A Festival of Fire
Imbolc is a holiday with a variety of names, depending on which culture and location you’re looking at. In the Irish Gaelic, it’s called Oimelc, which translates to “ewe’s milk.” It’s a precursor to the end of winter when the ewes are nursing their newly born lambs. Spring and the planting season are right around the corner.
The Romans Celebrate:
To the Romans, this time of year halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox was the season of the Lupercalia. For them, it was a purification ritual held on February 15, in which a goat was sacrificed and a scourge made of its hide. Thong-clad men ran through the city, whacking people with bits of goat hide. Those who were struck considered themselves fortunate indeed. This is one of the few Roman celebrations that is not associated with a particular temple or deity. Instead, it focuses on the founding of the city of Rome, by twins Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a she-wolf -- in a cave known as the "Lupercale".
The Feast of Nut:
The ancient Egyptians celebrated this time of year as the Feast of Nut, whose birthday falls on February 2 (Gregorian calendar). According to the Book of the Dead, Nut was seen as a mother-figure to the sun god Ra, who at sunrise was known as Khepera and took the form of a scarab beetle.
Christian Conversion of a Pagan Celebration:
When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince people to get rid of their old gods, so the church allowed them to worship the goddess Brighid as a saint -- thus the creation of St. Brigid's Day. Today, there are many churches around the world which bear her name.
Purification and Light:
For Christians, February 2nd continues to be celebrated as Candelmas, the feast of purification of the Virgin. By Jewish law, it took forty days after a birth for a woman to be cleansed following the birth of a son. Forty days after Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is February 2nd. Candles were blessed, there was much feasting to be had, and the drab days of February suddenly seemed a little brighter.
Love & Courtship:
February is known as a month when love begins anew, in part to to the widespread celebration of Valentine's Day. In some parts of Europe, there was a belief that February 14th was the day that birds and animals began their annual hunt for a mate. Valentine's Day is named for the Christian priest who defied Emperor Claudius II's edict banning young soldiers from marrying. In secret, Valentine "tied the knot" for many young couples. Eventually, he was captured and executed on Feb. 14, 269 C.E. Before his death, he smuggled a message to a girl he had befriended while imprisoned -- the first Valentine's Day card.
Serpents in the SpringAlthough Imbolc isn't even mentioned in non-Gaelic Celtic traditions, it's still a time rich in folklore and history. According to the Carmina Gadelica, the Celts celebrated an early version ofGroundhog Day on Imbolc too – only with a serpent, singing this poem:
Thig an nathair as an toll
(The serpent will come from the hole)
la donn Bride
(on the brown day of Bride (Brighid)
Ged robh tri traighean dh’an
(though there may be three feet of snow)
Air leachd an lair
(On the surface of the ground.)Among agricultural societies, this time of year was marked by the preparation for the spring lambing, after which the ewes would lactate (hence the term "ewe's milk" as "Oimelc"). At Neolithic sites in Ireland, underground chambers align perfectly with the rising sun on Imbolc.
The Goddess BrighidLike many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection as well, although it wasn’t celebrated in non-Gaelic Celtic societies. The Irish goddess Brighid is the keeper of the sacred flame, the guardian of home and hearth. To honor her, purification and cleaning are a wonderful way to get ready for the coming of Spring. In addition to fire, she is a goddess connected to inspiration and creativity.
Brighid is known as one of the Celtic "triune" goddesses -- meaning that she is one and three simultaneously. The early Celts celebrated a purification festival by honoring Brighid, or Brid, whose name meant "bright one." In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed in her aspect as crone as Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. Brighid was also a warlike figure, Brigantia, in the Brigantes tribe near Yorkshire, England. The Christian St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptized by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare, Ireland.
In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brighid is viewed as the maiden aspect of themaiden/mother/crone cycle. She walks the earth on the eve of her day, and before going to bed each member of the household should leave a piece of clothing outside for Brighid to bless. Smoor your fire as the last thing you do that night, and rake the ashes smooth. When you get up in the morning, look for a mark on the ashes, a sign that Brighid has passed that way in the night or morning. The clothes are brought inside, and now have powers of healing and protection thanks to Brighid.
