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The Festival of Imbolc

Imbolc Date Celebrated
1st February

Alternate Names
Oimelc, Brigantia, Imbolg, Brigid, Feast of Lights, Celtic "Candle Festival"

Christian Equivalent
Saint Bridget's (Bride's) Day, Candlemas: the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin (2nd February)

Place in the Natural Cycle

Imbolc (pronounced "im-molc") is the cross-quarter festival that heralds the start of the spring quarter of the year and the end of the winter quarter. Even though Imbolc occurs at the coldest time of the year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably longer. Oimelc, an alternative name for this festival, means "sheep milk," as this is the lambing season.

More About Imbolc

Imbolc is a festival of waxing light and purification, heralding the potential of spring. It is associated with the Celtic goddess Brid (pronounced "breed") (also called Bride, Bridhe, Brigid or Bridget). In terms of the Goddess cycle, Imbolc is the point at which the old, winter aspect of the Goddess, the Crone, is transformed into the Maiden (the Virgin Goddess, Brid).

In its Christian form, Imbolc is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, in which candles are lit at midnight as a symbol of purification (hence the common name for this day, Candlemas). It celebrates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Jewish law dictated that the mother of a male child had to be purified by ritual 40 days after the birth. The Christian Church also appropriated the day more directly, by designating the Goddess Brid as Saint Bridget of Kildare, and recasting her festival day as Saint Bridget's Day. Just as Brid was the Goddess of poetry, healing (particularly midwifery) and smithcraft, so Saint Bridget became the patron saint of these areas.

Imbolc traditions center around light and purification. Candles may be lit in each room of a house to honor the returning sun, or in each window from sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1st) until dawn. This is an appropriate time to cleanse or bless your house, to seek inspiration and to purify yourself of limiting thoughts and negative attitudes. Dairy foods are particular appropriate to eat on this festival of calving and lambing.

Imbolc may mean "in the belly," a reference to the seeds of life ready to stir again in the cold earth, and to the purification of the Maiden so that she may conceive the divine child at the following festival, Ostara.

The Mystical Calendar
The Eight Festivals:     Yule   -   Imbolc   -   Ostara   -   Beltane   -   Litha   -   Lughnasadh   -   Mabon   -   Samhain