Imbolc is one of the eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year, which in its entirety represents the cycle of life. In this cycle of becoming and unbecoming, death and rebirth, Imbolc symbolises a new beginning – Nature, but also our inner fire come back to life.
The name Imbolc is Old Irish and means “to cleanse oneself” or “to wash oneself”, which points to the (internal and external) cleaning people often do naturally at this time of year.
When Christianity spread, the customs of the Celtic and Germanic tribes who honoured the Wheel of the Year, were replaced by Christian festivals. So the Christians celebrate Candlemas, a purification ritual of Jewish origin.
When do we celebrate Imbolc?
As Imbolc is one of the lunar festivals in the Wheel of the Year, the celebrations used to be based on the 2nd Full Moon of the year (end of January or beginning of February), or the waxing moon phase shortly before Full Moon.
Today, many follow our solar calendar. So in the Northern Hemisphere, Imbolc is often celebrated on February 1st, which lies exactly between Winter Solstice (usually December 21st) und Spring Equinox (usually March 21st). In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s celebrated on August 1st, which lies between the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice (usually June 21st) and the Southern Hemisphere’s Spring Equinox (usually September 21st).
The Christian Candlemas traditionally takes place on February 2nd.
Why do we celebrate Imbolc?
Imbolc is a festival of light: our inner fire is revived after the long winter and we’re invited to bring this light, our passions and our vision for the future, into the world.
Besides the meaning of „to wash oneself” or “to cleanse oneself”, Imbolc bears other names as well: Imbolg, Old Irish for “in the belly”, referring to pregnant ewes as well as Nature, who is preparing herself for her own birth in spring. Oimelc – “ewe’s milk” – a term for the sheep’s first milk-giving in spring.
Or simply Saint Brigid’s Day, since Brigid is the goddess of light or fire, of inspiration and also fertility. She reawakends the fire of life – in Nature and thus in us humans, too.
Now is the moment to fan the spark of our inspiration, to dream into our vision for this year with more detail and to begin making plans for its implementation. But it’s not time to take action yet! Right now we need to declutter, prepare and cultivate a sense of expectant anticipation, which will give us strength when we start implementing our plans.
What is the energetic quality of this time?
At Imbolc we are still in the middle of winter, but we can already notice how the days become gradually longer. The light that was reborn on Winter Solstice has finally won.
Even though frost may still cover the land in many places, Nature is slowly but surely awakening from her slumber, birds are chirping more loudly and everything is preparing for spring. The trees’ and plants’ juices rise to the surface and the first snowdrops are poking their little head through the earth. With the increase in light, it’s only a matter of time until Nature reawakens fully and shows herself in the brightest colours.
For us humans, now is the time to expel the mustiness of winter hardships and illnesses from our house or apartment – spring-cleaning begins! This was especially important in ancient times, when people had endured the whole winter huddled together in wooden huts barricaded against the cold.
I’m always amazed at how we humans quite naturally display the urge to declutter and clean at this time of year, house and homestead, but also our bodies, inside and out. Apart from baths and fasting, it’s a time to evaluate which unnecessary burden we no longer want to carry – whether it’s things, thought patterns or people that we have outgrown. We let go of the Old, so we can bring something New into this world without the unnecessary load.
How can you honour the quality of this time?
You can honour this time in your day-to-day life with little rituals or special moments:
- Wake up your Limbs: Start bringing some movement into your limbs, which might still be a little tired from hibernation ;-) Whether a walk in nature, the first bike tour or yoga, take it slow! The energy is returning, but that doesn’t mean you have to overexert and exhaust yourself completely. Go at your own pace.
- Spring Cleaning: Now is the time to leave the mustiness of winter behind, both inside and outside. Cleanse your body with an Epsom salt bath or fasting, use sound or incense to energetically cleanse your home (e.g., White Sage, Myrrh or Frankincense), and for your mind and soul journaling can be a great way to release old thought patterns and invite in new ones.
- Offering to Nature: Nature is slowly coming back to life, too, so maybe you’d like to offer her a little nourishment. A bowl of water, some nuts or grains are a beautiful gesture to let our plant and animal families know that we’re looking forward to celebrating spring with them.
- Shaking Trees Awake: A fun old tradition that is to be understood quite literally. Not all tree trunks are thin enough to actually be shaken, but maybe a “pat on the back” (aka bark) will just do the trick ;-)
The meaning and themes of Imbolc
The different names of Imbolc already point to the bigger themes of this Wheel of the Year festival, which are cleansing, fertility and new beginnings.
We’re in the last stages of winter and Nature is slowly coming back to life. Cleaning house and homestead, smudging, loud music and drumming will help you expel winter from all corners of your house and your life.
In some parts of the world (like Germany) this is the time of carnival, not just a last wild celebration before the religious fasting period begins, but also a way to drive out the last winter ghosts with merrymaking and loud noise :-)
Purification & New Beginnings
Driving out winter goes hand in hand with cleansing and purification of our space. An internal and external decluttering and tidying up, releasing everything that’s outdated or unhelpful now.