Setting Up Your Altar
Traditionally, the colors of red and white are associated with Brighid. The white is the color of the blanket of snow, and the red symbolizes the rising sun. In some traditions, the red is connected with the blood of life. Brighid is also tied to the color green, both for the green mantle she wears and for the life growing beneath the earth. Decorate your altar with a white cloth, and drape a swath of red across it. Add green candles in candleholders.
The Beginnings of New LifeAltar decor should reflect the theme of the Sabbat. Because Imbolc is a harbinger of spring, any plants that symbolize the new growth are appropriate. Add potted bulbs -- don't worry if they're blooming yet -- and spring flowers such as forsythia, crocus, daffodils, and snowdrops. If you don't have much luck planting bulbs, think about making a Brighid's crown as a centerpiece -- it combines flowers and candles together.
Celtic DesignsBrighid is, after all, a goddess of the Celtic peoples, so it's always appropriate to add some sort of Celtic design to your altar. Consider adding a Brighid's cross or any other item incoporating Celtic knotwork. If you happen to have a Celtic cross, don't worry about the fact that it's also a Christian symbol -- if it feels right on your altar, go ahead and add it.
- Other Symbols of Brighid
- Cauldrons or chalices -- she's often connected to sacred wells and springs
- A small anvil or hammer -- Brighid is the goddess of smithcraft
- A Brighid corn doll and Priapic wand
- Sacred animals such as cows, sheep or swans
- A goddess statue
- A book of poetry, or a poem you've written -- Brighid is the patroness of poets
- Faeries -- in some traditions, Brighid is the sister of the Fae
- Healing herbs -- she's often connected to healing rites
- Lots of candles, or a cauldron with a small fire in it
Deities of Imbolc
- Aradia (Italian): Popularized by Charles Godfrey Leland in Gospel of the Witches, she is the virginal daughter of Diana. There is some question about Leland's scholarship, and Aradia may be a corruption of Herodias from the Old Testament, according to Ronald Hutton and other academics.
- Aenghus Og (Celtic): This young god was most likely a god of love, youthful beauty and poetic inspiration. At one time, Aenghus went to a magical lake and found 150 girls chained together -- one of them was the girl he loved, Caer Ibormeith. All the other girls were magically turned into swans every second Samhain, and Aenghus was told he could marry Caer if he was able to identify her as a swan. Aengus succeeded, and turned himself into a swan so he could join her. They flew away together, singing exquisite music that lulled its listeners to sleep.
- Aphrodite (Greek): A goddess of love, Aphrodite was known for her sexual escapades, and took a number of lovers. She was also seen as a goddess of love between men and women, and her annual festival was called the Aphrodisiac.
- Bast (Egyptian): This cat goddess was known throughout Egypt as a fierce protector. Later on, during the Classical period, she emerged as Bastet, a slightly softer, more gentle incarnation. As Bastet, she was regarded more as a domestic cat than a lioness. However, because of her position as a guardian, she often was seen as a protector of mothers -- as a cat to her kittens -- and childbirth. Thus, she evolved into the identity of hearth goddess, much like Brighid in the Celtic lands.
- Ceres (Roman): This Roman agricultural goddess was a benefactor of farmers. Crops planted in her name flourished, particularly grains -- in fact, the word "cereal" comes from her name. Virgil cites Ceres as part of a trinity, along with Liber and Libera, two other agricultural gods. Rituals were performed in her honor prior to spring, so that fields could be fertile and crops would grow. Cato recommends sacrificing a sow to Ceres before the harvest actually begins, as a gesture of appreciation.
- Cerridwen (Celtic): Cerridwen represents powers of prophecy, and is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge and inspiration in the Underworld. In one part of the Mabinogion, Cerridwen pursues Gwion through a cycle of seasons -- beginning in the spring -- when in the form of a hen, she swallows Gwion, disguised as an ear of corn. Nine months later, she gives birth to Taliesen, the greatest of the Welsh poets.
- Eros (Greek): This lusty god was worshipped as a fertility deity. In some myths, he appears as the son of Aphrodite by Ares -- the god of war having conquered the goddess of love. His Roman contemporary was Cupid. In early Greece, no one paid much attention to Eros, but eventually he earned a cult of his own in Thespiae. He also was part of a cult along with Aphrodite in Athens.
