In the space between midwinter and the beginning of spring, nature hangs in the balance. The frozen ground has not yet thawed but the darkest part of the year has passed. Exactly between the winter solstice and spring equinox, this pagan sabbat called Imbolc marks the turning point. The word “Imbolc” means “in the belly.” This brings to mind an animal in the belly of the earth, stirring as it slowly awakens from hibernation. This day is a call to light a fire in the belly, to warm and thaw the spaces that were frozen and dormant.
What is Imbolc?
Imbolc takes place on the first day of February and is one of the four fire festivals on the pagan Wheel of the Year. Winter is the longest night, spring is when the days and nights are in balance again, and Imbolc is positioned directly in between. It is the time the earth and nature are waking up, and we too are beginning to feel inspired and motivated again as we look for signs of the coming spring.
But with the ground still frozen, we are not yet coming out of our caves, not yet putting plans into action. Imbolc is a time to organize before planting seeds and tends to be a quiet and introspective sabbat. This may be a sabbat you choose to spend completely solitary. It is about inner work and personal reflection, recalculating your life trajectory and making sure you’re heading in the direction of where you want to end up.
7 Ways to Celebrate the Imbolc Sabbat
1. Honor the Goddess Brigid
Also called Brigid’s Day, Imbolc is the sabbat that honors the goddess Brigid, or in some belief systems, Saint Brigit of Kildare. St. Brigit is suspected to be the goddess made into a Christian saint. During the Christianization of Ireland, the Celtic pagans did not want to give up honoring this beloved goddess. The pagan symbols for the goddess even carried over to the saint, such as Brigid’s cross and fire, which are both ancient symbols of the sun. There is some debate over whether the Candlemas tradition was derived from Brigid worship. Nevertheless, candle magick and fire spells are a great way to honor the fire goddess on this day.
Brigid has a long history of being honored as keeper of the hearth and goddess of fertility and childbearing. She represents the essence of inner dawn and spring yet to come, which is her connection to Imbolc. Brigid was invoked to protect the home from fire, bless farmers with fertile and abundant fields, and protect fishermen on the water. In Kildare, where St. Brigit was said to have founded a convent, there is a holy well dedicated to her. This well carries healing powers and dates back to pagan times. It was most likely originally a sacred site for the goddess Brigid where she tended to her eternal flame. She is a goddess of contradictions, known for health and life but also passion and inspiration. It only makes sense she is connected to both fire and water.
Read more about the Goddess Brigid in the article Goddess Brigid Chant for Imbolc. *Chant included to sing during your sabbat ritual.
2. Make a Brigid’s Cross
As discussed earlier, the Brigid’s Cross is a symbol of the sun and possibly one of the most ancient symbols of this sabbat. Other names it goes by include Celtic Sun Wheel and Solar Cross. Traditionally, a new cross was hung on the front door each year and the old cross was burned to protect the home from fire. Because of the sun connections, you can infuse it with the intention of inviting back the sun as you weave your cross, and of course, welcoming the sun goddess, Brigid, active in her maiden form on Imbolc.
Even though it already has a long history as a protection symbol, it is a good idea to bless your own after you finish crafting it with protection for your home or wherever you choose to put it and remind your cross what you would like it to do for you. You could also hang it near a dedicated space for Brigid or your kitchen altar (more on this later!).
3. Use Divination for Future Plans
The contemplative nature of Imbolc makes it a wonderful time to practice divination. A traditional form of divination for Imbolc is quite similar to Groundhog Day, except it has purely to do with the weather on the first day of February. It was said that the Cailleach, who is thought to be the Crone aspect of Brigid, gathers firewood on this day for the remainder of winter. If the cold weather will last longer, she makes this day sunny so she can gather plenty. If it is cloudy, it indicates that the winter will come to a close sooner.
Pyromancy and other divination methods involving candles are great ideas to practice on this candle and fire-centric sabbat. You can combine both of these in a ritual by standing the candle up on a heat-safe plate. Divide the plate into quarters, labeled “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” and “unsure.” If you use a pendulum in your practice, you can ask it to show you how to divide the sections beforehand or use the same key you use for your pendulum. Don’t have one? Find available pendulums in the shop.
When you light the candle, ask a straightforward question that requires a yes or no answer. While the candle is burning, dripping wax onto the plate, watch for shapes and movements in the flame, recording what you see and interpreting what it means for you. When the candle is finished, observe in which quarter the majority of the wax drippings fell to determine your answer!
4. Make Kitchen Magick
Since Brigid is a goddess of the hearth, celebrate Imbolc by spending time making kitchen magick! In the past, the oven was the center of the hearth, a source of fire and warmth and the place from which nourishment came. Even now with our modern electricity, there is nothing better than the oven warming the cold house in the winter with the delicious aroma of food!
Consider also making a specific altar for Brigid in your kitchen. You may want to add correspondences to the goddess there to invoke her protection over your home and infuse her healing into the nourishing foods you make for your family and friends.
5. Decorate Your Altar
Because the energy of Imbolc is about making plans but not yet taking action, letting go of old energy that no longer serves you is an important step to include. You can start by energetically cleansing your altar (and your home too if you feel the need!), and cleaning it physically as well. Some options could be to wipe it down with Florida Water before replacing the cloth and sweeping over it with a besom to move out the stagnant energy.
An easy way to change up your altar for Imbolc is to include lots of candles! These welcome the light and honor the goddess. You can decorate with red candles to further represent the fire element. Cauldrons also represent fire and the hearth, which Brigid keeps and protects.
Since water is also a Brigid correspondence, you can include a bowl of water. If you want to go further with this, bless it for healing, charge it under a full moon, or use it for water scrying. Crystals you can decorate your altar with that correspond with Imbolc include amethyst, bloodstone, ruby, garnet, turquoise, and onyx.
Flowers, of course, make an excellent altar decoration. Daffodils and other early blooms remind us winter won’t last forever. If you live somewhere spring is already beginning to awaken, you can also decorate with other early signs of spring.
The connection to fire also makes Imbolc a great time to make incense blends. You can also use smoke to clear out old energy and make room for your goals and dreams. Invite new energy as all of nature begins to wake. It is the step of weeding the garden before planting the seeds so the new can grow strong without being choked out by the old.
Herbs and scents corresponding with Imbolc include cinnamon, jasmine, lavender, rosemary, frankincense, myrrh, basil, bay, blackberry, chamomile, and angelica root. See this Witchy DIY article for more ideas for making your own incense blends!
7. Perform a Ritual for the Returning Light
Though we have gained a small amount of light since the Winter Solstice, the nights are still longer than the days and the light is still returning. This is a simple ritual that can involve the whole family if you like, especially children.
After dark, have the children or other participants turn out every light while you light a votive or pillar candle. Give a small candle, such as a tealight or a chime candle to each person participating. Once it is dark, have each participant light their own candle from the larger candle.
If you are doing this with children, this would be a great opportunity to talk about the fire connection of Imbolc, the goddess Brigid, or simply that the light of the candle represents light and warmth of the coming spring. Reflect on what the darkness means, how it is both the beginning and the end, the death and the birth of the cycle. Thank the darkness as you invite the returning light.
To end the ritual, have each member make a wish before blowing out their respective candle (turn on all the lights first, if the dark will scare small children). Imbolc is a time to decide what you desire and make plans for the best way to move forward once spring thaws the frozen ground and we wake from hibernation.
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