Hard to believe that spring is anywhere around the corner when it is so bittery cold and some of us are having ice storms and heavy snows. Imbolc (Im-bulk) celebrates the first evidence of the return of life, the Earth Mother's womb stirs. The Sun is slowly starting to make its return and the very hardiest of plants will begin to grow again from this day forth. Imbolg is also the holy day of Brigid, who is the Goddess of fire, healing, fertility and is the muse of the poets. Decorate with candles. Colors: white, silver, blue. Flowers: snowdrops, crocus. here are some more articles to read:
Imbolc is the festival of the lactating sheep. It is derived from the Gaelic word "oimelc" which means "ewes milk". Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year. It is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. Brighid's snake emerges from the womb of the Earth Mother to test the weather, (the origin of Groundhog Day), and in many places the first Crocus flowers began to spring forth from the frozen earth.
The Maiden is honored as the Bride on this Sabbat. Straw corn dollies are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry them door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid's Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.
Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the "water of life" is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.
Imbolc is also known as Candlemas, Imbolg, Brigit's Day, Feast of Brighid, Lupercus, The Festival of Lights, and the Feast of the Virgin.
Symbolism: purity, growth and renewal, the reunion of the Goddess and the God, fertility, dispensing of the old and making way for the new.
Foods: dairy products, curries, onions, chives, seeds, herbal tea, mutton or lamb, poppyseed cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, onions, garlic, raisins, spiced wines.
Herbs: angelica, basil, bay laurel, blackberry, celandine, coltsfoot, heather, iris, myrrh, tansy, violets, and all white or yellow flowers.
Incense and oils: angelica, blackberry, iris, myrrh, vanilla.
Colors: white, yellow, light green.
Stones: amethyst, bloodstone, garnet, ruby, onyx, turquoise.
Animals: robins, burrowing animals, sheep, lambs, deer
Mythical creatures: firebirds, dragons
Some appropriate Goddesses: all flame and virgin/maiden Goddesses; Anu (Irish), Artemis (Greek), Brigit (Irish), Dahud (Breton), Dumuzi (Sumerian), Frigg/Freya (Norse), Frimia (Teutonic), Gaia (Greek), Hestia (Greek), Inanna (Sumerian), Iduna (Teutonic), Ishtar (Assyro-Babylonian), Juno (Roman), Kebehut (Egyptian), Minerva (Roman), Laufey (Teutonic), Lucina (Roman), Vesta (Roman)
Some appropriate Gods: all flame and love Gods; Adonis (Greek), Bragi (Norse), Cupid (Roman), Diancecht (Irish), Eros (Greek), Februus (Roman), Frey (Norse), Osiris (Egyptian), Tammuz (Assyro-Babylonian)
Decorations: candles, lamps, brooms, yellow flowers, Brighid's Crosses, priapic wands (acorn-tipped), evergreens.
Traditional activities: a besom is placed by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new, candle lighting, searching for signs of spring, making Bride's Beds, making priapic wands, feasting, spring cleaning.
Spell/ritual work: blessing of seeds for this year's garden, fertility and purification, consecration of agricultural tools, initiation, transformation, beginnings.
"Candlemas:The Light returns"
for full text see http://www.twpt.com/imbolc.htm
'Candlemas' is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. 'Imbolc' means, literally, 'in the belly' (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. 'Oimelc' means 'milk of ewes', for it is also lambing season.
The holiday is also called 'Brigit's Day', in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capitol of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery).
The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be 'Saint' Brigit, patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. They 'explained' this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was 'really' an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle, and that the miracles she performed there 'misled' the common people into believing that she was a goddess.
Brigit's holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well, using 'Candlemas' as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year.
The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.) The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of 'churching women'. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess.
Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of 'Groundhog's Day', a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be 'six more weeks' of bad weather (i.e., until the next old holiday, Lady Day). This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that 'If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year.' Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as 'inverse' weather predictors, whereas the quarter-days are used as 'direct' weather predictors.
One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries, and especially by Witches in the British Isles and parts of the U.S., is to place a lighted candle in each and every window of the house It is also custom to make and bless all the candles they'll be using for the whole year on this day.