- Faunus (Roman): This agricultural god was honored by the ancient Romans as part of the festival of Lupercalia, held every year in the middle of February. Faunus is very similar to the Greek god Pan.
- Gaia (Greek): Gaia is the mother of all things in Greek legend. She is the earth and sea, the mountains and forests. During the weeks leading up to spring, she is becoming warmer each day as the soil grows more fertile.
- Hestia (Greek): This goddess watched over domesticity and the family. She was given the first offering at any sacrifice made in the home. On a public level, the local town hall served as a shrine for her -- any time a new settlement was formed, a flame from the public hearth was taken to the new village from the old one.
- Pan (Greek): This studly Greek fertility god is well known for his sexual prowess, and is typically portrayed with an impressively erect phallus. Pan learned about self-gratification via masturbation from Hermes, and passed the lessons along to shepherds. His Roman counterpart is Faunus.
- Venus (Roman): This Roman goddess is associated with not only beauty, but fertility as well. In the early spring, offerings were left in her honor. As Venus Genetrix, she was honored for her role as the ancestress of the Roman people, and celebrated as a goddess of motherhood and domesticity.
- Vesta (Roman): This hearth goddess of Rome was the one who watched over home and family. As a hearth goddess, she was the keeper of the fire and sacred flame. Offerings were thrown into the household fires to seek omens from the future. Vesta is similar in many aspects to Brighid, particularly in her position as a goddess of both home/family and of divination.
Up Helly Aa
During the Regency period and the years following the Napoleonic Wars, Lerwick was the home of many returning soldiers and sailors, most of whom were looking for a good party. It became a rowdy place, particularly during the week after Christmas, and by the 1840s, celebrations usually involved setting lots of things on fire. At some point, burning tar barrels were introduced into the fun, and this led to lots of injury and destruction.
By the 1870s, a group of young people decided that the post-Christmas shindig would be a lot more entertaining if it were organized, and so the first Up-Helly-Aa celebration was begun. They pushed it back to the end of January and introduced a torchlight procession. A decade or so later the Viking theme emerged into Up-Helly-Aa, and the festival started to include a flaming longship each year. Although the event seems to have taken a short break during the World War II years, it resumed in 1949 and has run ever since.
In addition to the Viking longship, there is a lot of planning involved in the celebration, which is held on the last Tuesday of January (the next day is a public holiday, to allow for recovery time). One of the biggest parts of the festival is the costume of the Guizer Jarl, who appears each year as a character from the Norse sagas. Thousands of spectators come to watch the festivities, and hundreds of male residents dress in Viking gear and storm through the streets.
Although Up-Helly-Aa is a modern invention, it's clear that the residents of Lerwick and the rest of the Shetland Islands embrace it as a tribute to their Norse ancestry. It's got fire, food, and lots of drinking -- the perfect way for any Viking to celebrate the season. For more information on the festival, you can go to the Official Up Helly Aa Homepage.
Februalia: A Time of Purification
The festival known as Februalia was held near the end of the Roman calendar year -- and to understand how the holiday changed over time, it helps a bit to know the calendar's history. Originally, the Roman year had only ten months -- they counted out ten months between March and December, and basically disregarded the "dead months" of January and February. Later, the Etruscans came along and added these two months back into the equation. In fact, they planned to make January the first month, but the expulsion of the Etruscan dynasty prevented this from happening, and so March 1st was considered the first day of the year. February was dedicated to Februus, a god not unlike Dis or Pluto, because it was the month in which Rome was purified by making offerings and sacrifices to the gods of the dead. Our Guide to Ancient History, N.S. Gill, has some great information on the terminology found in the Roman calendar.
At any rate, because of the association with fire as a method of purification, at some point the celebration of Februalia became associated with Vesta, a hearth goddess much like the Celtic Brighid. Not only that, February 2 is also considered the day of Juno Februa, the mother of war god Mars. There is a reference to this purification holiday in Ovid's Fasti, in which he says, "In short, anything used to cleanse our bodies went by that name [of februa] in the time of our unshorn forefathers. The month is called after these things, because the Luperci purify the whole ground with strips of hide, which are their instruments of cleansing..."