Which material things do you want to let go of, which current habits aren’t beneficial for your well-being anymore, which thought patterns do you observe that leave you unhappy instead of joyful, whose presence feels restrictive and uncomfortable and you should end or at least decrease contact?
And also: What do you want to invite into your life instead, or what do you want to continue doing? Are there things you enjoy, habits for body and mind that you’d like to introduce into your life, people with whom you want to spend more time? Which new ideas, ways of thinking or concepts do you invite in?
Clean, purify and smudge your house/apartment and your body and set the intention that anything that doesn’t serve your well-being will stay out and you only allow in what nourishes you on as many levels as possible.
Vision & Direction
Imbolc is also a time of new beginnings, a time to find or strengthen your vision for this new year: What’s important to you, where do you want to move forward this year, which topics do you want to focus on?
This does NOT mean that you already need to have a detailed vision including action plan, by the way ;-)
Maybe you don’t yet know where you want to go, you just feel a kind of dissatisfaction, an inner restlessness and a wintery burden. In this case, practice trust, trusting that Brigid’s spark of inspiration is going to find you, too. With everything that’s present right now – what would you like to have happen?
Brigid’s spark of light illuminates your dreams and visions, so you can see them more clearly. The newly awakened fire brings inspiration, courage and strength to you, which will help you nurture your dreams and visions, keeping them alive and turning them into reality step by step.
(And if you’re actually in the midst of a crisis right now, life has thrown you a curveball or you don’t quite know what you want from life, reach out to me! I love supporting people through the deepest, darkest moments and would love to reflect your own light back to you – because you already carry a wealth of wisdom within you, inexhaustible resources of strength and wisdom, and I want to show you how to tap into them to design a life that feels meaningful to you!)
Imbolc in the Cycle of Life
The wisdom of the individual festivals of the Wheel of the Year can always be applied to our bigger cycles of life, which we move through as humans – no wonder, since they represent the Cycle of Life.
Imbolc symbolises the phase of childhood and youth. It’s a time of new beginnings, of (re)discovering the world and finding one’s own place in it. It’s about trying different things, experimenting, exploring one’s own tendencies, gifts, talents, passions and interests.
While childhood is a phase where we’re still very much influenced by other people’s beliefs, we start individuating and distancing ourselves from them in our youth, developing our own understanding of the world and allowing a vision to emerge for our life and what we want to do with it.
For people with uterus, it’s also an important phase to learn and practice a loving relationship with menarche (the first bleed) and one’s own cycle.
How can you bring more of the childlike qualities like curiosity, openness, innocence and playfulness into your life? When you look at your life through the eyes of your inner child, what do you notice? What makes you forget everything around you, because you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing in the moment?
How can you celebrate Imbolc?
Around Imbolc, Nature slowly awakens from her slumber and prepares herself for the coming spring, so the corresponding rituals are all about purification, the returning light and excited anticipation for what’s to come.
- Ritual of Light: Place a white candle into each window in your apartment/house. This will symbolically drive away the darkness, welcoming in the returning light or returning strength of the sun. Sprinkle some salt around each candle or place some small rock crystals around them. They will collect all the negative energies and the mustiness of winter. In the morning, make sure to throw away the salt and cleanse the rock crystals in the light of the next Full Moon.
Please take care of your safety! Use fireproof mats underneath the candles, or buy LED candles that you can leave unattended over night!
- Brigid’s Blessing: It’s said that at Imbolc the goddess Brigid travels the world and bestows her blessing on the land, for the coming transformation into spring. Put up some white silk ribbons with bells on the trees outside, so Brigid can bless them when she’s passing. Since she’s the goddess of light, of art and of healing powers, you can use the ribbons in your home as a talisman afterwards.
- Spring Cleaning: Use this time of year to declutter and reassess your life, inside and outside:
-> Which material possessions do you want to let go of, what can you give away?
-> Which relationships are important in your life? Which relationships do you want to keep or intensify, which need to be released and which do you want to rekindle or start anew?
-> Which thought patterns and habits are outdated and what would you like to focus on instead? Which new thought processes and behaviours do you invite into your life?
- Journey to your Inner Child: Take some time to connect to your inner child, maybe it helps to think about your childhood: What were you like as a child, what brought you joy? Which activities could you get lost in for hours?
Play some music that evokes playful ease for you and start dancing with your inner child., What does it want to tell you with regards to your current situation? What would it like you to do more or less of? What does it need to feel safe and secure and how can you integrate more of that into your life?
- Creating Lucky Charms: Meet to create lucky charms together. Little amulets as well as stars and dolls made of straw are a symbol for Brigid’s healing powers, and a beautiful gift for yourself and your loved ones.
- Visioning: Gather around a fire to celebrate the returning light. Take turns speaking about your vision for this year. You can even do a guided meditation, breathwork session or shamanic journey together, with the intention of finding or connecting to your vision.
Afterwards, speak about possible fears, self-doubt or unhelpful habits which run contrary to your vision, and allow the fire to burn all of them.