February 2nd¹ marks the Festival of Brigid. Also known as Imbolc or La Fheile Bride.² It is one of the four Fire Festivals or Greater Sabbats of the year. The word Imbolc comes from Oimealg meaning ‘ewe’s milk’ as it was the time of year when domestic livestock, specifically sheep, would be lactating and preparing to give birth.
To be honest, I’ve never really had much of a connection with Brigid. I’ve been inspired by the idea of her on numerous occasions, but I’ve never felt the devotion or closeness to her that her followers describe.
For me, Imbolc is the time of year to begin preparations for spring. I restock my supply of ritual/spell candles, bake something tasty, light a candle and make my first visit to the local nursery or garden centre. I usually manage to pick up a hyacinth or a crocus for my indoor garden. This year, the local nursery is still closed, so I picked up a little crocus plant at Safeway – the blooms are already open and a rich delicious purple.
I’m not even close to being an expert on the festivities of Imbolc, so I did a little research prior to writing this article. In the process of this research, I have learned a some interesting tidbits about Brigid that I had not known previously.
In Celtic tradition, Brigid’s worship as a triple goddess is a triplicate of sisters, rather than a Maiden, Mother, Crone style goddess. This is common knowledge, but what was new to me was that since Brigid’s name means ‘Exalted One’, it is believed to be a title, rather than a name – similar to how the Morrighan is a title meaning ‘Great Queen’.
I also learned that her primary function as a fire goddess links her with illumination and knowledge. This connection lead many Romano-Celtic temples to associate Brigid with the Roman goddess Minerva. She is lauded as a goddess of home, hearth, artists and craftspeople, smithies, women, mothers, poets and bards, divination, seers, midwives, music, herds, and multiple other vocations.
As I was reading all of this information, I was reminded of Alison Leigh Lilly’s post about the Bear goddess. Specifically, this passage:
“Not all of our companions will elbow their way into our lives and demand our attention. Some of them linger beyond the limits of our ordinary experiences, leaving only footprints and snapped twigs as traces of their presence.”
I see myself in so many of the areas covered by Brigid’s mantle, but I have never felt her specific presence in my life. Perhaps there is a reason for that. In the midst of a commotion, I find that I often retreat into silence, waiting patiently for the conversation to die down or for someone to notice that I’m still there. I refuse to shout to be heard.³
Traditionally, Imbolc is celebrated by the crafting of brideóga or corn dollies from oat or wheat straw. The dolls are dressed in white and carried door to door by young girls on the eve of Brigid’s day, where each house presents a gift for the “bride”.
It is said that Imbolc is the time when Brigid’s snakes would come out to test the weather – similar in fashion to our own North American Groundhog’s day.
It was believed that Brigid walked among us on Imbolc, and so it was traditional to leave food to sustain her, and cloth for her to bless as she travelled through the village. On Imbolc morning the food that remained was believed to be blessed with healing powers and was often reserved for the sick. The cloth was often sewn into children’s clothing as protection against harm.
In the old country, where peat is the common form of fuel for the household hearth, the practise of smooring came to be associated with Imbolc and blessing/protection rituals. Smooring is a method of extinguishing a hearth fire at night by covering the embers with ashes. It protects the heat, but does not quench the fire entirely so that it can be easily kindled again the next morning.
On Imbolc, a prayer/charm would be chanted over the fire as it was smoored, and in the morning, the women of the house would check the ashes to see if any magic symbols had been drawn by Brigid’s wand during the night.
Smooring the Fire (Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, by Alexander Carmicheal):
An Tri numh
O! an oidhche,
Agus gach oidhche,
Gach aon oidhche.
The sacred Three
Oh! this eve,
And every night,
Each single night.
IMBOLC DECOR & CRAFTS
The most commonly recognized symbol of Imbolc is the Brigid’s Cross. They are commonly woven and hung above the home’s doorway as a symbol of protection. You can make your own with reeds, straw or any other bendable material you might have on hand and some twine to tie off the ends.