Februalia was a month-long period of sacrifice and atonement, invovling offerings to the gods, prayer, and sacrifices. If you were a wealthy Roman who didn't have to go out and work, you could literally spend the entire month of February in prayer and meditation, atoning for your misdeeds during the other eleven months of the year.
The Greeks believed that an animal's soul was contained in its shadow. Hibernation was a time of spiritual renewal and purification -- an animal that saw its shadow in the spring needed to go back to bed for a while until its misdeeds were expunged.
In England, there's an old folk tradition that if the weather is fine and clear on Candlemas, then cold and stormy weather will reign for the remaining weeks of winter. On the other hand, bad weather at the beginning of February is a harbinger of a milder winter, and an early thaw. There's a poem that says:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
winter has another flight.
When Candlemas brings cloud and rain,
winter shall not come again.
In the Carmina Gadelica, folklorist Alexander Carmichael points out that there's actually a poem in honor of an animal emerging from its burrow to predict spring-like weather on "the brown day of Bride". However, it's not the cute, cuddly groundhog we're used to seeing in the United States. In fact, it's the decidedly uncuddly serpent.
The serpent will come from the hole
on the brown day of Bride (Brighid)
though there may be three feet of snow
on the surface of the ground.
Scotland's Highlanders had a tradition of pounding the ground with a stick until the serpent emerged. The snake's behavior gave them a good idea of how much frost was left in the season.
In Europe, rural dwellers had a similar tradition. They used an animal called a dachs, which is a bit like the badger. When settlers came to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century, they renewed the custom with a more local animal -- the groundhog. Each year, Punxatawney Phil is removed from his den by his keepers, at which point he whispers the forecast to a top-hatted member of the official Groundhog Club.
For part of the celebration, young women would place their names in an urn. Eligible men would draw a name and the couple would pair of for the rest of the festival -- sometimes even longer. As Christianity progressed into Rome, the practice was decried as Pagan and immoral, and done away with by Pope Gelasius around 500 C.E. Although recently there's been some scholarly debate about the existence of the Lupercalia lottery, it's still a legend that brings to mind ancient matchmaking rituals -- perfect for this time of year!
A More Spiritual Celebration:Around the same time that the love lottery was being eliminated, Gelasius had a brilliant idea. Why not replace the lottery with something a bit more spiritual? He changed the love lottery to a lottery of the Saints -- instead of pulling a pretty girl's name from the urn, young men pulled the name of a saint. The challenge for these bachelors was to try to be more saint-like in the coming year, studying and learning about the messages of their individual saint.
Who Was Valentine, Anyway?:While he was trying to convince Rome's young nobleman to be more saintly, Pope Gelasis also declared St. Valentine (more on him in just a bit) the patron saint of lovers, and his day was to be held every year on February 14. There is some question about who St. Valentine actually was -- he may have been a priest during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.
The legend is that the young priest, Valentine, disobeyed Claudius by performing wedding ceremonies for young men, when the Emperor preferred to see them roped into military service rather than marriage. While imprisoned, Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him, perhaps the daughter of the jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter, signed, From your Valentine. No one knows if this story is true, but it certainly makes St. Valentine a romantic and tragic hero.
The Christian church had a hard time maintaining some of these traditions, and for a while St. Valentine's Day disappeared off the radar. In fact, during medieval times the lover's lottery regained popularity -- chivalrous young men paired off with ladies, and wore the names of their lover on their sleeves for a year.
Modern Valentine's Day
Around the end of the 18th century, Valentine's Day cards began to appear. Small pamphlets were published, with sentimental poems that young men could copy and send to the object of their affections. Eventually, printing houses learned there was a profit to be made in pre-made cards, complete with romantic pictures and love-themed verse. The first American Valentine cards were created by Esther Howland in the 1870s, according to Victorian Treasury. Other than Christmas, more cards are exchanged at Valentine's Day than any other time of the year.
Lupercalia: Celebrate the Coming of Spring
To kick off the festivities, an order of priests gathered before the Lupercale on the Palatine hill, the sacred cave in which Romulus and Remus were nursed by their wolf-mother. The priests then sacrificed a dog for purification, and a pair of young male goats for fertility. The hides of the goats were cut into strips, dipped in blood, and taken around the streets of Rome. These bits of hide were touched to both fields and women as a way of encouraging fertility in the coming year. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. There is a theory that this tradition may have survived in the form of certain ritual Easter Monday whippings.
