Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Coming of Imbolc

     The name Imbolc, which literally means "milk", marked the lactation period of ewes and cows, the flow of milk that heralds the return of the life giving forces of spring. This was a time of great joy since it meant that the end of a long winter was in sight and green pastures were just a few months away. It was originally celebrated on February 1 until later, the Catholic Church changed it to Candlemas on February 2.

The month of February also belongs to the Celtic goddess Brigid. It is celebrated in honor of her, the daughter of the Dagda, who is pregnant with the seed of the sun. She is ripe with the promise of new life as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken. However, with the coming of Christianity, this powerful goddess was transformed into a saint, second only to Patrick himself. One legend tells how her mother was carrying a pitcher of milk at the time, with which she bathed her new-born child. As a child, Brigid was unable to eat ordinary food, and was reared on the milk of a special white red-eared cow. White animals with red ears are frequently found in Celtic mythology as beasts of the Otherworld. We have also seen how the pagan goddess owned two magical oxen. In Celtic society, cattle were the most highly valued of all animals, revered as symbols of plenty, and Saint Brigid was very closely associated with livestock in general, and dairy cows in particular. As an adult, she was accompanied by a cow who also supplied her with all the milk she needed.

     During ritual, it is customary to pour milk (or cream) onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving as an offering of nurturing and to assist in the return of the fertility and generosity of the earth to its people. Significance is placed upon the Light of fire during Imbolc and in Britain, Candlemas, as it is known, is celebrated with a festival of lights. In the dark days of February, medieval churches twinkled brightly as each member carried a lighted candle in procession around the church and then afterwards home to be used to keep away storms, demons and other evils. Even long after this, the symbol of lighted candles was a strong hold and traces of the festival still linger such as in Wales where lighted candles could still be seen at windows or on the table that night. Sometimes special carols were sung as people proceeded from house to house. Modern traces include the custom of Groundhog Day on February 2. There is an old couplet that directly relates to the groundhog seeing his shadow:

"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear
There'll be two winters in the year"


Magickdiva said...

Hi lovely to see Wendy's picture on here - she's one of my favourites - I love the look of your blog BB

Celtic Witch said...

Lovely post on Imbolc (pronounced 'Immulc') It is one of my most favourite Sabbats/Festivals, especially as it honours Brighid, one of my patrons. Enjoyed reading :)
Bright Blessings

Post a Comment