(2nd) February 15 degrees Aquarius
Imbolc, (pronounced “IM-bulk” or “EM-bowlk”), also called Oimealg, (“IM-mol’g), by the Druids, 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 Ground Hog 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 Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas 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.
Various other names for this Greater Sabbat are Imbolgc Brigantia (Caledonni), Imbolic (Celtic), Disting (Teutonic, Feb 14th), Lupercus (Strega), St. Bridget’s Day (Christian), Candlemas, Candlelaria (Mexican), the Snowdrop Festival. The Festival of Lights, or the Feast of the Virgin. All Virgin and Maiden Goddesses are honored at this time.
Imbolc, Agriculture and Aquarius
Astrologers know that Imbolc falls with the Sun at the midpoint of the sign Aquarius, the Water Bearer, who lives today as the astrological symbol of rebellion and eccentricity. As with Imbolc, there are always at least two versions of the story with Aquarius. Is it an air sign or a water sign? (It’s an air sign with water themes and imagery.) Is it ruled by, or associated with Saturn or Uranus? (Traditionally Saturn rules it, but in modern astrology most astrologers use Uranus.) Do those wavy lines represent air or water? (All waves are waves of energy.) Is the Water Bearer a male figure or female? (Probably male, but usually represented female.)
The constellation Aquarius, known to be among the oldest named configurations of stars, stands, according to Catherine Tenant, “with his foot on the head of the great Southern fish, into whose mouth his waters pour.” She traces the god Aquarius back to Babylon, noting that he rules over a huge area of the sky where are gathered the Southern fish, the dolphin, the zodiac fishes (Pisces), the mighty River Eridanus (the River of Night) and Cetus the sea monster. These ancient waters and their primal creatures were “seen as the source of life, through which the Sun passed during the rainy season.”
In the hands of Aquarius, says Tenant, is the Norma Nilotica, the stick used to measure the waters of the Nile River, an important indicator of agricultural success, and hence of survival. In these same rainy days of winter, half-a-world away, the Celts were busy with agricultural matters of their own: doing the earliest preparations for planting in coming spring. A feast marked the waning of winter. Germans in Europe and Indians in the New World were taking stock of how much remained of their winter rations. The ability to manage their food supply was critical to their survival through the remaining weeks of cold.
Deities of Imbolc:
All Virgin/Maiden Goddesses, Brighid, Aradia, Athena, Inanna, Gaia, and Februa, and Gods of Love and Fertility, Aengus Og, Eros, and Februus.
Symbolism of Imbolc:
Purity, Growth and Re-Newal, The Re-Union of the Goddess and the God, Fertility, and dispensing of the old and making way for the new.
Symbols of Imbolc:
Brideo’gas, Besoms, White Flowers, Candle Wheels, Brighid’s Crosses, Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs.
Herbs of Imbolc:
Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers.
Foods of Imbolc:
Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Raisins, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas.
Incense of Imbolc:
Basil, Bay, Wisteria, Cinnamon, Violet, Vanilla, Myrrh.
Colors of Imbolc:
White, Pink, Red, Yellow, lt. Green, Brown.
Stones of Imbolc:
Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise.
Activities of Imbolc:
Candle Lighting, Stone Gatherings, Snow Hiking and Searching for Signs of Spring, Making of Brideo’gas and Bride’s Beds, Making Priapic Wands, Decorating Ploughs, Feasting, and Bon Fires maybe lit.
Symbols: Candles, the Bride, Burrowing Animals, Grain Dolly, Sun Wheels
Ritual Meaning: Honor of the Virgin Goddess, First Signs of returning life, and the Festival of Light
Key Action: Open and Begin
Ritual Oils: Jasmine, Apricot, Carnation, Sweet Pea, Neroli and Olive.
Stones: Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, and Turquoise.
Plants: Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers
Activities: Candle lighting, Searching for Signs of Spring, Gathering Stones
Taboos: Cutting or Picking Plants.
Animals: Wolf, Snake, Swan, Vulture, Robin, Burrowing Animals, Sheep, Lamb, and Deer
Mythical Creatures: Firebird, Dragon, Berometz
Deities: Aradia, Arachne, Arianrhod, Athena, Brighid, Blaize, Branwen, Februa, Gaea, Inanna, Lucina, Vesta, Cupid/Eros, Diancecht, Dumuzi, and Februus
Drinks: Milk, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas.
Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication,
and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers
came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.
A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:
Thig an nathair as an toll
La donn Bride,
Ged robh tri traighean dh’ an t-sneachd
Air leachd an lair.
“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”
Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival.
Brigid (also known as Brighid, Bríde, Brigit, Brìd) is the goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft.
As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing.
The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.
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One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan homes on St. Brigid’s Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid’s Bed.
The girls and young, unmarried women of the household or village create a corn dolly to represent Brigid,
called the Brideog (“little Brigid” or “young Brigid”), adorning it with ribbons and baubles like shells or stones.
