We have been blessed by Brigit,
Goddess of Fire and Water.
In return, we thank Brigit with our Candle Dance
to honor the waning Darkness and the waxing Light,
and the renewed life emerging from the Great Mother Goddess.
As the door of Spring opens, the sun shines longer each day,
first flowers and buds appear, and the bears, snakes and dragons emerge from
their long winter sleep. From the cave of the Goddess of Winter and Darkness
the Maiden has returned to the Land, bringing Spring with her.
She and the Goddess are One.
We take the hand of Brigit and move closer to the Great Mother Goddess.
- Debra, Imbolc 2008
Imbolc, pronounced “i-Molk” is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring. It is one of four cross-quarter days referred to in Irish mythology, the others being Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhuin. The word Imbolc derives from the Old Irish i mbolg meaning ‘in the belly’. It refers to the pregnancy of ewes and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes soon to give birth to spring lambs.
It is at Imbolc that we exclusively honour the Goddess in all of her forms; motherhood as exemplified by lactating ewes being one of them. Another is the Cailleach. Gaelic tradition tells us that Imbolc is the day that the ‘Veiled One’ gathers her firewood for the rest of winter. Legend has it that if it is her wish that the winter last longer, she will ensure that Imbolc is a fine day so that she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore the people would rejoice if Imbolc brought rain because it meant that the Cailleach was sleeping and winter would be soon over.
The most renowned form of the Goddess honoured at Imbolc is Brighid. To this day she is honoured in Scotland, Ireland, and many other places around the world. She is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft, and as such, she can appear in boundless forms. There are many traditional ways of honouring Brighid that are still relevant today such as leaving an item of clothing out for her to bless. You might like to make a ‘corn doll’ and place it in a little bed with this item of clothing. Made with love and an open heart, it is sure to attract Her attention. So-called ‘corn dolls’ can be made from any grass that can be shaped into a human-like form, including native grasses (experiment and ask for guidance). If it means something to you, toss some nuts in the bed with your corn dolly for fertility.
Brighid holds the power that brings the dark season of winter through to the light of spring; from conception to birth. Brighid is a solar and lunar Goddess; be careful not to restrict Her to one thing. Solar-wise, Her celebration is the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox but she tends to let you know exactly when she wants you to conduct her ritual and so a couple of weeks either side of August 1st (Southern Hemisphere) are not unusual. The moon could be in any of its Phases: maiden-like/new, big and round like a pregnant belly, disseminating like a teacher, or crone-like and holding her power within. If you see her in any form before during or after your celebration, consider it a blessing.
At our Imbolc Ceremony we light 19 candles for Brighid; the Number 19 representing the Metonic Cycle. From Wikipedia: ‘In astronomy and calendar studies, the Metonic Cycle…is a period of very close to 19 years which is remarkable for being very nearly a common multiple of the solar year and the synodic (lunar) month. If you would like to know more about this there are some excellent websites such as www.mythicalireland.com/astronomy/moonmovements/metoniccycle.html
Imbolc is a celebration of light. Winter must give way to the growing power of the sun. Our candles symbolically add their light, warmth, and radiance to the waxing sun and our choice of nineteen candles reflects that we are honouring the Goddess in both her solar and lunar aspects; in other words, her wholeness.
The Goddess of Imbolc is also associated with flowers. Caitlin Matthews begins her poem The Gatekeepers of the Year, Imbolc Speaks with: “I am the unopened bud, and I am the blossom”. In the Northern Hemisphere, the traditional first flower of spring is the snowdrop, the famous edelweiss of Switzerland. In Melbourne the flower that stands out at Imbolc is the wattle; our forests are adorned with its golden blooms. Imbolc as a celebration that heralds the return of the sun could be no better represented than by the wattle with its clusters of sun-like flowers. Wattle Day in Australia is now officially September 1, although August 1 competed with that date for a long time. It was in 1992 that September 1 was officially proclaimed Wattle Day, settling a long-standing difference of opinion between advocates of August 1 and advocates of September 1, much of which was caused by the different flowering times of Australia’s many species of wattle. It’s the Silver Wattle that flowers first here.
Just as the lamb is stirring within the ewe, Imbolc is about celebrating the stirring of new life in the earth. Plants that break through the earth at this time, such as snowdrops and daffodils, represent this aspect of our celebration. So what is pushing itself up through the earth at this time in Melbourne (and is indigenous to the area)? Murnong (Yam Daisy) is the stand-out. At Imbolc it is budding and its tubers are becoming more palatable. Murnong is also known as ‘Native Dandelion’ because its flower resembles its European counterpart. Like wattle, its flowers are sun-like, as you can see in this picture:
‘Early Nancy’ is another small food plant that is coming into flower and regarded as a harbinger of spring. Look out for this gorgeous flower…
Orchids such as the Tall Greenhood and Nodding Greenhood are budding as well. These are our visible signs of the earth bristling with new life.
Another flower associated with Imbolc in the Northern Hemisphere is the Heather. Here we have an equivalent in Victoria’s floral emblem (Epacris impressa), which is flowering at this time (see TMG logo at the top of the page).
At Imbolc we are celebrating things yet to be born, swollen bellies, and new life almost budding. Taking our cue from nature, we turn our attention to the plans, hopes and dreams that are incubating within our minds and hearts. At this portal of spring, is there something that you are ‘gestating’? If so, how can you give it the best chance of a healthy and happy life?
From the new OBOD Imbolc Group Ceremony: The Lady Brighid speaks: “Behold the light I have nurtured. Through the dark and the cold of winter we have carried forward from Alban Arthan a tiny flame. Soon the light of the Sun will be strong enough to truly warm the earth once more. Guard well the seed of your light!”
- Elkie, 2012
Although the chill of winter
Is still settled like a cloak
Resting its cold folds upon the earth
Beneath, her heart is beating
Just waiting for the sign
That signals it is time for life’s rebirth
For the seed of light is growing
It reminds us of its warmth
Whisp’ring to new shoots to show their face
And the seed of life now quickens
Responding to its call
Stirring from within earth’s safe embrace
The wattle it hangs golden
See it gracing every bough
A promise of the spring that’s yet to come
And the life still lying dormant
Starts to shift in winter’s sleep
Responding to the newly growing sun
Each seed has rich potential
Now, to grow into new life
So set your year’s intent without delay
A time so rich with promise
Feel it echoed in our lives
May Brigit bless our growth and light the way
- Jowen, Imbolc 2009