After the priests concluded the fertility rites, young women placed their names in a jar. Men drew names in order to choose a partner for the rest of the celebrations -- not unlike later customs of entering names in a Valentine lottery.
To the Romans, Lupercalia was a monumental event each year. When Mark Antony was the master of the Luperci College of Priests, he chose the festival of Lupercalia in 44 BC as the time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar. By about the fifth century, however, Rome was beginning to move towards Christianity, and Pagan rites were frowned upon. Lupercalia was seen as something only the lower classes did, and eventually the festival ceased to be celebrated.
The Goddess Brighid
Brighid: Health Goddess of Ireland
Origins of Brighid:In Irish mythological cycles, Brighid (or Brighit), whose name is derived from the Celtic brig or "exalted one", is the daughter of the Dagda, and therefore one of the Tuatha de Dannan. Her two sisters were also called Brighid, and were associated with healing and crafts. The three Brighids were typically treated as three aspects of a single deity, making her a classic Celtic triple goddess.
Patron and Protector:Brighid was the patron of poets and bards, as well as healers and magicians. She was especially honored when it came to matters of prophecy and divination. She was honored with a sacred flame maintained by a group of priestesses, and her sanctuary at Kildare, Ireland, later became the home of the Christian variant of Brighid, St. Brigid of Kildare. Kildare is also the location of one of several sacred wells in the Celtic regions, many of which are connected to Brighid. Even today, it's not uncommon to see ribbons and other offerings tied to trees near a well as a petition to this healing goddess.
Celebrating Brighid:There are a variety of ways to celebrate the many aspects of Brighid at Imbolc. If you're part of a group practice or a coven, why not try Honoring Brighid With a Group Ceremony? You can also incorporate prayers to Brighid into your rites and rituals for the season. Having trouble figuring out what direction you're headed? Ask Brighid for assistance and guidance with aBrighid's Crossroads Divination Ritual.
Brighid's Many Forms:In Britain, Brighid's counterpart was Brigantia, a warlike figure of the Brigantes tribe near Yorkshire, England. She is similar to the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman Minerva. Later, as Christianity moved into the Celtic lands, St. Brigid was the daughter of a Pictish slave who was baptised by St. Patrick, and founded a community of nuns at Kildare.
In addition to her position as a goddess of magic, Brighid was known to watch over women in childbirth, and thus evolved into a goddess of hearth and home. Today, many Pagans and Wiccans honor her on February 2, which has become known as Imbolc or Candlemas.
Crafts to Honor Brighid:In many Pagan traditions today, Brighid is celebrated with crafts that honor her role as the protector of the hearth. You can make a Brighid corn doll, as well as a Bride's Bed for her to sleep in. Perhaps the best known decoration is the Brighid's Cross, whose arms represent the place where a crossroads comes together, the space between light and dark.
Brighid and Imbolc:Like many Pagan holidays, Imbolc has a Celtic connection, although it wasn’t celebrated in non-Gaelic Celtic societies. The early Celts celebrated a purification festival by honoring Brighid. In some parts of the Scottish Highlands, Brighid was viewed as a sister of Cailleach Bheur, a woman with mystical powers who was older than the land itself. In modern Wicca and Paganism, Brighid is sometimes viewed as the maiden aspect of the maiden/mother/crone cycle, although it might be more accurate for her to be the mother, given her connection with home and childbirth.
Brighid Keeper of the Flame
Mighty Brighid, keeper of the flame,
blazing in the darkness of winter.
O goddess, we honor you, bringer of light,
healer, exalted one.
Bless us now, hearth mother,
that we may be as fruitful as the soil itself,
and our lives abundant and fertile.
Bridgid's Mantle History & Lore
Brighid is the Celtic goddess who is the keeper of the hearth, the deity who watches over nursing mothers and pregnant women, and who is the overseer of all things domestic. She is also connected to healing and wisdom. One commonly found symbol of Brighid is her green mantle, or cloak. In Gaelic, the mantle is known as the brat Bhride.
