Imbolc is considered by many Pagans to be the start of early spring -although as snow is often still on the ground and the earth remains frosted and freezing many early morning commuters may take a different view as to what marks the start of spring…
Imbolc celebrates the strengthening of the light and the reawakening of the earth after the winter. It marks the start of the farming season and the return of life after the sleep of the long winter months. At Imbolc we are moving into the second half of the dark half of the year and this is a cause for celebration and a chance to look ahead to what the summer months will bring. The corn dolly made last year at Lammas from the corn harvests will be burned (sacrificed) at Imbolc to release the spirit of the harvest to do her work for another year.
Imbolc is the first of the three fire festivals and Pagans often celebrate this sabbat with bonfires, flames and candles to welcome in the coming of the light. Pagans of old would have used this festival to ask their Gods for blessings for the harvests in the coming year. Pagans in modern times will use Imbolc as a focal point to plan the months of energy and activity ahead and to decide what they want to achieve in the coming year. To a Pagan time is a wheel with no end and no beginning but if there were a starting point to the year, Imbolc would be that starting point. It is the time of new beginnings and renewal, with the idea of new resolve and resolution emphasised in much the same manner as that celebrated by the secular New Year of the Gregorian calendar.
Imbolc is a time for personal anticipation in determining the year ahead but it is also a time for divination, to look forward to coming events and see what the months ahead have in store and what the year will bring. Many Pagans and Witches will undertake divination – tarot or rune spreads perhaps – to focus on the events of the new year and to work the foretelling into their own personal planning.
Imbolc is a sabbat of purification focused on stripping away the old to make way for the new. It embodies the elements of regrowth and renewal. The tradition of spring cleaning has its roots in Imbolc as Pagans clean out the winter and welcome the sun back into their homes. Many modern Witches will sweep out the winter quite literally and complete a cleansing of their house by sweeping the previous year away from their home with their brooms.
Imbolc has its roots in Celtic origin and traditionally honoured the Celtic Fire Goddess Brighid. In honouring the Goddess of livestock and spring, it was believed luck would be drawn to the land and the coming harvest. Traditions associated with this Goddess include tying a ribbon to the front door (the threshold of your own world) to signify you are asking for her blessing (the ribbon can be kept or more commonly among practicing Witches it can be used for spell work involving luck). Brighid can also honoured by the making of a Brighid’s cross - a symbol representing the bridge between the two worlds of the dark and the light. This is appropriate for Imbolc which itself is a threshold between the cold world of winter and the reawakening of the dead land. The Brighid’s cross represents the idea of the fire wheel and the turning of the wheel of the year to bring back the light.
At Imbolc the Goddess is the maiden awaiting the intimacy with the God which will lead to a change in her nature to the mother who will bear the child which will grow to be the Sun God. The Goddess is often likened to a bride, a woman on the threshold of change between maiden and mother. To honour this, many Imbolc celebrations include creating a doll of the Goddess and placing the doll into a bride’s bed. This acknowledges the awakening sexuality of the maiden as she moves toward her new incarnation as mother. The bride’s bed is also seen as a symbol of welcoming the Goddess (and specifically the Goddess Brighid) into the home.