They make a bed for the Brideog to lie in. On St. Brigid’s Eve (January 31),
the girls and young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the Brideog,
and are later visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home,
and then treat them and the corn dolly with respect
Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc eve.
Before going to bed, each member of the household may leave a piece of clothing or strip of cloth outside for Brigid to bless.
The head of the household will smother (or “smoor”) the fire and rake the ashes smooth.
In the morning, they look for some kind of mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or morning.
The clothes or strips of cloth are brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection.
On the following day, the girls carry the Brideog through the village or neighborhood, from house to house, where this representation of the Saint/goddess is welcomed with great honor.
Adult women — those who are married or who run a household — stay home to welcome the Brigid procession,
perhaps with an offering of coins or a snack.
Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring,
her presence is very important at this time of year.
Wiccans celebrate a variation of Imbolc as one of four “fire festivals”, which make up half of the eight holidays (or “sabbats”),
of the wheel of the year. Imbolc is defined as a cross-quarter day, midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara).
The precise astrological midpoint in the Northern hemisphere is when the sun reaches fifteen degrees of Aquarius.
In the Southern hemisphere, if celebrated as the beginning of Spring, the date is the midpoint of Leo.
Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc (also known as “Candlemas”) is the traditional time for initiations.
The Cailleach, the Return of Bride,
and Groundhog Day
One of Brigid / Bride’s titles is “Two-Faced.” This doesn’t mean She was deceitful. It means She was seen as having one side of Her face as light and beautiful, and the other of Her face as pitch black and frightful.
In Her Winter form, She is called the Cailleach (pronounced, if I have it right, as KAY-loch — with the “ch” sounding like a “K” that doesn’t quite make it past all the air you’re putting out, or perhaps a very gummy “H” in the back of your throat).
The Cailleach is a Gaelic hag — a Crone Goddess, Queen of Winter … She who is displaced by the Goddess of Spring, Brigid.
There is an ancient Celtic legend that points to the transformation of the Cailleach, the Crone of Winter, into Brigid, the Maiden of Spring. It’s called The Return of Bride. No, it’s not some horror tale… it’s a love story!
The Return of Bride
The Cailleach, the Hag of Winter, had imprisoned a maiden named Bride in Her high mountain home.
She knew that Her son Angus-the-Ever-Young (a Sun God) had fallen in love with this fair girl. The Cailleach also knew that if these two ever married, Her own reign would be over: Angus would be the Summer King and Bride would be the Summer Queen.
Smitten and not to be deterred, Angus set out to find Bride. Irish weather in February could be treacherous, though, so Angus borrowed 3 days from August within which to search.
With this fine weather, he was riding and searching through deep woods. As it turned out, the Cailleach had sent Bride out to take advantage of the sunshine and gather in some more wood for the fire.
Angus searched high and low, and eventually he was led to Bride by the sound of Her singing.
She immediately loved the shining young man just as he loved Her. The two of them eloped.
The furious Cailleach chased after them riding on her shaggy black goat, sending wave after wave of terrible storms to slow them down.
In the end, though, She was forced to recognise that the rising tide of life was too powerful. She cast down her magick hammer at that moment, and turned into a boulder on the side of the mountain, where She had to stay until Winter returned.
The Cailleach is an ancient deity, far predating the arrival of the Celts in Ireland, and it could be that this story is thousands of years old. At any rate, this story illustrates the transition from Winter Goddess to Summer Goddess, the dark face of the year to the bright face of the year.
A Note on Groundhog Day
Celebrating Groundhog Day on Imbolc is actually related to Brigid as Goddess of Spring.
When Brigid returns, not only green leafy life begins to make its way to the surface, but the dormant animal life also begins to rise, as eloquently demonstrated by the hibernating animals rising from their beds beneath the Earth.
This is a time when the Hag of Winter begins to yield to the Maiden of Spring. But She doesn’t always do so willingly.
There is another ancient Celtic legend of the Gaelic hag, the Cailleach.
It says that on the first day of Spring by the Celtic calendar (Imbolc), the Cailleach would venture out of doors to restock her firewood supply, to see Her through the rest of the winter.
If She plans on keeping the winter going for a good long time, she makes sure the weather on the first day of Spring is sunny and clear, so She can gather a lot of firewood to keep Herself warm for many weeks.
If the weather on this day is bad, however, it means the Cailleach is still asleep and won’t be getting more firewood. So rather than going cold Herself, She’ll be sure to bring an end to the winter soon.
How does this tie in with Groundhog Day?
Simple: if the Cailleach makes a sunny day, the groundhog will be able to see its shadow, so we know that She’s gathering firewood… and we’ll be in for a long cold spell. If She sleeps through it and the day remains cloudy, the groundhog won’t see its shadow, so we know that winter will be over soon.
Who knew that Groundhog Day and the Hag Goddess were linked in any way??