What is Imbolc?
The Pagan holiday of Imbolc (pronounced "im'olk" and also spelled Oimelc) falls on February 1/2 and marks the midpoint of winter. The name comes from an Irish word meaning either "in the belly," with reference to winter food stores, or "ewe's milk" (oímelc), with reference to the lambing season.
History of Imbolc
Imbolc was an important day in the Celtic calendar. As winter stores of food began to be used up, Imbolc rituals were performed to ensure sufficient food supplies until the harvest six months later. Imbolc was a feast of purification for the farmers, and the name oímelc ("ewe's milk") is likely in reference to the beginning of the lambing season, when the ewes came into milk.
The central ritual of Imbolc was the lighting of fires to celebrate the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Imbolc is also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid), the goddess of fire, healing and fertility.
When Brigit was taken over into Celtic Christianity as St. Brigit, her sacred fire burned continually, tended by nuns. In addition, the Christian festival of Candlemas carries on the tradition of fire and light on this date.
Rituals of Imbolc
For Neopagans, Imbolc is still celebrated as the festival of fire and rituals include processions with torches and firedances.
In addition, Neopagans feel that human actions are best when they reflect the actions of nature, so as the world slowly springs back into action it is time for the small tasks that are neglected through the busy year. Rituals and activities might include the making of candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories.
- "Celtic religion." Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- "Imbolc." BBC Religion & Ethics (2007).