Imbolc will soon be here in the southern hemisphere. I put this first article together for the latest edition of the Axis Mundi and have also included a second Imbolc article from the August 2008 edition of the AM.
Imbolc ~ 1st August
Imbolc is a cross-quarter day midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara) and is the celebration of the banishing of winter, the imminent arrival of Spring and the stirring of new life in the earth. Imbolc recognizes the maiden aspect of the triple goddess – the fresh, the young, the naïve, the new – and is strongly connected with the Goddess Brigid. It is associated with and also known as the festivals of Oimelc, Imbolg, Imbolic (Irish), Candlemas (British), Feast of Torches, Lupercalia (Italian/Latin), Brigid’s Day, and Brigantia (Scottish).
Here in the southern hemisphere, in 21st century Australia, we are far removed from the climate and rural lifestyles of the people of ancient Europe where this festival, and others that make up the Wheel Of The Year, originated. (See my article [below] in an earlier edition of Axis Mundi for more about the history and origins of Imbolc.)
Due to the 6 month offset of the seasons between the northern and southern hemispheres many Australian Pagans prefer to celebrate Imbolc when it is seasonally appropriate here, on August 1st or 2nd, instead of on the traditional northern hemisphere date of February 2nd. Although the majority of modern day Aussie Pagans live in cities or the suburbs we can still look to our backyard gardens, public suburban parks or the National Parks and bushland reserves scattered all around us to see evidence of the cycle of the seasons relevant to this time of year.
Colours commonly associated with Imbolc are white, lavender, green, blue and gold. At lmbolc, the Australian forests are bright with the colour yellow, with many species of Acacia trees coming into full flower. Until fairly recently, the 1st of August was “Wattle Day” in Australia (it has since been moved to the 1st of September). In some climates, like southern Australia and New Zealand, snow and frosts prevail throughout winter, and white snowdrops and crocuses are among the first delicate harbingers of spring. Other flowers associated with this festival are the violet and lavender. In Australia the native violet and other mauve or purple flowers, such as the Black-eyed Susan, which are in bloom around this time of year, can be thought of as the flowers of Imbolc.
My personal “Imbolc flower”, although not native, is Lavender, simply because I planted an abundance of Lavender plants in my garden some years ago and they all thrived and continued to flower profusely. Each Imbolc I have decorated my altar with bunches of Lavender from my garden.
In general, Imbolc is a time for planting seeds and to recognize one’s duty to nurture inner seeds of growth as well as the physical seeds of the earth; to consider personal goals and dreams, and to embrace inspiration. It is common to bless and burn candles of inspiration at Imbolc rituals. You can approach situations and people with open eyes and open heart, and coupled with planning, this fresh approach to life can inspire your every moment to be happier and more energetic.
http://www.akashawitchcraft.net (website no longer available)
http://www.lucycavendish.com (original Imbolg page no longer available)
Imbolc ~ History & Origins
Imbolc (pronounced “IM-bulc” or “EM-bowlk” meaning “in the belly”) is a cross-quarter day midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). The name is derived from the Gaelic word “oimelc” which means “ewe’s milk”. Although we celebrate the day on February 1st (Northern Hemisphere) or August 1st (Southern Hemisphere), in the past the date varied from community to community. Traditionally the date of the festival was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, soon to give birth to the spring lambs. This could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February.
Imbolc’s name is in recognition of the reawakening of the earth – new beginnings, things yet to be born, and the associated events of spring-time; the earth bristling with new life waiting to bud, herd animals’ wonderfully swollen bellies about to bring forth the years offspring, who are to be nurtured with the milk of life, chickens and geese beginning to lay their first eggs. It is the time in the natural calendar of the year in which we banish the winter and rejoice the coming of spring. It is a time for planting seeds and to recognize one’s duty to nurture inner seeds of growth as well as the physical seeds of the earth. It is the time to consider personal goals and dreams, and to embrace inspiration. It is common to bless and burn candles of inspiration at Imbolc rituals.
Imbolc is the Sabbat which honors the Goddess as the waiting bride of the returning sun God. Before the Nordic influence, it was also the Sabbat in which the Celts saw the sun as being born anew. The importance of Imbolc to the ancient inhabitants of Ireland can be seen at a number of Megalithic and Neolithic sites, such as at the Loughcrew burial mounds and the Mound of the Hostages in Tara, Ireland. Here, the inner chamber of the passage tombs are perfectly aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain. Similar to the phenomena seen at Newgrange, the rising Imbolc sun shines down the long passageway and illuminates the inner chamber of the tomb. In Ireland it was, and still is, a special day to honor the Goddess Brid in her guise of bride. The modern Irish know this as St. Briget’s Day, St. Briget being a vaguely disguised and Christianized version of the Pagan Goddess.
Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year. Celts would often dress grain dollies, representations made from dried sheaves from the previous harvest, as brides, and set them in a place of honor within their homes. They were usually placed in cradles called Bride’s Beds, and nuts, symbols of male fertility, were tossed in with them.
On the night of Imbolc, bonfires would light up the hills as a welcome to the return of heat and fire. During the day, chandlers would be praised. Traditionally, especially in Europe, Imbolc would be spent making candles for the year, as candles made at this time were considered to be lucky. Other customs included the lighting of candles in every window of the house and keeping a perpetual candle on the alter of Brid. Interestingly, up until 1220 BCE St Bridgid’s Shrine at Kildare had a constantly tended fire, which was cared for by the priestesses of the Goddess, the care of which was taken over by virgin nuns after Christianity. It is the tradition of the lighting of candles that was partly the inspiration for the Christian celebration of Candlemas. The significance of fire and the burning of candles (other than Brigid being the Goddess of fire …go here for more about Brigid) is that Imbolc is a celebration of light. Winter is dying away, and the fire of the sun grows stronger. In times past, people would jump bonfires at Imbolc to be cured of their winter colds and aliments. The candles and fire are all symbolically adding their energies to the waxing sun, bringing forth the joy of spring with the waxing sun.