activities like spring cleaning and divination are appropriate for Imbolc.  Spring cleaning is recommended to do before Imbolc, though. 

A brideog, pronounced "BREE-JOG" is made by forming long pieces of straw or rushes into the shape of a doll.  You may want to soak them in water a few days to make them easier to bend.  Dress the doll in white clothing, or in a white piece of material.  Decorate the doll with shells, greenery, early flowers, and pretty stones.  The prettiest stone should be placed over the doll's heart.  A few sprinkles of sacred water should be sprinkled on her.

A Brighid's cross is what most Americans call a "God's Eye."  The simplest form is to take two sticks and, using the straw left over from the brideog, weave two pieces of straw around the sticks.  Then a request is spoken for Brighid to bless the family and protect it in the upcoming year.  After bringing Brighid's cross home, sprinkle sacred water over the cross.  Brighid's cross looks different than the Christian cross.  Old crosses from the year before should be moved to attics or rafters of the home.  The new crosses should be placed above the doorways, over children's beds, and if you have livestock, over them in the barn.  It protects the household from fire and lightening, and can be removed temporarily for things like an ailing child or basket of seeds to be planted.

A Brid's bed is an oblong cradle made by with the last of the straw.  The cradle is called leaba Brid, pronouced "LAWA BREE" or "the bed of Brid."  The brideog is placed in the bed, along with a straight birch wand.  The wand is called a slatag Brid, pronounced "SLAH-TAHG BREE."  The wand represents the god, and applied to financial gain and other abundance.
Blessed Be this Imbolc
Leave candles burning beside Brighid throughout the night - place them in a dish of sand or dirt for safety considerations. If you need inspiration in a matter, or wish to work some divinatory magic, stay up throughout the night and meditate, asking Brighid for guidance. (Paganism/Wicca
Imbolc feasts are grand events.  Whoever made the brideog doll should go outside and retrieve her.  Place her outside the building, next to the open door.  In one tradition, the men should get on their knees outside and shout inside "Go on your knees, open your eyes, and admit Brigit!" Inside the women answer, "Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to the holy woman!" Some of the food made on Imbolc are Braided BreadHomemade ButterBacon and LeeksBeer Battered Fish & ChipsCandied CarrotsCurried Lamb with BarleyBaked Custard, and
Irish Cream Truffles.

What about St. Brigit of Kildare?

One of the goddess's most sacred shrines is a well in Kildare.  A myth about Brighid in Kildare follows.
One of the most popular tales of the goddess Brigid involved two lepers who appeared at her sacred well at Kildare and asked to be healed. She told them that they were to bathe each other until the skin healed.
After the first one was healed, he felt only revulsion for the other and would not touch him to bathe him. Angered, Brigid caused his leprosy to return. Then she gently placed her mantle (cloak) around the other leper who was immediately healed.  (Brigid, Celtic Goddess of Fire)
Saint Brigit of Kildare
Eventually, in the sixth century, during the Catholic Church's invasion and forced conversions in Ireland, the Church intended to take away all Pagan religions and replace them with Christianity.  The Celts were devoted to Brighid, and the Church knew they wouldn't just give her up.  However, instead of pretending the goddess never existed, they instead did what they usually did, and stole the Pagan beliefs, then twisted them into their own, in order to gain more converts.

They made Brighid a Saint, and even made up a story about her.  In fact, on Imbolc, Catholics still celebrate it as St. Brigit's day on Imbolc (they call it something else), while we Pagans remember that Brighid was a Celtic goddess, worthy of honor and devotion--especially on her day--Imbolc.

February 2nd has also been a day of purification of the Virgin Mary.  Most Christians call Imbolc Candlemas.  For any Catholics or ex-Catholics, the Presentation at the Temple, or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, is the fourth joyful mystery of the rosary.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting! This was my first celebration of Imbolc, and it meant a lot to me.


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