Other customs of the holiday include weaving 'Brigit's crosses' from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection
Document Copyright © 1986, 1999 by Mike Nichols.
You Call It Groundhog Day, We Call It Imbolc
by Peg Aloi
I trudge over the snow-covered lawn to my backdoor, ignoring my earlier tracks and breaking new ones. I enter the house this way each night, initially because I misplaced my keys, but now because I like to use this roundabout path. It allows me to look up at the huge bare trees silhoetted against the blue night sky, and to check the birdfeeders, to see if the starlings, bluejays, cardinals, chickadees, and sparrows (not to mention the marauding squirrels) need more food. Crunching through the white crust, made glassy and sugary from a recent sleet storm on top of a foot of powdery snow, the sound is enormous: crunch, crunch, CRUNCH...I am a kid again, smashing my boots onto frozen puddles and frost-rimed grass, whacking at icicles with a stick, just to hear the sound of frozen water breaking.
As I usually do, I look up to gaze upon the moon...but I can't see it. She is shrouded in greyish, opaque mist...her light gives the clouds form but not brightness. She wears the frozen fog like a gossamer cloak, through which she may peek at any moment...for now, I can see the surface of the snow reflecting the lights of neighboring houses, lamps, televisions, throwing gleaming color across the white expanse of snow-lawn, shimmering now blue, now orange, now pale green...
I think of the approaching festival of Imbolc, the midwinter fire festival honoring Brigid, and I picture the beautiful Irish goddess up there beside her sister the Moon, also wrapped in a white gossamer cloak, both of them aglow from the cold air...offering us their gifts of healing and hope as we wait for a brief respite from the single-digit temperatures, a thaw, a day or two when the snows melt away, the buds tremble with incipient growth and all living creatures feel a small, fiery flutter deep within our beings, as we whisper, gladly, "Spring will come again! Spring will come again!"
A Day to Divine the Weather
From the time we are schoolchildren in this country, we are taught the folklore of Groundhog Day, one of the last surviving vestiges of weather divination from old European customs. If, on February 2nd, the groundhog (most notably "Punxsutawney Phil" in the small Pennsylvania town that bears his name) sees his shadow, we may expect six more weeks of winter. If he does not, good weather will arrive sooner. It is largely a meaningless holiday, since whether it is sunny or cloudy on this day has not been shown to have much effect on how soon spring arrives. But the history of Groundhog Day is far more complex than what it has become: a staged event in which poor Phil is observed in the glare of television cameras so our local meteorologists have a cute sound byte and a brief close-up of his blinking, bewildered groundhog face, a yearly ritual that appears on the morning news. The origin of Groundhog Day is derived from earlier celebrations held on the cross-quarter day of February 2, dates variously known as Brigid's Night in Ireland (festival of the Celtic goddess of poetry, birth, weddings, smithcraft, and healing), Oimelc/Imbolc/Imbolg in Scotland, and Candlemas in England. The cross-quarter days (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasa) were always associated in ancient times with divination--the veil between the worlds is believed to be its thinnest, and the balance of energies between solstice and equinox was thought to be very significant.
The type of divination associated with each tends to be connected to the purpose of the festival or the most crucial matters pertaining to the season. For example, Beltane was a time of planting and mating of livestock; so humans practice fertility rites and divination involving marriage and romance. Samhain, being the dark time before winter and associated with the risk of death from starvation or exposure, usually has rites of communing with or honoring the dead. Lughnasa, the time of harvest, is a time of thanksgiving, but also a time of sacrifice, reflecting the killing of part of the herd to feed the community through winter; these rites often involved ritual slaying of a harvest lord and fire divination (scrying) to give strength for the coming months. At Imbolc (which means "in the belly"; Oimelc refers to milk; both terms are said to connect to the animals known to give birth at this time: sheep), when it was still very much winter in the Northern lands, this was naturally a time to divine the return of warmth and growth.
Imbolc was known as Brigid's Night in Ireland, and was celebrated, like the other cross-quarter festivals, from the eve of the holiday through the following night. Brigid, (pronounced "Breed" and also known as Brigit, Bridget, Brighid and Brid; she gives her name to our word "bride") as the patroness of healing and birth, was honored with sacred bonfires, symbolizing the heat of the lifeforce, kindled on this night. Fires purify and cleanse, and the fires were often utilized in rites to bless livestock, as they were at Yule. Others seeking Brigid's blessing, particularly smiths and poets or artists, also saw their own vocations blessed by these fires: the smith, for whom fire was a necessary tool for his art, and the poet, whose creative imagination was blessed with the fire of inspiration.
