Imbolc: Celebrating the Quickening in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year

by JoHarrington

In every pregnancy there is a moment when the new life is felt. When this happens to Mother Earth, we call it Imbolc.

We survived the winter. We're not out of the darkness yet; and the provisions that we kept for ourselves are running low.

But there's a light in the darkness. There's a kindling of life, which points towards the spring to come.

It's hope. It's stirring from our reveries in preparation to walk in the sunshine again. It's coming. It's really coming.

And we have plans. All those days of musing before the Yule log have given us ideas for the year ahead. It's time to stretch our limbs and begin putting them into motion.

What is the Wiccan Imbolc?

An introduction to one of the Eight Sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year.

Photo: ImbolcThere is some flexibility over the date of Imbolc. Most celebrate it on February 2nd each year, which is when many of the Wiccan Wheel of Year calendars will tell you it falls.

The Celts tend to celebrate everything from sunset the night before. Those Celtic Wiccans will start their ritual and vigil at twilight on February 1st.

Then again there are the purists, who look to the solar system itself and move their Imbolc festivities accordingly each year. This Sabbat marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. As those dates change each year, then so does their meridian.

In addition to the date, there are also a handful of different names for this Great Sabbat. The most popular draw upon the Irish Gaelic phrase 'i mbolg', which translates into English as 'in the belly' and refers to pregnancy.

This is variously spelled Imbolc, Oimelc or Imbolg. The first two relate to Old Irish and the latter to Medieval Irish. Neither is more correct than the other in this context, it's merely picking your moment in history. They are pronounced 'im-molg'.

If modern Gaelic is more your thing, then February 2nd is currently called Lá Fhéile Bríd (pronounced 'law ella breed') or Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal. The first translates as Brighid's Day, while the latter is the Day of Mary of the Candles.

Before the coming of Christianity, Brighid was the Irish Goddess at the center of the Imbolc festival. The only thing which really changed afterwards was the fact that She now became St Brigit, the second patron saint of Ireland. She was still known for her sacred fire; the divine light that is still such a huge part of the Sabbat.

In most homes, this took the form of a candle-flame. It burns all night to welcome Brighid into the hearth and hearts of the family. Only a small, largely abortive, attempt to Christianize this led to the Pagan Mother being replaced by Mother Mary. Hence both Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal and the official Christian holy day of Candlemas.

Over in Wales, Brighid was known as Braint. The insertion of Mary into the celebrations was slightly more successful. There Imbolc is called Nos Gŵyl Fair (pron. 'norss g-will vire'), which translates as Mary's Festival Night. Occasionally 'y Canhwyllau' will be added, rendering this the Festival Night of Mary of the Candles.

Whatever it is called, and whomever is called upon, the fundamental outline remains the same. A goddess is invited into the home; and a light is set against the darkness.

Do you celebrate a festival at this time of year?

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The Psychology and Symbolism of Imbolc

Still in winter, the hemisphere is halfway towards the Spring Equinox. All of nature is pregnant with possibility.

Photo: ImbolcThe significance of Imbolc can only be viewed within the perspective of the rest of the year. Behind us are the frozen depths of winter; before us is the warmth and light of summer.

The days are very imperceptibly growing longer, but who can really believe that one day soon we'll all be complaining that it's too hot?

Early February, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, is still desperately cold. No-one would be surprised to find snow and frost outside their windows. It still gets very dark in the late afternoons.

Moreover, by now it feels like it's been like this forever. There are vague memories of running around in bikinis and sitting outside until close to midnight, because it was too stuffy to be indoors. But they feel like a million years ago. It couldn't possibly have been only six months.

This is now, with all of our electric lights and supermarkets. Imagine that a millennium ago, when all food was personally hunted or harvested, and the only warmth and light came from the hearth.

Yet there are signs of life returning. It's not just the gradual lengthening of the days. The early flowers are starting to force their way through frozen ground. There are buds on some of the trees. Up in the leafless branches, ravens and other birds are beginning to build their nests. It's not Spring, but the fertility is there.

