If you follow the pagan holiday wheel, then you know that Imbolc is coming up on February 2nd (or July 31st if you’re in the Southern hemisphere). Imbolc is one of the least known pagan holidays but is also one of the most important!
Also called Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day, Imbolc marks the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which means it falls at a time when day lengths are increasing again after being shortest around Christmas.
That’s why Imbolc was sometimes called “Oimelc” in Ireland, which means “at mid-day.” It’s a special time because we start to see the longer, warmer days approaching, though this is also symbolic spiritually.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the pagan holidays recently and realized that while many people know they exist, not as many folks really know what to do on these holidays.
I believe that pagan holidays should be celebrated in a way that feels right, yet it’s also important to understand the symbolism and purpose of the holiday from an energetic standpoint. In this post, I’ll go over every aspect of Imbolc, and hopefully, you’ll have a better idea of the types of rituals you can do once you get to the end!
What Is Imbolc?
Imbolc is a pagan holiday in the Northern hemisphere, usually celebrated on February 2nd, or July 31st in the Southern hemisphere. It is one of four festivals that mark what is commonly referred to as “the cross-quarter days,” which are the days that begin each season (called cross-quarter days because each season is one quarter of the year). The other three cross-quarter days are Beltane (May 1), Midsummer (June 21), and Samhain (October 31).
Imbolc marks the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which means it falls at a time when day lengths are increasing again after being shortest around Yule. That’s why Imbolc was sometimes called “Oimelc” in Ireland, which means “at mid-day.”
In Ireland, Imbolc celebrations originally commemorated the passing of winter and the coming of spring. Right around February 2nd, new buds were noticeable as the days grew longer and the weather changed.
Now, we celebrate Imbolc for similar purposes because regardless of whether or not you’re living in a winter climate, Imbolc welcomes the rebirth of the sun and of longer days.
The Meaning Of Imbolc:
Imbolc is a time of celebrating the spark of new life within us. At this point in our yearly cycle, we begin to see light and snowmelt returning, and Nature starts growing again; we feel it deep inside, too, in an energetic way. Imbolc is about purification, cleansing, and clearing away stagnation that built up over the winter months.
We begin to sense the potential of warmth and light ahead, which makes our inner fire kindle brighter, too. Imbolc also marks the first stirrings of the Earth’s milk, at a time when we see animals give birth and shepherds call their flocks back home again.
Though the Imbolc meaning has a lot to do with new beginnings, Imbolc is ultimately a time to clear out the old and welcome the new. Hibernating animals are starting to wake up, and energetically, so are we!
However, Imbolc tradition states that it is also the celebration of the Goddess recovering from giving birth to the New Year’s Sun God, since Imbolc falls six weeks after the Winter Solstice.
Despite the fact that this Sabbat falls in one of the coldest months of the year, it is a time when the forces of new life are moving across the globe.
Winter struggles to hold on, but Spring is slowly replacing him with warmth. Seeds are sprouting under the frozen land, and the forces of nature are preparing for the young Sun God to begin spreading his light and warmth soon. This is also a time of new beginnings, so plans are being made for the future.
Imbolc is known as a festival that celebrates the Maiden, since this is when the triple goddess goes back from the Crone to the Maiden, and the cycle of life begins again. In this sense, Imbolc can represent both regeneration and reincarnation.
The goddess Brigid is associated with Imbolc, and she was a triple goddess in ancient times. As well as being the Maiden aspect of this festival, she was also the midwife that presided over births and represented domestic craft. Later, Brigid was made a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church, so this holiday (then known as Candlemas) took on a similar meaning.
Herbs such as eyebright, lady’s mantle, and dandelion are said to be sacred to this festival because they grow at this time. Imbolc is also a time for purifying hearth and home, so the people would clean their homes with fresh herbs to attract good luck and good health in the upcoming season.
I want to get to all the good stuff, like fun Imbolc rituals and Imbolc traditions to try out, but I first think it’s important to know how to pronounce Imbolc.
When I first participated in Imbolc rituals, I literally had no idea how to pronounce it. Nowadays we tend to learn most information from the internet, which means Celtic pronunciation is tough.
The correct Imbolc pronunciation is: Im-bolk. The Im is pronounced like the beginning of impress, and the bolk is pronounced like bolt, only it ends with a k sound.
How To Celebrate Imbolc
Many pagans see Imbolc celebrations as one of the most important pagan holidays because it marks the return of light after a long dark winter. To Christians, Imbolc (known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day) is also an important holiday centered around purification.
Typically, Imbolc traditions revolve around these motives:
- Creating Energy
- A Time Of Refresh
- Welcoming The Light
There are various Imbolc rituals that can be performed, both alone and with others. Here are some of my favorite Imbolc rituals to celebrate the entrance of spring.