Brigid and Mary:
As the Roman Christian Church sought to usurp this holiday (as they also did with Christmas, Easter, All Soul's Day, and Lammas, among others, which are all based on pagan festivals), they changed the name to Candlemas, thus retaining the symbols of fire. Candles were blessed by clergy, and chapels were decorated with many burning candles. Candlemas later became, for the Catholics, the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Ireland in particular, with its strong Catholic tradition, many of the early pagan goddess festivals were converted to days honoring the Virgin Mary. That February 2 became a rite of purification has several implications. First, Imbolc and Brigid's Night both featured fires of purification. Second, February 2 was forty days after Christ's birth; it was believed women were impure for six weeks after giving birth, and so for Mary to become pure again this holy day was necessary. As with Candlemas, churches were filled with burning candles to honor Mary's purity--and parishioners received candles blessed by the priests. Catholics also used the blessed candles in a rite the following day called St. Blaise's Day: parishioners were blessed with the consecrated candles held to their throats to help prevent colds and flu--maybe this is subconsciously meant to offer healing to the throat (heart) chakra, as yet another holdover to the festival of Brigid, patroness of women about to be betrothed.
Why a Groundhog?
The transition of Candlemas and other ancient celebrations to Groundhog Day dates back to the time of the Roman conquest of Northern Europe: the Christian celebration of Candlemas was associated with songs like this one:
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Come, winter, have another flight
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.
This practice of divining the weather on this day spread to Germany, and was brought to this country by some of its first German settlers, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch: hence the location of the most famous groundhog. Also, the groundhog (also known affectionately as a woodchuck) was not the original prototypical weather-divining creature: in Europe it was a hedgehog. But early American settlers were nothing if not adaptable, and so the local creature most closely resembling a hedgehog was chosen for this ritual. Like hedgehogs, groundhogs are no-nonsense, practical animals; the same can be said for bears and badgers, who were also associated with weather divination in European folklore. If a groundhog sees his shadow on the 2nd, some inner sense tells him it's not spring yet (does he feel the chill in the air most clear winter days have? or is the sunny day from an early thaw, which often presages a return to wintry weather?)--and he hightails it back to his burrow. Likewise, humans observe midwinter as a milestone, a moment which is on the cusp of change, between the harsh, cold winds of winter and the fragrant, sensual breezes of spring.
All Earth's Critters
Groundhogs are exceedingly shy, and exceptionally cute. They abound in the Northeast, and as a child in western New York State, I saw them often on drives through the country, placidly sitting up on their haunches, nibbling grasses, or slowly scampering back to their burrows when a passing car scared them. That these smart, unassuming creatures, who I have admired since I was very young, are associated with a holiday I now observe as the Feast of Imbolc, or the feast of Februa, has special meaning for me now. I used to wonder why groundhogs had anything to do with predicting the weather. Now, after a lifetime spent cherishing all nature has to offer, and the last thirteen years spent honoring and learning from the many gods, goddesses, sprites, devas, fairies, dryads and other inhabitants of the natural world, I understand that all is as it should be. The earthy god of the woodlands, Pan, is revered by many witches at Imbolc, who call on him to awaken the flora and fauna in spring, and to bless them with his fiery fertility, passion and ecstasy. Pan is the perfect balance to Brigid, whose fiery energy is centered upon healing, creativity and purification. As man and beast approach a new season of rejuvenation and rebirth, they remember again what they need to do to reawaken, to survive and flourish. Just as Brigid bestows her blessings upon humans according to their needs, so Pan shares his wily knowhow and animal passion with the beasts and birds. And that includes the groundhog. May he return to sleep after his brief outing in the morning...to his groundhog burrow, comfortable and built to design as only a groundhog knows how to build...may he return to his warm, calm, unassuming, groundhog dreams, where he nibbles grasses, sits proudly up on his haunches, and waves shyly at people out for a drive in the country.