Mother Earth is pregnant and we are experiencing the Quickening. New life is definitely discernible. The birth of Spring is just around the corner.

This is the psychology behind the Imbolc festival. It is everyone shaking off the near hibernation of the winter. In Wiccan homes, the Spring cleaning begins. Sorting out the old and removing it; preparing the new for the year ahead. We are looking for light and we are waiting for the Goddess to bring it.

Celebrating Imbolc in Glastonbury

It is the first day of the Pagan spring, so the young Brighid is taking the light into the darkness.

How Witches Celebrate the Coming of Spring

Ritually starting again to bring light, warmth and sustenance back into our winter ravaged lives.

Photo: Brighid CrossThese days, in Britain, we are encouraged to take down the midwinter decorations on January 6th, but it didn't always used to be like that. Until the 19th century, the tree left our homes at Candlemas (aka Imbolc). In some parts of the world, it still does.

This makes much more sense within the Wheel of the Year. The foliage and shiny, pretty things have soaked up the chaos and cruelty of the winter's Lord of Misrule. Now they are being ritually burned.

The original fires of Imbolc were made up of Yule decorations. We're finally safe enough to get rid of that protection.

Round two of securing our homes comes in placing our trust in the Goddess. If She is fertile with the coming crops, then we will eat this year. Thus the candles are lit by the women of the house. Brighid, Mary or whichever sacred Lady is bringing the flame, are made welcome. She brings back the light and with it Her blessing.

Wiccans will be placing candles on their windowsill during Imbolc, as their invitation in the darkness to the Goddess.  Rituals will focus upon the Lady in all of Her triple aspects. The coven or household mother will wear a crown of lights, as she is representing that fertile world. The youngest girl will carry the candle-light to the vigil spot.

All of the ladies will weave their corn dollies. This harks back to preserving the seeds for planting, but they first want the blessing of the Lady. Last year's versions will be in the Imbolc bonfires. This year's will be tended with care and treated with respect by each of the men in turn.

The corn dollies will be laid between the candles, soaking up the energies of the pregnant Brighid, Braint or Mary, then placed in pride of place upon the hearth. Now the crops can be planted with all the luck that the people can give them. Bountiful Spring is coming.

Have you ever made a corn dolly or cross?

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Imbolc as a Time of New Projects and New Beginnings

What did you work out in your mind and conversations throughout the winter months?

In today's world, the majority of us don't have seeds to prepare and fields to plough. This doesn't mean that we don't have projects to see us through the next year.

We have just spent the Winter Solstice period reflecting upon our world. It should be obvious by now what is and isn't working.

Some aspects of our lives really need to disappear onto the scrap-heaps, thrown into the trash with the Spring cleaning or consigned to the sacred Imbolc fires.

Other parts show more promise. These are the things that we are missing or the way that we really want to go. Chatting with family and friends over glasses of mulled wine, some revelations must have come. Insights were formed into strategies. Pipe dreams were wistfully contemplated. Stepping back from the demands of our busy lives will do that. It will give us perspective.

All of nature is starting to wake up and shake off the lethargy of winter. It's also time for us to make our moves now. Putting those plans into practice at Imbolc will give you all year to have the energy to see them through.

This is the time to say, 'Ok! Now I know what I want to do!'  Then get up out of your armchair and begin the preparations to actually do it. No-one is expecting fully fledged growth by this time next year, but the seeds should be planted. By next Winter Solstice, you will know how well you planned after this one.

In Wicca, this is a favorite Sabbat for new initiates to take their oaths. They arrive knowing nothing, but that this religion calls to them. They aren't expected to understand it all, or anything much really. It's enough to say that they are willing to explore this possibility. It may fail. They may not be a perfect fit for their spirituality, so they'll move on again later on. But Imbolc is the best time of all to make those investigations. The very nature of the Sabbat demands it!

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Nos Gŵyl Fair and Me

As new beginnings go, this one promises to be a good one. I can finally see clearly a solid pathway ahead.

