Imbolc - Meaning & Origins of This Pagan Festival

The 1st February (1st August in the Southern Hemisphere) sees the arrival of Imbolc, probably one of the most overlooked festivals on the Wheel of The Year. Never heard of it? You’re not alone! But in this blog – Imbolc meaning and origins – I will attempt to answer some of your questions.

This is the Winter fire festival and one of the cross-quarter days. If you think of the year marked out by two solstices – one Winter and one Summer, and two Equinoxes – one in Spring and the other in Autumn, then Imbolc is the midpoint between the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) and the Spring Equinox (when the day and the night are in balance).So this day isn’t really Winter anymore, but neither is it truly Spring yet. It’s rather the harkening of Spring. Depending on where you live, at this time of year, it might be very hard to believe that to be true – you might even have snow on the ground still! But this isn’t technically the first day of Spring. Rather it is a promise that slowly but surely the light is returning and we will see the days become longer and longer as we build up to the Spring Equinox.

Imbolc – Origins

The most famous goddess associated with Imbolc is the Celtic Brigid or Brighid. She was the goddess of hearth and home, of fire and healing. Connected to midwives and newborn babies, she brought fertility to the land and was so revered that the Christians turned her into St Brigit and created Candlemas to celebrate her. 

This is the festival of earth awakening and is one of my favourites because it feels like we can finally look forward to some light. I used to think that nothing much happened in January and February,  but if you get outside and keep your eyes open, there are signs of life everywhere – bright green shoots pushing up through the soil, tiny buds on the trees, and snowdrops coming into flower.

Imbolc meaning - snowdrops

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Imbolc – Meaning

Depending on who you ask, Imbolc either means ‘in the belly’ or ‘ewe’s milk’ – both very different but both give you a good idea of what this festival is about. It is a time when the earth is pregnant with possibility, of hidden potential and awakenings. This is a time of hope as we cast aside the hibernating energy of Winter and look forward to the light.  It is a time to plant the seeds for the rest of the year; to think about what it is you want and how you can achieve it. This is also the perfect time for purification, to clear out – Spring clean – the old in order to make space for the new. And that’s not just physically but mentally, emotionally and energetically too. It’s time to reflect on what you can shake off from the past that is no longer serving you, to make space for your newly planted seeds to take form and grow in the coming months. 

How To Celebrate Imbolc

1. Plant some seeds. 

Even if it feels way too early to plant anything outside where you live, you can always plant on your window sill. Or as I will be doing, just grab yourself a seed catalogue and plan out your garden or veg patch.

2. Purifications rituals.

There are many you could do, but try to focus on what you might want to release. You could work on transforming limiting beliefs, a banishing ritual or my personal favourite – a cord-cutting ritual. 

3. Smoke cleanse your space. 

Try to be mindful of what plants you use for this. Please remember that White Sage and Paolo Santo are both endangered so think before you buy. The best herbs to use for cleansing your space are the ones that grow locally to you. Try garden sage or rosemary if you live here in the UK.

4. Spring clean your house. 

Do this physical cleanse first, then move on to the energetic cleanse of the smoke described above. 

5. Clear and reset your altar. 

Things that you might like to add for this festival are Brigid crosses, swan feathers, white and pale green candles, amethyst, bloodstone, onyx, and snowdrops.

6. Bake a seed cake or bread.

Anything with poppy seeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkins seeds would be perfect

7. Take a ritual bath

Milk features heavily in this festival so a skin-softening ritual bath with added milk and lavender would be so good for the self-care that you should be continuing in these final dark days. If you don’t want to use diary, oat is particularly good for the skin.

So there it is! Imbolc – meaning and origins. Go and have fun with it – remember these are celebrations! 

If you would like to read more about the Wheel of The Year, try the following blogs:

How To Celebrate The Summer Solstice

What Is Samhain?

How To Celebrate Beltane

Spring Equinox – Facts & Folklore