Although her origins are that of a Pagan goddess, at one point she became associated with Christianity and St. Brighid of Kildare. The legend has it that Brighid was the daughter of a Pictish chieftain who went to Ireland to learn fromSt. Patrick. In one story, the girl who later became St. Brighid went to the King of Leinster, and petitioned him for land so she could build an abbey. The King, who still held to the old Pagan practices of Ireland, told her he'd be happy to give her as much land as she could cover with her cloak. Naturally, her cloak grew and grew until it covered as much property as Brighid needed, and she got her abbey. Thanks to her roles as both a Pagan goddess and a Christian saint, Brighid is often seen as being of both worlds; a bridge between the old ways and the new.
In Celtic Pagan stories, Brighid's mantle carries with it blessings and powers of healing. Many people believe that if you place a piece of cloth out upon your hearth at Imbolc, Brighid will bless it in the night. Use the same cloth as your mantle each year, and it will gain strength and power each time Brighid passes by. The mantle can be used to comfort and heal a sick person, and to provide protection for women in labor. A newborn baby can be wrapped in the mantle to help them sleep through the night without fussing.
To make a Brighid's mantle of your own, find a piece of green cloth long enough to comfortably wrap around your shoulders. Leave it on your doorstep on the night of Imbolc, and Brighid will bless it for you. In the morning, wrap yourself in her healing energy.
Honor Brighid at Imbolc: Group Ritual
This ritual is designed for a group of individuals, but could easily be adapted for a solitary practitioner. Imbolc is the time between Yuleand the Spring Equinox, the halfway point in the dark months of the year. It's the time when the days suddenly seem to be getting longer, and the snow is beginning to melt, showing us small patches of earth and green. At this time of returning spring, our ancestors lit bonfires and candles to celebrate the rebirth of the land.
Time Required: Honor Brighid at Imbolc -- Group Ritual
In many areas of the Celtic world, this was the fire feast ofBrighid, the Irish goddess of hearth and home. She is the keeper of the flame, the protector of the home, and a goddess of holy wells and springs. At Imbolc, we acknowledge her many aspects, especially that of her role as a deity of transformation. As the world awakes from the dark slumber of winter, it is time to cast off the chill of the past and welcome the warmth of spring.
Set up your altar with the symbols of Brighid and the coming spring -- a Brighid's cross or dolly, potted daffodils or crocuses, white and red yarn or ribbon, young fresh twigs, and lots of candles. Also, you'll need an unlit candle for each participant, a candle to represent Brighid herself, a plate or bowl of oats or oatcakes, and a cup of milk.
If you normally cast a circle in your tradition, do so now. Each member of the group should hold their unlit candle before them.
The HPs says:
Today is Imbolc, the day of midwinter.
The cold has begun to fade away,
and the days grow longer.
This is a time in which the earth is quickening,
like the womb of Brighid,
birthing the fire after the darkness.
The HPS lights the Brighid candle, and says:
Bright blessings at midwinter to all!
Brighid has returned with the sacred flame,
watching over home and hearth.
This is a time of rebirth and fertility,
and as the earth grows full of life,
may you find abundance on your own path.
Imbolc is the season of lambing, of new life,
and a time to celebrate the nurturing and warmth of Brighid.
At this time, the HPs takes the cup of milk, and offers a sip to Brighid. You can do this either by pouring it into a bowl on the altar, or by simply raising the cup to the sky. The HPs then passes the cup around the circle. As each person takes a sip, they pass it to the next, saying:
May Brighid give her blessings to you this season.
When the cup has returned to the HPs, she passes the oats or oatcakes around in the same manner, first making an offering to Brighid. Each person takes a bit of the oats or cakes and passes the plate to the next, saying:
May Brighid's love and light nurture your path.
The HPS then invites each member of the group to approach the altar, and light their candle from the Brighid candle. Say:
Come, and allow the warmth of Brighid's hearth
to embrace you.
Allow the light of her flame
to guide you.
Allow the love of her blessing
to protect you.
When everyone has lit their candle, take a few moments to meditate on the warmth and nurturing nature of the goddess Brighid. As you bask in her warmth, and she protects your home and hearth, think about how you will make changes in the coming weeks. Brighid is a goddess of abundance and fertility, and she may help you guide your goals to fruition.
When you are ready, end the ceremony, or move on to other rituals, such as Cakes and Ale, or healing rites.