Image: Imbolc CandleAs I sit on the eve of Imbolc, I see the pieces of my life starting to slot into place. The winter brought Wizzley - a friendly, fun place to write. I've done my time of deep reflection, but for me that was also a period of experimentation.

What articles do people like to read? What subjects shine through, not as a chore, but as pure enjoyment in the crafting? How does this new site work and can I find a home for myself here?

I wrote in the introduction to my Wizzography that on-line freelance writing starts with a steep learning curve. I won't fool myself that I'm even close to knowing it all. There should be baby steps and bravery all of the way. But I know enough now to plan my strategies for the year, to try and make this work.

I feel ready now. There is an optimism for the months ahead, born of the fact that I'm not treading blindly in the dark anymore. There is, at least, that sure, dim light illuminating some of the path before me. This is the very essence of Nos Gŵyl Fair, which is merely the Welsh name for Imbolc.

But there's more. This morning I had a telephone conversation which promises to lead to part-time employment. It's administration in an office, which I'm more than qualified to do. I was the regional administrator for a governmental project for many years.

This new job is based in a computer software developer's office, which pings against another interest. It's been created in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics. I've been keeping my eye on that, because of the historical precedent and politics that I've observed. This will help focus that attention, perhaps with more insight. The office is close to home. My prospective employer will be a member of my family. The hours are part-time and to suit me around my writing.

It's like it was designed especially for me. It's a brand new seed planted into the fertile soil of my life, showing the way forward. The fact that this opportunity has arrived at Nos Gwyl Fair (no doubt born of the conversations had at the Winter Solstice celebrations) is not lost on me. This is the way that the Wheel of the Year turns.

I will place a candle on my windowsill, as a welcoming light in the darkness. I will keep the vigil of the night. My Sabbat rituals will unfold as they do every year, all in their place and echoing the forces of nature all around. The God and Goddess are welcome in my home.

But that is for spirit. Maybe more importantly for myself and other Wiccans are what we do with the energy of the light. It's not, and never has been, for deity to wave a magic wand and make things right again. It's for us to carry that torch into our lives and make things happen for ourselves.

This is Imbolc. This is Nos Gwyl Fair. This is Candlemas, Groundhog Day or whatever you want to call it. This is when we decide upon our path for the year ahead, then shine a light upon it.

Articles relevant to this Sabbat

Eight Sabbats and 13 moons make up the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. They each carry a spiritual and practical significance.
Five kisses are part of the initiation ceremony for witches. 'Blessed be' became a code for Wiccans to identify each other in everyday life.
Many initiates come seeking a world of witchcraft and spells. The reality of the Wiccan religion may not be the right path for all.
Self-initiates into Wicca haven't the benefit of a coven to guide their path. As a High Priestess, let me point you in the right direction.
Updated: 10/02/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/16/2012

Thank you, Greenspirit. :D

greenspirit on 02/16/2012

Put well Jo.

JoHarrington on 02/01/2012

Thank you very much and happy Imbolc to you too. Wishing you a much better year. <3

kaj on 02/01/2012

congratularions on the employment opportunities mate - Blessings at Imbolc to you xxxx

JoHarrington on 01/31/2012

I've belatedly added that option in for you. There have only been seven votes to date, so it shouldn't skew the results too much.

Thank you for commenting. <3

JoHarrington on 01/25/2012

They involved you without explaining any of this? >.< As a Wiccan High Priestess, let me apologise for that. You should have been kept informed.

But I'm glad that I've been able to shed light on it all now!

BrendaReeves on 01/25/2012

This is so interesting. Years ago I worked with some Wiccans and had no idea what it was all about.

JoHarrington on 01/24/2012

Thank you very much. I've got a coda too. A couple of hours ago, I received another e-mail from my ex-employer. (We were both made redundant in July.) He might have more work for me in March or April. :D

I'm glad that you enjoyed the article. I wasn't at that particular Imbolc ceremony in Glastonbury, but I have been to others there. That town really knows how to put on a Sabbat!

Angel on 01/24/2012

So very interesting. I also enjoyed the video. Thank you so much for sharing this and congratulations on the things happening for you and in your life.

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