Imbolc is a time of magical energy related to the feminine aspect of the goddess, of new beginnings, of purification and of fire. It is believed that the goddess visits virtuous homes on Imbolc Eve. To receive her blessings people would leave offerings of food and drink for her, while items would be left on an altar for her to bless.
It is also a time to visit holy wells, to ask for the protection of homes, health and livestock, to focus on divination and a time of increasing your own magical gifts and abilities. In Eastern Canada there is a ritual known as the Polar Bear Dip – where people cut a hole in the ice along a frozen river bank and dip themselves in the ‘health protecting winter water’ after midnight of Feb 1st and before sunrise on Feb 2 nd. This is believed to stimulate the inner health maintaining fire for the coming year.
Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking 'sunwise' around the well. They would then leave offerings; typically coins or strips of cloth (clooties). Water from the wells was used to bless things.
Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Imbolc. Some people focus on the Celtic goddess Brighid, in her many aspects as a deity of the hearthfire and fertility. Others aim their rituals more towards the cycles of the season, agricultural markers and weather divination - and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. While other celebrations often involved special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks – Scottish quick bread, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted.
Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach - the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.
Brighid is also tied to the color green, both for the green mantle she wears and for the life growing beneath the earth. If you decide to dedicate an altar space for Imbolc you can decorate your altar with a white cloth, and drape a swath of red across it. Add green candles in candleholders, white shells and clear crystals.
You can also think about making a Brighid's crown as a centerpiece - a ring of flowers with candles in the center. It is also appropriate to add some sort of Celtic design to your altar, consider adding a Brighid's cross – made from rushes or reeds - or any other item incorporating Celtic knot-work.
A Brighid's cross consists of rushes woven into a shape similar to a swastika, with a square in the middle and four arms protruding from each corner. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brighid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc. In western Connacht (Ireland), people would make a Crios Bríde (Bríd's girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle. Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed.
Scottish Bannock Recipe
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1.5 cups milk or buttermilk
- 4 tablespoons butter (cut into pea-sized cubes)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180c)
2. Mix dry ingredients
3. Mix in butter
4. Mix in buttermilk to make a soft, workable dough
5. Optionally mix in blueberries, raisins or cinnamon to taste
6. Knead dough briefly
7. Oil a cookie sheet or use parchment paper
8. Make dough into a disc 3 or so inches thick. Cut an X i dough with a knife (1cm or so deep)
9. Bake 350°F (180c) for 50 to 70 minutes (depends on your oven) until a wood skewer stuck in comes out with no "gooeyness" on it
10. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes after taking from the oven, and break apart with your hands into serving-sized chunks.
Imbolc Blessings to you
The Wood Fairy - La Fée des Bois