(Keep scrolling for class links and writings on Holy Days for work with Imbolc Season.)
Imbolc (pronounced im-bowlk) is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly,” and for many modern Pagans, Feb. 1 is one of four Greater Sabbats, or grand holy days, marking the seasons. Imbolc (also spelled Imbolg or Immolc) acknowledges the first stirrings of spring, the profound shift away from Yule and winter and the return of light and heat to the Northern Hemisphere.
Central to many Imbolc traditions is the Irish Great Goddess Brigid.
She oversaw fertility, poetry, smithcraft, and healing, and was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the deities of pre-Christian Ireland. For ancient Celts, she was the ever-changing Earth itself, coming back to life after her winter sleep. Celebrations ranged from raging bonfires and torch processions through the fields and streets of the local village to simple ceremonies, centered around the mother of the house wearing a crown of lit candles as she led her family in ritual.
Imbolc rituals focused on purifying bodies and homes to prepare for spring.
All the pine branches or yule trees left over from winter would be burned by Imbolc, or as soon after as possible. The house would be cleaned thoroughly. People honored their ancestors; those who didn’t make it through the season; and the people in their community who shared their skills, like midwives and blacksmiths; after all, it was their know-how that just got everyone through winter. They would rededicate themselves to their beliefs, after having been tested on winter’s underworld journey—knowing what genuinely served them, and what ideas they could leave behind.
Tending to water wells and renewing connections to the land and its resources are holy acts now.
Pagans would sow the first seeds of the year during Imbolc. They would clearly demarcate the old cycle of growth from the new. And at some point in that process, they’d get loose, weird, loud, and lusty to wake up their spiritual fire, their lust for life.
These themes of ending, purification, and rekindling are reflected in ancient and modern festivals around the world. The Chinese New Year happens at this time, a lunar-based holiday ushering in a new annual astrological sign for billions of people. The fire festival Up Helly Aa in Scotland is an end-of-Yule holiday, where thousands of modern Vikings and Scotsmen set fire to a ship, Viking-funeral style while carousing all night. The ancient Roman holiday Terminalia, dedicated to the God Terminus, Lord of Boundaries, happens around this time as well. He was seen as the literal edge of the winter and the start of spring.
I’d be remiss not to mention the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia, featuring the priests of the Goddess Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
Lupa’s priests, wearing nothing but small goatskin thongs, would run through the streets wielding thin hide whips called februa, striking whoever they met. It was, of course, in the interest of the public, to rouse fertility and virility in bed and in life. Married women got extra attention, the priests ensuring fertile wombs with each stroke. Many women would run out into the streets naked when they saw the priests coming, making sure to extend their thighs and backsides, so nothing was missed.
So here we are, in the Northern Hemisphere, seeing the final weeks of winter before us.
We have an opportunity to burn away those last threads of whatever is clinging to us from last year or last life, a chance to look squarely at all that has been handed down to us—our beliefs, our habits, our predetermined outcomes—and question it all. Because we have a responsibility to try to build the very best future we can, we must carefully choose which threads to continue to weave this life with. And we must decide what we are going to plant and tend, what seeds of hope we want to press down into the black, fertile soil of reality. What could we grow into this year?
Imbolc Season Work
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Tarot Circle is a monthly offering for my Patrons. This month we’re taking a deep dive into The Hanged One Card. The Hanged One connects to Neptune, the planetary ruler of Pisces… Folks who are subscribed at the Venus level and higher on Patreon get access to the recording of the lecture. Join here.
Is there a connection between the two folk holidays Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day, and if so, what is it? The simple answer is, well, yes. Like so many other holidays, this one also finds its roots in Paganism. The tradition of waiting for Punxsutawney Phil, the infamous groundhog at Gobbler’s Knob near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to poke his head out of a hole and perhaps see a shadow was brought to America by German settlers… Read more
Lupercalia: The Risqué History of this Frisky Festival!
Whips. Wolves. A lottery where girls are given to men. Sex in the streets. The Pagan root of Valentine’s Day. History and misinformation has put A LOT at the feet of this ancient Roman festival. Let’s take a look at what was possibly the truth and what is modern projection on the holiday Lupercalia. Descriptions of this holiday from any era in which it was celebrated are incomplete. Just pieces and partial descriptions, often recorded by pious Christians who were not happy with its popularity. For Romans, Lupercalia was the most important holiday of February and they focused on purification vibes… Read more
The last six-ish weeks of Winter is known as Imbolc or Candlemas. There is a feeling, an impulse rustling at the edge of crocus buds jutting, verdant, out of the frosty ground. You catch it in the sudden song of returning robins, something offbeat, upbeat, swift. Like that dark moment before the movie starts. We sit, hushed, hearts thumping, wondering, “What will we see? What will we feel? What will we say about it?” As a result, there is a rush (in my opinion) in some Northern Hemisphere traditions to hurry through these last moments of Winter. To sweep Winter out the door with the Yule greens, giving a furtive nod to The Queen in White. However, The Crone not only deserves Her time of year, She’ll take it, whether you offer it up willingly or not… Read More