Sabbat Series: Imbolc

Posted by Alexandria Huntington on

The ancient Irish festival Imbolc or "Oimlec," roughly translates to "in the belly" and references the end of winter when pregnant ewes are giving birth to and nursing their newly born lambs. This marks the beginning stages of spring and the coming abundance it entails. This ancient celebration is held on February 2nd and was also a time for honoring the goddess Brigid, the patroness of the arts, blacksmithing, medicine, livestock, childbirth, and springtime. Her name stems from the Proto-Celtic word Briganti, meaning "the High One" or "the Exalted One," and likely refers to the goddess’s connection to sunlight and fire, but may also be related to dawn goddesses across the Indo-European world. 
Brigid is a goddess of contradictions. She is associated with healing fertility and motherhood, but also passion, war, and blacksmithing. She is a goddess of fire and the forge but also strongly associated with wells and waterways. Evidence of her worship can be found throughout Ireland, highlighting her status as an important yet deeply personal deity. Usually, she takes the form of a maiden with fiery red hair and a cloak made from a sunbeam, known as the cloak of Bridgit or "brat Bhride." In other tales, she appears as a mother or an old hag. These varying forms and her wide breadth of domains lead to speculations that she may have been a triple goddess of some kind.
Her status as the "exalted one," gave her dominion over sites of physical elevation, such as towers, mountains, and cliffs, but also elevated thought, reinforcing her role as a patron of poetry, philosophy, and invention. Brigid was also known as a goddess of life and death. As a solar deity, she was associated with the first days of spring and the rise of the dawn, contributing to her status as a fertility figure. 

At the same time, she was also known as a goddess of death, watching over cemeteries and graveyards to ensure no one disturbs the resting places of the departed. This association comes from the story of the death of her son Ruadán, who was slain while fighting for the Fomorians. According to the myth, Brigid was said to rush onto the battlefield and mourn him with a mixture of crying and singing. This became the first instance of Irish keening or "caoineadh," a traditional practice performed during burials. 
In addition to being a goddess of the dawn, fire, and light, Brigid also held dominion over rivers and wells. Two of her most famous wells were:

Brigid’s Well in Kildare—one of the most famous sites in all of Ireland. The well’s water was said to heal any illness or wound. Though the site now belongs to St. Brigid, many still visit to seek the goddess’ blessing. The Flame of Ireland burns at this site and is dedicated to Brigid’s honor.

Brigid’s Well in County Clare—located at a church, this well was built into/underneath a cemetery. This well is located near the famous Cliffs of Moher.
Brigid also had a clear symbol going back to prehistory known as the Brigid Cross. Made of rush or grass, this geometric cross is still used across Ireland, and is often hung above the doorways of homes and businesses. It is especially common around Imbolc, and is also used as one of the symbols of St. Brigid. The cross has several three-armed variants.
When Christians began their colonization of Ireland, they could not shake the influence of this powerful goddess. So she was re-interpreted as St. Brigid of Kildare. Kildare was the location of the Pagan goddess's original sanctuary, where she was honored with a sacred flame maintained by a group of priestesses. Kildare is also the location of one of several sacred wells in the Celtic regions, many of which are connected to Brigid. Despite her eventual Christianization, many of Brigid's pagan associations and supernatural powers remained (with the caveat that this time they were miracles from God.) 
In the book, Pagan Imagery in the Early Lives of Brigit: A Transformation from Goddess to Saint, author Lisa Lawrence explains how Brigid's association with fire became an important bridge during the transition between the two religious systems:

"When two religious systems interact, a shared symbol can provide a bridge from one religious idea to another. During a period of conversion, an archetypical symbol such as fire may acquire a new referent, while not being entirely emptied of a previous one. For example, the fire that clearly signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit in Saint Brigit may continue to signify pagan conceptions of religious power."
Another such symbol is that of Bridget's cloak or mantel. In Pagan lore, Bridget's mantle carried with it, blessings and powers of healing. Many people believe that if you place a piece of cloth out upon your hearth at Imbolc, Brigid will bless it in the night. Use the same cloth as your mantle each year, and it will gain strength and power each time Brigid 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. 

