Imbolc or Imbolg is a Gaelic fire festival & cross quarter day marking the mid-point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. For the ancient Celts, cross quarter days signaled the beginning of a season! In this case, Imbolg is a threshold crossing initiating us into Spring. This festival usually falls on or around February 1st. It is a time of quickening and anticipation as the soil is prepared for Spring planting.
In this blog post you will find:
Other Names & Associated Festivals Imbolc, Imbolg, Oimealg, The Feast of St. Brigid, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Feast, Ground Hog Day, Imbolgc Brigantia, Imbolic, Disting, Lubercus, Candlemas, Candlelaria, the Snowdrop Festival, The Festival of Lights, the Feast of the Virgin, February Eve
Dear one, can you feel it? The quiet quivering and restless stirring beneath this thick blanket of snow? The weight of heavy eyelids slowly lifting as the lengthening light penetrates into the depths of darkness?
I feel it too... It's as if we're standing between worlds, with one foot in the clinging shade, knee-deep in the cold freeze of Winter, and another standing in the warm sun on thawing ground, with new little green shoots appearing for the first time. Imbolg is the season where opposites meet, where fire and ice co-mingle. Between the frozen stillness of the Winter's embrace and the coming thaw of Spring, Imbolg signals the quickening of life, buried deep within the earth.
I can sense this tension of opposites at play within my own life (and the collective) as I experience old parts of me (habits, behaviors, thought patterns) clinging on for dear life, wishing that I would stay in unconscious slumber or simply remain in what's familiar and comfortable. I'm noticing the need for rest and longer sleeping hours because less energy is available as a result of fewer daylight hours.
And yet simultaneously, new aspects of self are emerging (as I have called them forth) along with opportunities to apply myself in fresh and exciting ways. Some of these things are already pushing at the edge of my comfort zone, requiring more energy for greater focus as I strengthen new neural pathways (embodiments, rhythms and routines).
What is Imbolc?
"In the dim winter days of the early year there grows within all of us a longing for more light. In old Scotland February fell in the middle of the period known as Faoilleach, the wold month; it was also known as a'marbh mhios, the dead month. But although this season was so cold and drear, small signs of new life began to appear: lambs were born, and soft rain brought new grass. Ravens began to build their nests, and larks were said to sing with a clear voice. The Cailleach (kal-yukh), Old Woman of Winter, was transformed into Bride, the Fair Woman of February, fragile yet growing stronger each day as the sun rekindled its fire." - Mara Freeman
Imbolg (pronounced Imm'ulk) or Bride's Day falls on or around February 1st and is one of the four Gaelic fire festivals (also known as Sabbaths) —along with Samhain, Bealtaine and Lunasa. The name "Imbolg", or Oimelc, comes from early Éire (Ireland) and probably refers to the first milk of the year as ewes birthed their lambs, heralding the return of new life. It is a time when the momentum shifts from death to rebirth. Though Winter is still all too present above ground, something deep below begins to awaken and quiver into consciousness. It’s not obvious on the surface of things but to those who are paying attention there are signals and signs that a cycle of renewal is beginning and preparing to emerge, come Spring.
In the eloquent words of our dear friend Hope...
"This is the time when the old hag of winter begins to loosen her icy talons and stumble on the shifting winds of Spring. The wise crone makes way for Brigid in her maiden guise to appear, bearing a staff of light to initiate a new cycle of growth, fertility, and abundance. The ice cracks and quakes, the wind shifts, and the temperatures rapidly rise and fall, bringing slush as well as snow, causing us to wonder if winter is coming or going . Of course, it’s only February, so we must wait awhile before the landscape changes. But we know that a new season is coming as sure as day follows night, and we believe in better days."
In later centuries, this day came to be known as Brigit's Feast Day, but in the Christian calendar the festival was replaced by Candlemas Day on February 2nd, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and featuring candlelight processions. A powerful female figure of light hovers over both celebrations, and indeed, Brigit was often called Mary of the Gael.
You might be wondering, who is Brigit anyhow ? (other name variations are Brigid, Brighid, Brid in Éire (Ireland), Bhrighde and Bride in Scotland, and other variations elsewhere). It is said that of the four fire festivals, Imbolg is the one that was likely dedicated to the Celtic Goddess Brigid, who was the daughter of the Dagda (King of the Tuatha Dé Danann). According to Celtic mythology, the Tuatha Dé Danann ("tribe of the gods") were a supernatural race inhabiting Ireland before the arrival of the Milesians (the ancestors of the modern Irish). According to Mara Freement, "She was also known as the mother of the three gods of Danu, which perhaps reflects and earlier matrifocal, or woman-centered, tradition." Saint Brigit's name is taken from the goddess Brigid.
Brigit is the nearest thing we have to a Great Mother of the Celts and it is for this reason that she is deeply associated with the country of Éire (Ireland), where to this day some Irish rivers bear her name. There is much more to learn and say about Brigit, but I hope this is a good start.
Wheel of the Year
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of eight festivals (known as Sabbats) which includes four solar festivals (Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox) and four seasonal festivals (celebrating or marking a significant seasonal change). The symbol for the concept illustrates a circle divided into eight equal sections.