Traditionally, your corn dolly would be made at harvest time (around Lughnasadh), and she would be kept through the winter and dressed as a maiden/bride for Imbolc. Further, as sweetcorn is not a staple grain in the UK, British corn dollies were made of braided wheat or oat straw.⁴
If you don’t have a corn dolly from harvest, you can make a corn husk doll even in the winter. These dolls are made of the husk of North American corn, which can be found in the international/ethnic grocery isle, or at an international grocer as wrapping for tamales.
These are great projects for getting your kids involved. Use cloth in white, lavender, pink and yellow to dress your dolls for the coming season. After you’ve made your doll, you may want to create a Bride’s Bed for her. If you have a fire-place, you can lay her there to keep her warm through the night. Otherwise, you can keep her cozy on your Imbolc altar.
If you happen to live where it is crazy cold in February, then candle making is another great way to spend Imbolc. Ice candles are a fun project to share with older kids. There are a few different types. All involve snow or ice – something we have plenty of here in Calgary.
Basically, one form of ice candle is made by filling a candle mold with crushed ice and pouring the melted wax over the ice. What you get is a lovely lacy candle that is perfect for Imbolc. Two tutorials on how to make candles are HERE and HERE. The second I would really only recommend if you happen to have pillar candle molds kicking around your craft supplies (like I do). Use beeswax to reinforce the connection with Imbolc and Brigid.
Scandinavian Ice Candles are a bit more complex, but I love the idea, so I thought I would share this great video with all of you:
Foods associated with Brigid and Imbolc include baked goods, brewed ales/beers, honey, and dairy. A fun and tasty project might be this braided Brigid’s Cross bread. I have yet to make this recipe gluten-free, but I have a feeling that I might be able to manage it with a GF bread dough mix. If it turns out well, I’ll make that its own post.
On the Sabbats, I tend to plan a large dinner, so the rest of the day, we eat light. For breakfast, a coddled egg and perhaps some yogurt with honey can be a great gluten-free start to your holiday. Be sure to have a big glass of milk with your breakfast. Or you could just add a little extra cream to your coffee 😉
For lunch, I might whip up a quick winter veg frittata. Though, I would probably replace the zucchini with broccoli, and maybe bulk it up a bit with some bacon or chopped ham.
Dinner can start with a bowl of gluten-free beer and cheddar soup. The gluten-free part comes from the use of sorghum beer. Then a honey-glazed ham with a side of gratin potatoes, bubble and squeak, or colcannon. A nice herbed butter⁵ is essential to go with the braided Imbolc bread. I always like to add a fresh component to my meals, especially after the dark winter holiday season is over. An easy side of fresh baby spinach with a light lemon vinaigrette can lighten up the overall meal.
Imbolc is a time of renewal, cleansing in preparation for the growing season. Magic that deals with purification and blessing could be added to your celebrations. Anything from a cleansing ritual bath, to purification of your home, to making and blessing a new besom fits within our Imbolc theme.
Divinations such as fire scrying could also be employed to take a peak at the year ahead. Fire scrying is a simple process of staring into a fire or candle flame (try to keep your eyes on the heart of the flame). Let your eyes relax and your gaze soften. Focus on your breathing. After a while, images may start to dance across your vision.
Fertility magic may also be worked on Imbolc. One easy way is to add a phallic god symbol, perhaps a priapic wand, to your Bride’s Bed. Keep in mind that fertility magic need not always refer to children. If you are beginning a new project or starting a new job, you can use fertility spells to help your work grow to abundance. Imbolc is also a the time for blessing seeds that will be planted in your garden in the spring.
Imbolc marks the time of year when we need to remind ourselves that this cold will not last forever. That now is the time to awaken from our winter sleep and shake off the doldrums in preparation for spring. The snowdrop and crocus fighting through the snow show us that green times are on their way.
My first year in Calgary, it snowed until May. If ever there was a time and place when I needed a reminder that the light is coming, it’s here. It’s now. I expect that Imbolc will have a special significance for me now. It is so much easier to overlook this holiday when you live somewhere that is always green.
 the corn/sweetcorn thing is similar to how pepper and chili are used interchangeably even when peppers and chilis are completely different plants. Corn in the UK refers to grain crops (usually wheat), sweetcorn refers to the yellow kernel corn crop that grow in North America.
 this herb list, along with further information on each of these herbs can be found in A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman. One of my favourite herb books!