The Christian legend has it that Brigid 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, Brigid's cloak grew and grew until it covered as much property as she needed, and she got her abbey. Thanks to her roles as both a Pagan goddess and a Christian saint, Brigid is often seen as being of both worlds; a bridge between the old ways and the new.
Imbolc, later known as "St. Brigid's Day" to the Christians was a time of great merriment and feasting. The festival took place on February 2nd, approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. On Imbolc/St Brigid's Day, Brigid's crosses were made and young girls went from house to house parading their  Brídeógs, a doll made to resemble the goddess and traditionally made from their grandmother's hair (although these days are made with straw or wool). 
Sometimes these girls were accompanied by "straw boys," also known as "Biddy Boys" or "Hay Boys," young men dressed in elaborate straw costumes, the best of which received a special prize. Many of these ancient traditions are still practiced in rural Ireland today, although more often performed in honor of St. Brigid rather than her pagan counterpart. 
Brigid was said to visit one's home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid, leave her food and drink, and clothing items would be left outside for her to bless. It is also traditional to smother one's fire before bed and rake the ashes smooth. If there is a mark on the ashes in the morning, it is a sign that Brigid has passed that night and blessed the home. The clothes are brought inside and now have powers of healing and protection thanks to the goddess.
 Imbolc was also a special time for divination. In fact, the ancient Irish even had their version of groundhog's day, but rather than waiting for a rodent, it was a snake in the grass that would determine the remaining length of winter.  Villagers would wait outside of a snake's hole, singing this chant:
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.)
Throughout history, every culture has revered the goddess archetype, and Brigit is just such an embodiment of this ancient, feminine power. Even as the Christians attempted to erase pagan practices, they could not shake the power of this prolific figure. As such, Imbolc is a time to embrace our inner goddess, and nurture our gifts of creation, in whatever form that may take. 
a great all-purpose stone, but especially helpful for cleansing the mind, body, and spirit, and starting fresh this spring.  This stone has been believed to promote sobriety and have the power to quell a range of other physical appetites and indulgences. Amethyst is often used during meditation to provide an overall sense of spiritual balance. Some naturopaths will use amethyst to help treat insomnia and sugar imbalances and to relieve headaches.

a stone that resonates with the spirit of love and fertility. Garnet symbolizes a quick return to a separated love, fertility, and the feminine life force. According to Greek myth, Hades fed a pomegranate to Persephone to ensure her return to the Underworld, for once she ate the food of that realm, she would be tied to it. When she returned to his Kingdom in the winter, the fruit was transformed into a pile of garnet gems. Perhaps because of this story, the garnet stone is often gifted to a loved one before they embark on travel. Garnets are commonly believed to aid in the healing of broken bonds of love. Garnets are also known to aid in the treatment of melancholy and depression by acting as a heart and blood stimulant.

 Ruby is believed to promote loving, nurturing, health, knowledge, and wealth. It has been associated with improved energy and concentration, creativity, loyalty, honor, and compassion. Thought to be an especially protective stone of the home and family,  ruby perfectly resonates with the spirit of Imbolc as a time to honor the domestic. Ruby is also said to stimulate the heart chakra and bring spiritual wisdom while shielding against psychic attacks, clearing your mind so that you can blossom with the coming spring. 

 A stone of courage, purification, and noble sacrifice, the bloodstone has a long history of use for its healing properties. It can transmute negative energy into positive energy, while repelling negative energy at the same time, making it an incredibly powerful protection stone. It's great for physical and mental rejuvenation and general cleansing purposes. 

 this stone is heralded as the stone of communication. It encourages enthusiasm, thus inspiring new projects and bringing to light undiscovered artistic abilities. Turquoise also provides understanding and encourages attention to detail while attracting prosperity and success.
The sprawling lines of coppery matrix provide a large amount of energy to its wearer.

Black has been associated with regeneration and new beginnings. Black onyx is thought by some to have protective qualities, making it advantageous to carry when traveling. It is said to be useful in fighting basic fears and helping to move beyond bad relationships--as well as to heal old emotional wounds. 

Selenite vibrates at a high frequency, which enables it to psychically cleanse other crystals without accumulating negative energy itself. Therefore, selenite gemstones are believed to protect the mind and cleanse it of negativity and self-limitation despite being an incredibly soft stone. The colorless beauty and translucency of selenite are often attributed to purity and peace in both metaphysical beliefs and color theory. Selenite is excellent to use when meditating or trying to achieve mental clarity, as it is believed to compel the person holding it to be honest with themselves.



      Snowdrops: rebirth, sympathy
      Angelica: healing, protection, luck
      Crocuses: rebirth,  love, friendship, settling disputes, peace, and divination. 
      Chamomile: innocence, serenity, calmness
      Cinnamon: love, vitality, protection
      Frankincense: cleaning, protection, relaxation
      Wisteria: love, healing, relaxation, beauty 
      Violets: rebirth, love, protection, peace, healing
      Vanilla: love, sexuality, beauty, vitality, healing, relaxation
      Basil: love, romantic relationships, money, wealth 
       Laurel: success, protection, luck
       Blackberry: protection, healing, prosperity
       Heather: love, friendship, protection 
      Iris: faith, hope, wisdom, courage 
       Celandine: protection
       Tansy: rebirth, renewal, longevity
      Coltsfoot: love, tranquility, money
      Rosemary: Fresh starts, openness, cleansing, clarity

       pale yellow
       light green
      Cernunnos, Eros, Osiris, Pan, Athena, Bast, Blaize, Brigid, Ceres, Cerridwen, Venus, Gaia, Demeter, Hestia, Vesta, Cupid
      The World
      The Fool
      The Hermit
      The Empress
      The High Priestess 
      The Queen of Wands
      The Ace of Wands
      The Ace of Cups 
      The Queen of Cups 
      The Queen of Coins 
      Imbolc is a time of awakening and rebirth, so think of it as an opportunity for spiritual spring cleaning. Cleansing magic, home blessings, divination, initiation rituals, fertility magic, and self-discovery rituals are perfect for this Sabbat. Rid your home of stale energy left over from the cold winter by lighting candles, holding a bonfire, or other rituals to welcome the sun and thank the earth. Search for signs foretelling of spring and appreciate the small signs of life beginning to emerge. 

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