What You Need:
A Brighid candle
A bowl or plate of oatcakes or oats
A cup of milk
Ritual & Ceremony
Hold an Imbolc Candle Ritual: For Solitaries
Hundreds of years ago, when our ancestors relied upon the sun as their only source of light, the end of winter was met with much celebration. Although it is still cold in February, often the sun shines brightly above us, and the skies are often crisp and clear. As a festival of light, Imbolc came to be called Candlemas. On this evening, when the sun has set once more, call it back by lighting the seven candles of this ritual.
** Note: although this ceremony is written for one, it can easily be adapted for a small group.
Time Required: Varied
First, set up your altar in a way that makes you happy, and brings to mind the themes of Imbolc. You'll also want to have on hand the following:
Seven candles, in red and white (tealights are perfect for this)
Something to light your candles with
A large bowl or cauldron big enough to hold the candles
Sand or salt to fill the bottom of the bowl/cauldron
Prior to beginning your ritual, take a warm, cleansing bath. While soaking, meditate on the concept of purification. Once you're done, dress in your ritual attire, and begin the rite.
If your tradition requires you to cast a circle, do so now.
Pour the sand or salt into the bowl or cauldron. Place the seven candles into the sand so they won't slide around. Light the first candle. As you do so, say:
Although it is now dark, I come seeking light.
In the chill of winter, I come seeking life.
Light the second candle, saying:
I call upon fire, that melts the snow and warms the hearth.
I call upon fire, that brings the light and makes new life.
I call upon fire to purify me with your flames.
Light the third candle. Say:
This light is a boundary, between positive and negative.
That which is outside, shall stay without.
That which is inside, shall stay within.
Light the fourth candle. Say:
I call upon fire, that melts the snow and warms the hearth.
I call upon fire, that brings the light and makes new life.
I call upon fire to purify me with your flames.
Light the fifth candle, saying:
Like fire, light and love will always grow.
Like fire, wisdom and inspiration will always grow.
Light the sixth candle, and say:
I call upon fire, that melts the snow and warms the hearth.
I call upon fire, that brings the light and makes new life.
I call upon fire to purify me with your flames.
Finally, light the last candle. As you do so, visualize the seven flames coming together as one. As the light builds, see the energy growing in a purifying glow.
Fire of the hearth, blaze of the sun,
cover me in your shining light.
I am awash in your glow, and tonight I am
Take a few momemnts and meditate on the light of your candles. Think about this Sabbat, a time of healing and inspiration and purification. Do you have something damaged that needs to be healed? Are you feeling stagnant, for lack of inspiration? Is there some part of your life that feels toxic or tainted? Visualize the light as a warm, enveloping energy that wraps itself around you, healing your ailments, igniting the spark of creativity, and purifying that which is damanged.
When you are ready, end the ritual. You may choose to follow up with healing magic, or with a Cakes and Ale ceremony.
What You Need
Seven candles, white and red, and something to light them with
A bowl or cauldron with sand in the bottom
If you're unfamiliar with blending magical oils, be sure to read Magical Oils 101 before getting started.
This oil blend combines Ginger, Clove and Rosemary, representing the elements of fire, with Cypress, associated with the astrological sign of Aquarius. To make Imbolc Oil, use 1/8 Cup base oil of your choice. Add the following:
- 3 drops Ginger
- 2 drops Clove
- 1 drop Rosemary
- 1 drop Cypress
Many of us use incense as part of a sacred ceremony. In fact, recently scientists got on board the incense bandwagon and agreed that there are indeed physiological benefits to using it. For thousands of years, we've been burning dried plants and berries in our homes or outside, as part of ritual. When Imbolc rolls around, we've been cooped up in the house for a couple of months, and although we know spring is around the corner, it's not quite close enough for us to get out and enjoy just yet. Make up a batch of Imbolc incense that combines the scents of the season with the anticipation of the warmer weather to come.
Before you begin making your incense, first determine what form you’d like to make. You can make incense with sticks and in cones, but the easiest kind uses loose ingredients, which are then burned on top of a charcoal disc or tossed into a fire. This recipe is for loose incense, but you can always adapt it for stick or cone recipes. If you haven't yet read Incense 101, now's the time to do so.