Although this depiction is relatively new and was developed in the 1800's as part of the Neo-Pagan movement, it closely reflects the nature of the holy days that were celebrated by Celts thousands of years ago, even if these celebrations were known by another name now long lost.
Sadly much of the details of what took place in ancient Celtic culture has been lost, but what still remains is available to us from the source culture's of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Something that we are learning as people of the disapora who are reclaiming our cultural heritage is that it's critically important to be learning from and in direct relationship with the source culture, otherwise we are perpetuating cultural appropriation within our own cultural lineage which perpetuates colonial violence.
Under industrial growth society, we follow the concept of linear time, however in the past, when we lived in close relationship to nature, time was perceived as cyclical. The Wheel of the Year is a calendar focused on this cyclical journey of the seasons:
Orienting to Cyclical Time
If you are in the beginning stages of disentangling yourself from the death-grip of industrial growth society, shifting from linear time to cyclical time can seem quite foreign and unfamiliar at first. We become so used to perceiving time as a never-ending accumulation of one event after the other... a building of sorts, or perhaps you might visualize it as a straight line with a starting point and an ending (life/death). Be gentle with yourself as you begin to open your mind and body to your natural biorhythmic movement. Disorientation, dislocation and disassociation are all manifestations of the trauma of separation from nature.
Beginning to make the shift toward nature's cycles will take time. The best thing you can do to support this shift is to spend more time immersed in nature. Whatever you're doing in your life now, simply add 10-15 min of intentional time in nature to your day. Make this time slow and mindful, or in stillness as you take in your surroundings while staying connected to your inner landscape.
Although we orient toward the Celtic tradition, it's important to note that Indigenous and folk cultures from around the world all share very similar earth-based orientations that are informed by the unique bioregions in which they arose. It's important to name these differentiations and to recognize that we aren't all having the same experiences. What is MOST important is that you learn to pay attention to the messages and wisdom arising from your own unique bioregion.
Those of us in the northern hemisphere are currently experiencing Winter. The intensity and duration of the Winter season will be informed by where in the northern hemisphere you're located and the different conditions influencing your bioregion. For example, here in the Piedmont bioregion of NC we generally experience a very mild and short Winter season. Friends in the mountains west of here will experience variation with slightly lower overall temperatures and more snow, though overall the Winter season in the mountains will be similar to here. On the other-hand, my family members who live in Ottawa, Canada experience very long Winters with enormous amounts of snowfall throughout the Winter season. For this reason what feels like the beginning of Spring here in the Piedmont of NC is more accurately experienced as Mid-Winter in the north.
The Awakening of New Life
"To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun:
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to lose and a time to seek,
a time to rend and a time to sew,
a time to keep silent and a time to speak..."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Lamsa
And lest we forget the sacred in- between's. The lived experiences that don't necessarily belong to the categorical highs and lows or polar extremes, yet fill out and give shape to our daily lives. These are the moments that exist within the realm of the quiet mundane, where change is always afoot and yet often overlooked.
Nature teaches us through the turning of the wheel that change happens slowly, often imperceptibly, and that life is never quite as simple as it seems. Through the essence of Imbolg nature invites us to pay close attention to the magic unfolding in every moment and to deepen our presence to the here and now. As multidimensional beings we exist between worlds and are designed to hold and be with the complexity of what it means to be human. We can co-mingle and dance between fire and ice; we can know and simultaneously experience both sorrow and joy for the world, and that love gives rise to both.
Nature also reveals that the process of awakening is not for the faint of heart. It takes great courage (bravery of the heart) to meet life at the edge of our comfort zone which is how we expand and grow into new horizons. New beginnings require strong vision and focus and inevitably will bring an element of challenge and surprise - our faith and perseverance will be tested. So be ready. The journey of awakening can be both daunting and exhilarating all at once!
Orienting to nature's rhythms is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to this sacred time of the year. Imbolg can be made more meaningful by tracking your own fluctuations, inner tensions and moods, or by simply contemplating your relationship to change and new beginnings. This is a great time to practice standing between worlds - giving yourself permission to embody paradox, to shape-shift accordingly, to create space for ample rest while simultaneously sensing the inner stirring that's afoot. Embracing the seasonal energy and leaning into the invitations nature brings will really help you to THRIVE during this time.
As the sun returns and brings rebirth
I give my thanks to Mother Earth.
Embracing change, renewing hope,
the future seeds of light I sow.
Imbolc Journal Prompts
The following journal prompts relate to the theme of awakening, renewal and inspiration. Explore your relationship to this seasonal energy by reflecting on these questions:
What does it take to come back to life?
What within me is being rustled awake or perhaps beginning to thaw?
What are the signs that a process of renewal is underway within me?
What has been lying dormant, awaiting a new season?
What is the next cycle calling for? How must I dare greatly and live evermore boldly?
The seasonal energy of Imbolg stirs us awake by pushing at the edge of our comfort zone. It reminds us that awakening is not for the faint of heart, that new beginnings require strong vision and that becoming who we must takes great courage.
By embracing the seasonal is a powerful way to reclaim your ancestral connection to radical joy and embodied aliveness. Leaning into the invitations that nature brings will help you to THRIVE during this time.
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We'd love to hear from you!
How are you celebrating Imbolg?
What miracles are you bearing witness to?
How is nature teaching you?
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