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Imbolc- What is it and why should you care?




Though most people don’t know it, Imbolc, also known as Candlemas, falls during the first week of February every year. In order to celebrate it properly, you’ll need to understand why this time of year is significant, as well as what kinds of activities make up its celebrations. Let’s look at Imbolc and find out!


About Imbolc

Imbolc, also known as Candlemas (among many other names), is a Gaelic holiday celebrated on February 1. The festival marks a number of transitions—from winter to spring, from darkness to light, from death to rebirth—and celebrates fertility.

Its name comes from immolation which means to bring forth flame. While only recently gaining interest in North America, Imbolc has been observed for centuries by members of Pagan traditions such as Wicca and Druidry.

We’ll look at how Imbolc became associated with New Year’s Day and what rituals are traditionally practiced during the day. We’ll also take a look at how modern Pagans observe or celebrate Imbolc today.

Imbolc was an especially important time for women in Ireland. One of its names, Oimelc, means ewe’s milk in Irish. Since ewes will not lactate until their lambs are born, Imbolc marked a time when fresh dairy products became available. The holiday also signals that spring is just around the corner, which meant crops could soon be planted. This made it a big celebration for farmers who might have been hungry during long winters. With that comes fertility rituals: since winter no longer ruled after Imbolc, all things were possible—life could once again be renewed and families could grow stronger.


Some Wiccan Beliefs


Imbolc is a celebration of light in darkness. It’s also known as Candlemas, since candles are traditionally lit during Imbolc celebrations. In Wiccan beliefs, Imbolc is a time of promise, renewal, and new beginnings. The moon changes to its full cycle on Imbolc eve—the last visible dark moon—and thus symbolizes death before rebirth.

Imbolc takes place during February or early March. It’s one of eight annual Wiccan holidays, usually falling on February 2 or 3—although some followers celebrate it on different dates in order to better align with local weather patterns. In addition to celebrating Imbolc through traditional symbols like fire, candles, and wells, Wiccans also use a period of purification before they begin preparations for Spring. They might fast or abstain from sexual activity as part of their cleansing ritual. The emphasis on purity helps reduce stress, which gives practitioners energy for when Imbolc arrives. And though most people don't mark Imbolc by fasting, many do give up certain foods for a short time. By participating in both abstinence and self-care rituals, people can become more aware of their values and how important these virtues are to them personally.


Celtic Traditions

Imbolc or Imbolg, meaning incomplete, marks a midway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. It celebrates renewal, light in a dark world, fertility for crops as well as humans (the womb), and stands as an ode to rebirth. The day of Imbolc begins at sunset on February 1st. This night has been celebrated by Pagans since pre-Christian times when they worshipped goddesses like Brigid. The ancient Celts called Imbolc Oimelc, which means ewe's milk (ewe's are a kind of sheep), so there is an allusion to fertility as well. Today, many people still celebrate by lighting candles in honor of Brighid (or any number of other Celtic goddesses) who represents poetry, healing, smithcrafting and weaving among other skills. There are also different crafts that can be done throughout Imbolc; spinning woolen yarns or learning how to weave them can be incorporated into tradition during Brighid's season.

Currently marked on the Christian calendar with St Brigit's Day—though she is not actually related to Christianity—Imbolc honors her nonetheless with celebrations that may include rituals tied to purification such as white washing your home with water mixed with ashes from an extinguished fire.


Ancient Origins


Imbolc is a Celtic winter festival marking the beginning of spring. Also known as Brighid’s Day, Imbolc occurs in late February or early March, depending on how each culture marks time. Traditionally, Imbolc means simply in (or on) her belly, from OIr imb- or OIr imbliud . This refers to a widespread belief that witches were conceived during Samhain. The festival of Imbolc was meant to ensure that all newborn creatures would be blessed with good health for their coming year. In Irish folklore, baby birds were sometimes brought indoors to sleep with humans so they wouldn't die before springtime; geese and goslings are still adopted by children today! If you're looking for ways to celebrate Imbolc -- whether you practice Paganism or not -- try keeping little candles around your house so no one accidentally steps on them while wearing their baby's new shoes.

Here are some other things you can do: Clean your home thoroughly: sweep, dust and vacuum every room; wash clothes; store holiday decorations properly; throw out expired food. Attune yourself: meditate, pray, set an intention for what you want to happen in your life or within your community over the next six months.


Modern Observances


Imbolc falls at approximately 1.5 degrees Aries, 0 degrees Libra (for those who like to follow star cycles). It’s right after Yule but before Ostara, which comes around Spring Equinox. Imbolc has been celebrated by some cultures since Neolithic times, so it’s been around for a while. In fact, our modern holidays of St. Patrick’s Day and Groundhog Day have roots in Imbolc as well. The holiday is also sometimes called Brigid or Oimelc/Oimelg/Imbolg depending on region or language being used, stemming from its ties with Irish culture that gave rise to St. Brigid. Its celebration usually involves lights, candles, and what I call pagan tchotchkes: symbolic figures of animals or goddesses depicted without arms, legs, faces... etc., made out of clay or wax and decorated to be placed somewhere prominent during celebrations. They can be really cute! Sometimes there are light parades where people carry large lanterns through town as well. Other traditions include lighting votive candles to honor ancestors and loved ones who have passed away, decorating altars with symbols representing life, love, growth... fertility stuff like that. Some countries still practice these old ways religiously. Overall though its probably best not to get caught up in dogmatic rigidness; just having fun is fine too!


I see Imbolc as an important part of a year-long cycle that many practitioners focus on. Its one of four seasonal holidays I honor, in addition to Samhain (New Year’s), Beltane (May Day) and Lammas/Lughnasadh (Autumn Equinox). Each one highlights a different set of characteristics or elements that I use to navigate life. Imbolc celebrates women, life, fertility, nourishment... basically all things joyous.

It helps us to recognize that everything we need for a happy life already exists within us; there’s no need to go out into the world looking for something else because joy is all around us!


 

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