Imbolc - Halfway to Spring

Snowdrops and Girl / Credit: deniseedgellslark.

Imbolc marks the half-way point to Spring Equinox, and is a quiet, but profound moment in the solar year.

It's a celebration of the first signs of Spring, and falls on February 1st or 2nd.  It's known as a cross-quarter day, since it falls in between two of the major solar turning points -- Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.

The Solar Year is a timeless calendar, that puts you in touch with something ancient.

 

The Sun was, and is, a matter of life and death to the Europeans, especially those in the far North, with long Winters.  Even though the days get longer starting at Winter Solstice, by this time the Sun is starting to warm up the Earth, enough for the first flowers to pop up.  

Still, it's cold for many this month, so the signs are subtle.  It coincides with Groundhog Day, and watching nature for signs of seasonal change are a big one at Imbolc.  

Is Spring Nearly Here?   

Imbolc is one for being the ovate, and using nature itself to divine whether we'll have an early Spring.    An ovate in the Druid tradition watched bird migration, clouds and animal behavior, as simply part of living close to nature.

Groundhog Day is what's left of that in modern culture, and is a fun throwback to our ancient heritage.  The Pennsylvania town of Puxatawney have looked to their groundhog Phil since 1886, in a ritual where if he casts a shadow, there will be six more months of Winter.

 

A Scottish Gaelic proverb for Imbolc is, “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.”

Also in Scottish folklore, Cailleach, the Old Woman of Winter, walks into the woods and drinks from the Well of Youth, just at first light of dawn.

 She is then transformed into Brighid or Bride, the maid of the coming Spring.  The Crone becomes the Maiden, and the cycle begins once again.

February is a word that itself means purification, and Imbolc is a time for ritual purification, to prepare to be reborn in the Spring, body and soul.  

And that makes it a great time to sweep out the cobwebs, open windows, and renew yourself by drinking from your own (symbolic) Well of Youth.  

The Sacred Flame

Imbolc or Imbolg (pronounced with a silent 'b') is a word that comes from Old Irish, and means "in the belly,"  a reference to the first lambs, and all other first babies born -- or gestating at this time.

It's one of the Celtic fire festivals.  But instead of a great bonfire, it's marked with a candle.  

That makes it a celebration of light, and the one associated with the Mother Goddess.  For some Celts, she is Brighid, the divinity of the sacred well and holy flame, of poetry, healing and smith craft.  It's also a celebration of hearth and home, and the traditional family.    

Bride's Doll, Fertility and the Purity of the Maid

Bright or Bride's Day is one for honoring youth and in particular, the young girl.  

A Scottish folklorist calle Alexander Carmichael collected treasures from the Scottish Highlands, and a now largely lost tradition,, starting in 1860 and continuing to his death in 1912.

 His compilation was published in a volume called Carmina Gadelica - "The Hymns of the Gael."

He observed that on Bride's Day Eve, young girls made dolls out of corn husks, and added pretty shells and crystals, and any early Spring flowers found like Snowdrops.  A special shell or crystal was placed on the heart and called, the "guiding star of Bride."  The girls dressed in white on Bride's Day and walked in a procession, which was a celebration of their purity and youth.  

Read more about Imbolc, its traditions and rituals.