Imbolc can be seen as a Sabbath given over to the contemplation of the “Shadow” and recognition of the winter’s growing light as an increase in consciousness. Together the divine and human, heaven and earth, strive to clean the house of the soul and use the dirt as compost for the seeds of spring. This is part of the annual and ongoing integrative process of nature’s wholeness and redemption where nothing is to be wasted.
We are half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Imbolc is one of the four major Celtic fire festivals.
Chasing away Evil Spirits
Candles are burned to purify the home and chase away evil spirits.
On Imbolc they lit many candles, and sang to the Dark Lord who had grown young, to return to them. They sang to the Goddess, to ask her to awaken and bring back Spring. Many looked to the burrowing animals, who were deep in the earth, and who spoke with the Goddess, to see if they gave any clues to when Spring would come.
In churches, the torches were replace by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil and symbolize that Christ is the light of the world. They would then take the candles to their homes to bring protection to their homes.
Deriving from the Old Irish imbolg which means “in the belly,” and Imbolc is a reference . There is the belief that the crosses protect one’s home from fire and evil. Another common tradition was crafting with hay the well-known Brigit cross, then to hang it on the front door of the house so that evil would be kept outside.
Wassailing is also held in late winter and is an old English tradition to scare away evil spirits from your fruit trees and encourage a good harvest in the coming year.
At Carhampton, near Minehead, the Apple Orchard Wassailing is held on the old Twelfth Night (17 January) as a ritual to ask God for a good apple harvest. The villagers form a circle around the largest apple tree, hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the ‘good spirits’ of the tree. A shotgun is fired overhead to scare away evil spirits and the group sings.
The festival of Apollo, associated with light and the sun, falls about this time, as does the Anthesteria, a festival of Dionysus celebrating the maturing of last year’s wines and the return of Spring. Like the Japanese, the ancient Greeks used the festival to cast evil spirits or Keres from their homes.
The Roman pastoral god Faunus, has a festival at this time called the Lupercalia, which also involved purification, fertility and the banishing of evil.
It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle.
Angelica is an herb associated with this time of year, used in spells and hexes. The root is often used as a protective amulet, and has been used to banish evil by burning the leaves. It is also used to lengthen life, and is used in protection against diseases, as well as to ward off evil spirits. It has often been used to ward off evil spirits in the home. Sprinkle crushed leaves around the 4 corners of a house to ward negativity and purify the home, burn for meditation, protection, divination, exorcism,
The Celtic year was divided into two halves, the dark and the light, and between these two ‘doors’ or portals fell Imbolc on February 1.
Candles lit to the goddess Februa, mother of Mars, were to scare away evil spirits.
During the Winter, the Maiden is with the Dark Lord and the land is bare.
The festival is celebrated when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon nearest this.
Imbolc marks the time that the earth starts to wake up after it’s winter sleep.
The Imbolc Fire Festival takes place every year in February in the Pennine village of Marsden, nestled in the moors at the very top of the Peak District National Park.
Fire Spinning is a spectacular event that starts in the village centre before a lantern procession, accompanied by local bands. Fire dancers and fire jugglers appear before the Green
Man does battle with Jack Frost, representing the start of the new season beating back the cold winter.
The Celtic tradition is over 2000 years old. Imbolg’s meaning “in the belly”, referring to the pregnancy of ewes and the start of their lactation at this time of year, is something that is important to Marsden, known for it’s sheep!
Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa, literally “Up Holy Day All”, refers to fire festivals held annually in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season. The festival involves a procession of up to a thousand who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes.
Hundreds of torch-carrying “guizers” lead a procession to burn a viking longboat.
The first torch procession took place in 1876.
From antiquity to the Middle Ages, bears were an object of cult. Germans and Scandinavians and, to a lesser extent, the Celts celebrated the end of hibernation of the bears at the end of January and beginning of February. However January 24 was for most of Europe the date of the celebration. This was around the time when the bears would leave their dens and see if the weather was mild. This festival was characterized by bear costumes or disguises, and mock rapes and abductions of young girls.
In addition, the Festa candelarum in Rome commemorated the search for the Goddess of Light Persephone kidnapped by the King of the Other World Hades, by her mother the Goddess of Life Demeter. As Persephone was no longer in our world, darkness was everywhere, so her mother used a torch in her search, and in the end obtained that her daughter would be on Earth and Olympus for two thirds of the year (the light period), and in the Other World (Hades) for the other third of the time (winter season). The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light.
At nightfall on Candlemas Eve (February 1) an ancient tradition is observed by witches. Every candle in the covenstead glows with living fire to encourage the swift return of the sun and the spring season.
Just as candles illuminate the darkness, a witch seeks to penetrate the hidden recesses of the mind and heart in order to greet the coming season with a clear horizon in view.
Ancient mystery, magic night
Cut pink rosebuds by fireside bright.
Thread of white, a needle sharp
Candle red to stay the dark.
Place all upon the altar stone
Consecrate from witches bones. By Silver RavenWolf
In ancient times, this yearly defeat of winter was marked by a women’s festival. The married women of the tribe would paint themselves with woad and go naked to the festival site to honor the Crone.
Caillage Ny Groagmagh
Caillage Ny Groagmagh is also the Old Woman of Gloominess. She is a hag faery from Manx and is said to control the weather. Similar to the American groundhog, she comes out at Imbolc to check the weather. If the weather is bad it will stay that way for awhile and if it is good she will keep it that way.