Imbolc (2nd February)
This pagan festival was Christianised as The Purification of the Virgin Mary in the temple after childbirth. It is also known as Candlemass and this derives form the old pagan custom of lighting torches in honour of the winter goddess. The Church adapted the torches to the lighting of candles for the Virgin Mary, and having a special mass to bless the candles to be used in church over the coming year. Imbolc gets it's Gaelic name from the first milking of ewes which was a sign that Spring was on it's way. Some Traditional Witches call this the Festival of Lights or The Quickening.
In the Traditional Craft Imbolc, or The Festival of Lights, is a time of birth, purification and initiation. It is a time for spring cleaning, both physically and spiritually, and for driving out the spirit of the Old Year. Some do this by a banishing ritual and cleansing the circle, meeting ground, or their own sacred space with salt afterwards. This is also traditionally the last outing of the Wild Hunt. If the ritual is done outdoors, then some will leave the site to the sound of a horn and making wild noises re-enacting the Wild Hunt in full cry.
The festival is sacred to the Celtic solar and fire Goddess Brigid. She was christianised as St Bridget or St Bride and was said to have been the midwife and foster-mother of Jesus. In the legend St Bridget was said to have been born 'neither within the house, nor outside it' her mother having given birth to her with one foot outside the door and one foot inside. The link to St Bridget being a goddess born in liminal space is too obvious, she was the goddess of the 'in-between time' between winter and spring.
The goddess Brigid had many attributes. She ruled sacred fire, healing, prophecy, poetry, childbirth and smith craft. She may be linked with another Celtic goddess Brigantia, 'Mighty Queen', who was worshiped in Northern Britain, and also with the Morrigan, the triple battle goddess of death and sexuality.
To some crafters Brigid has an important role as the Bright Goddess. As such she allegedly personifies the right hand spiral. She is the female polarity of the creative energy which surrounds the Earth and is focussed at specific sites on it's surface. Holy wells and scared springs were dedicated to Brigid once it was determined they could not be contaminated by the cyclic evil which is released from Mother Earth. The Old people of our islands knew that the pure and chaste goddess was the mother of both inspiration and destruction. Love, poetry and inspiration were actively fostered and heightened by 'tapping' the 'Leys' at appropriate times.
The primary symbol of Brigid is the sun wheel or fire wheel and it is a version of the ancient swastika that represents the cosmic life force. Brigid's sun wheel flows left to right in the deosil movement of the sun, unlike the reversed Nazi version. This sun wheel appears in the celebration of Imbolc and is made from interwoven rushes and is hung above doors, windows and cradles to ward off evil.
In country lore it is said that the adder first stirs from it's nest on Candlemass Day. An old Scottish rhyme says:
"Today is the day of Bride,
The serpent shall come from the hole,
The Queen will come from the mound,
I will not molest the serpent,
The serpent will not molest me."
This symbolises the emergence of the spring goddess from the Hollow Hill of the underworld. The serpent is a symbol of the earth energy that once more starts to flow throughout the land fertilising and revitalising it with new life.
In Celtic mythology the dark season from Samhain to Imbolc is ruled over by the Cailleach or Old Woman. She is said to live on Ben Nevis and on Winter's Night she washes her plaid until it is white and this act brings the first snow to the mountain. She also has a Blasting Rod, or blackthorn stang or stave, which she uses to blast the vegetation, bring the leaves tumbling down, and raise the winter storms. She and Brigid are two aspects of the goddess, the one who dwells below, the Dark Mother, and the one who dwells above, the universal Goddess of the Stars.
Some traditions hold that the Cailleach and Brigid are one and the same goddess. On Imbolc Eve, the Cailleach travels to Tir-na-nog (the Land of the Ever Young) and there finds a Well of Youth, drinks from it and is transformed into a beautiful maiden and her black blasting rod turns into a white healing wand. At a touch of this healing wand the grass turns green and the snowdrops begin to blossom.
Wherever you are on Imbolc remember, Spring is Coming!
© Traditional Witch 2006