Remember that Imbolc is a merry time, just like every other pagan holiday! While I always do a ritual on Imbolc (I desperately need to clear out old energy after the winter), I also make sure that I find a way to enjoy the holiday and basque in the energy.
Imbolc celebrations were very merry in Ireland hundreds of years ago because these celebrations marked the return of the sun, of new plant growth, and of the harvest. Plus, the Irish loved to make a celebration out of anything. If you plan a gathering, drink wine, or feast, don’t feel guilty – that’s the purpose of any Sabbat!
Make A Brigid Cross:
You can make a cross for the goddess Brigid or St. Brigid’s Day, depending on your beliefs. I like to make this cross out of straw, but you can use any materials that feel right.
Create this cross in a ritualistic way and then ask Brigid to bless it. Put your intent into the cross based on what you hope to use it for in the coming springtime months.
This cross can be placed over a doorway for protection, worn on your body to keep the spirit of Brigid with you, or put under your bed to aid with conception. You can also use the cross for virtually any purpose that involves Brigid, such as new plant growth or harvest-related activities.
Cleanse Your Home:
In pagan tradition, Imbolc marks the beginning of spring. Although we don’t normally think of February 2nd as spring, I find that springtime activities work well on Imbolc because then I’m prepared to actually enjoy spring.
One of my favorite things to do in Imbolc is to cleanse my home. I recommend that you consider doing a full spring cleaning and cleansing around the time of Imbolc!
You can physically clean your home by decluttering and then doing a deep clean. Get in all those nooks and crannies (like under couches, behind tables, etc.). Open the windows and dust. I personally love cleaning with natural ingredients, such as vinegar infused with dried lemon balm.
Once you’ve done a full cleaning, you may want to consider an energetic cleansing on your home as well. This lets the old energy of winter out and makes room for new growth during springtime.
You can do a vinegar floor wash to cleanse your home, use sage, employ sound bells, or follow any other cleansing method that feels right. This is also a good time to put up wards (if this is a practice you follow) and invite benevolent spirits into your home for spring.
Start Your Garden:
Although it might be too cold to physically plant your garden on February 2nd (depending on where you live), Imbolc is the perfect energetic time to begin growth. This means that you can plant your seedlings indoors, source seeds for the upcoming year, plant new growth in an indoor/hydroponic garden, or simply plot out your garden for the coming year.
Imbolc is also the perfect time to propagate any houseplants. I find that the energy of this holiday helps plants to grow extremely quickly and well.
Lastly, you can spend some time caring for any plants that you have. Fertilize, water, and get them ready for the coming spring.
Light Candles To Welcome The Sun
Though Imbolc may be dark, it marks the coming of sunnier days. This is a wonderful day to light candles all over your home in order to welcome the light of the sun.
If you’re into witchcraft, you can spend a few moments sharing/gaining energy from the light of the flame. You can also meditate on the flame in order to understand what the spring holds for you.
Lastly, this is a great time to reconnect with any sun deities or even simply connect with the power of the sun itself.
Decorate For Spring
Because Imbolc is a time to let go of the old and usher in the new, it’s also the perfect day to decorate for spring.
Refresh your decor, add color, purchase or pick flowers, or simply plan out how you want to change and refresh your decor to reflect your soul in the coming months.
Do A Self Purification Ritual
Candlemas, the Christian counterpart holiday, falls on Imbolc and has many similar associations. However, the most important ritual for Candlemas is that of purification.
This makes sense for many reasons. Before we had modern sanitization techniques, winter was a time when disease spread rapidly, so Candlemas/Imbolc was used as a time to cleanse and purify the body of diseases, to make a blank slate for Imbolc blessings of spring.
If you want to do a self-purification ritual (common historically for both Pagans and Christians), I recommend that you do a cleansing bath. Set your intention that the water will cleanse you of all physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual impurities.
You can also use Epsom salts or herbs related to Imbolc (see the list of Imbolc associations below) for extra power.
Consecrate Your Candles:
If you practice magic or any sort of rituals throughout the year, then Imbolc is the perfect day to consecrate your candles. It’s one of the most powerful new beginnings, so make sure that you consecrate with your goals for the year in mind.
This practice is especially powerful because both pagans and Christians consecrate candles on Imbolc (also known as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day).
Practice Weather Divination:
Hundreds of years ago, Imbolc traditions included a lot of weather divination. Weather was more important to the Celts who didn’t have heat in their homes; their food and very lives depended on good weather!
However, we can still do weather divination as an Imbolc tradition today to find out what the upcoming spring and summer holds. Use Tarot, Oracle, pendulum, scrying, or any other divination method that works for you.