As you mix and blend your incense, focus on the intent of your work. This particular recipe is one which evokes the scents of a chilly winter night, with a hint of spring florals. Use it during a ritual, if you like, or as a smudging incense to purify a sacred space. You can also toss some into your fire just to make the house smell like the Imbolc season.
- 2 parts cedar
- 2 parts frankincense
- 1 part pine resin
- 1 part cinnamon
- 1 part orange peel
- 1/2 part rose petals
Crafts & Creations
Make a Brighid's Cross
Make a Brighid Corn Dolly
Make a Brighid's Crown
Make a Priapic Wand
How to make Ice Candles
Imbolc Fire Starters
Imbolc Meal Blessings
Brighid's Braided Bread
Beer Battered Fish & Chips
Bacon & Leeks
All About Imbolc
Rituals and Ceremonies
Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Imbolc. Some people focus on the Celtic goddess Brighid, in her many aspects as a deity of fire and fertility. Others aim their rituals more towards the cycles of the season, and agricultural markers. Here are a few rituals you may want to think about trying -- and remember, any of them can be adapted for either a solitary practitioner or a small group, with just a little planning ahead.
- Setting Up Your Imbolc Altar
- Imbolc Altar Photo Gallery
- Imbolc Prayers
- Honor Brighid at Imbolc - Group Rite
- Imbolc Candle Ritual for Solitaries
- Say Farewell to Winter - Family Ritual
- Imbolc End-of-Winter Meditation
- Imbolc Initiation Ceremony
- Imbolc Re-dedication Ritual
- Brighid's Crossroads Divination
- Imbolc Cleansing Ritual Bath
- Imbolc House Cleansing Ceremony
- Fire Scrying Ritual
- Lithomancy - Divination by Stones
- All About Love Magic
- Love Magic Folklore
- Basics of Love Magic
- Love Spell Ethics
Traditions and Trends
Interested in learning about some of the traditions behind the celebrations of February? Find out how Valentine's Day became important, what the Romans were up to, and where the legend of the groundhog began!
- Brighid, Hearth Goddess of Ireland
- Prayers to the Goddess Brighid
- All About Brighid - Legends, Crafts and More
- Deities of Imbolc
- Up Helly Aa Festival
- Groundhog Day
- Lupercalia: the Coming of Spring
- Valentine's Day
- Basics of Love Magic
- Februalia: A Time of Purification
- Brighid's Mantle
As Imbolc rolls in, you can decorate your home (and keep your kids entertained) with a number of easy craft projects. Start celebrating a bit early with a Brighid's Cross or a Corn Doll.
- Quick Imbolc Gifts to Make and Share
- Make a Brighid's Cross
- Brighid Corn Doll
- Brighid's Bed
- Make a Priapic Wand
- Brighid's Crown Altar Centerpiece
- Make Your Own Ice Candles
- Imbolc Oil
- Imbolc Incense
- Fire Starters
No Pagan celebration is really complete without a meal to go along with it. For Imbolc, celebrate with foods that honor the hearth and home -- breads, grains, and vegetables stored from fall such as onions and potatoes -- as well as dairy items.
For more Mystical Imbolc Recipes, Enriching Stories & Pagan Ways...
Recipes for The Pagan Soul Cookbook by Psychic Bella
former pen name: Druidessia
This cookbook was a collaborative effort from Pagans all over the world, From recipes 8 generations back to historically enriched recipes with cultural fusion and a rich tapestry of words to adorn each recipe. From the far east, middle east to the far west this cookbook is full of recipes, stories and educational insight and rituals from pagans all over the world. Without the contributions from multi-generational and first life pagans this book wouldn't be possible it was a world wide effort made entirely of good food and a lot of love.
Recipe's for The Pagan Soul Cookbook
Ritual Cooking Section for Sabbats, Esbats, Handfastings and more, to Mead, Druidic Teas, Vegan & Vegetarian Dishes, and each page is full of beautiful photos, stories from all over the pagan world, we even have recipes for your children to create and enjoy along with special organic treats for family pets or "familiars" as we witches call them. So what are you waiting for?! This cookbook was featured on Amazon.com for 3 years for being the most unique cookbook on Lulu.com!
Wishing You a Blessed Imbolc