Imbolc is also a good time to practice any sort of divination ritual so that you can see what’s coming because it’s an energetic reset. In fact, Imbolc blessings were thought to follow any sort of divination session.
Have A Bonfire:
One of the most ancient Imbolc traditions revolves around the outdoor bonfire. Nowadays, this is still a great way to celebrate Imbolc!
The bonfire not only gives strength and warmth both energetically and physically but it’s meant to be a symbol to guide the Sun god back to your area in order to usher in spring.
I think that building a bonfire is a great way to actively celebrate Imbolc (which was really important to Irish Celts) while participating in an Imbolc ritual for St. Brigid’s Day.
In general, Imbolc symbols include anything relating to Brigid (the Saint or the goddess), sun symbols for the longer days, and spring symbols such as flowers, birds, and new growth.
However, there are other more specific symbols that you can employ if you want to do a ritual or spell on Imbolc. Here are some of the most common Imbolc symbols.
Colors: white, lilac, pink, yellow, green
Crystals: amethyst, bloodstone, ruby, turquoise, garnet
Herbs: Rosemary, dill, basil, bay, chamomile, yellow flowers, angelica, blackberry
Altar Decorations: Brigid’s cross, candle wheels, evergreens, grain dollies, sun wheels, flowers
Associations: Candles, the lamb, purification
One of these important Imbolc symbols that I want to discuss further is the lamb. In Ireland, Imbolc marked the beginning of the lambing season and the return of fresh milk. In fact, Imbolc refers to pregnancy in many ways (from Brigid herself to the seeds in the ground that begin to sprout), so one of the strongest symbols of Imbolc is milk.
Imbolc & The Fae
In addition to being a festival of light and brightness, Imbolc is also a time to cleanse, in preparation for the new. The Hag, a Dark Goddess or a Dark Fairy, is now set aside for the Maiden, who is radiant and young, in Fae lore.
However, the Fae right outside your door are busy during Imbolc, too. This marks the start of their busy season!
The spring Fae begin to wake up and work with nature to usher forth spring. Fairies renew themselves and their magic.
Fairies appreciate cleanliness, so a late-winter cleaning is a good idea to prepare for the fresh activity of spring. Leave the fairies with an offering, such as a wool piece or verse you wrote for them if you want to communicate during the upcoming season.
This isn’t as huge of a Fae holiday as Beltane, when fairy activities are in full swing, but it’s still an important Sabbat because it marks the end of winter (and the Unseelie) and the beginning of the spring Fae courts (the Seelie and others).
More History Of Imbolc:
Imbolc marked both the beginning of spring and the lambing season among the Irish Celts. The festival was first recorded in many a medieval manuscript format. In Celtic mythology, it was associated with Brigid, and later with her Christian counterpart St. Brigid.
Even though purification played a role in Imbolc festivities, it is more prominent in the Catholic holiday Candlemas (sometimes used as an alternative name for Imbolc). Pagans have taken over many aspects of the holiday, including the consecration of candles.
The pagans and witches of today tend to view Imbolc’s meaning as more goddess-centered, either because Brigid is associated with it, or because in Dianic Wicca, the goddess transforms into a maiden during Imbolc.
Imbolc serves both as a celebration of the beginning of spring and as a time of initiation rites, both historically and in the present. There are also lots of customs associated with weather divination.
Both Imbolc and Candlemas are often used interchangeably in pagan literature, with Candlemas becoming an Anglicized version of the Celtic Imbolc. Originally, however, they were distinct holidays. The Wiccan Wheel of the Year has popularized Imbolc, an ancient pagan festival of Irish Celtic origin. Modern pagans and witches celebrate it today, and many customs from the original Imbolc meaning have survived in the Christianised Brigid’s Day celebrations in Ireland.
In contrast, Candlemas is a (mostly) Catholic holiday, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, it’s celebrated on February 2, which is close to Imbolc. The feast dates back to the 4th century in Jerusalem, making it one of the oldest Christian holidays.
The day commemorates the presentation of the baby Jesus to the temple and the purification of his mother’s body 40 days after his birth (which was February 14 before the Christmas date was changed). During Candlemas, Christians take down their Christmas decorations, marking the end of their Christmas season.
We find the connection to candles in two stories: first, Simeon held Jesus up at the temple as the “light for revelation” (Luke 2:26), and, second, Hikelia instructed her monks to take candles to meet Jesus and accompany him to Jerusalem. Modern pagans have also taken up the tradition of consecrating candles on Candlemas, similar to Christians.
I hope this gives you ideas for Imbolc traditions, rituals, and ways to celebrate this wonderful Sabbat! Remember that Imbolc was traditionally celebrated any time from January 31st to February 14th, so there are no hard and fast rules.