4th February - Imbolc
Written by Anne Newman Monday, 4 February 2019
Imbolc is one of the four cross-quarter days which make up the wheel of the year and holds the promise of Spring. This date changes each year and it can fall between the 2nd and 7th of February when calculated as the mid point between the astronomical Winter Solstice and the astronomical Spring Equinox. In 2019, astronomical Imbolc falls on 4th February, which is also the night of the New Moon.
Many people celebrate
Imbolc on St. Brigid’s Day on 1st February.
This is the time of the year when the ground is first awakened and the seed placed in the belly of the earth. This is a significant moment in a community which depends on the earth for food. The fields were purified and offerings were made to the goddess.
The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life which were made at the Winter Solstice are now becoming manifest. It's the dawn of the year.
It is time of the year to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter for the new cycle.
There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc:
- From Ol-melc (ewe's milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time,
- From Old Irish Imbolg (in the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes,
- Old Irish imb-fholc, "to wash/cleanse oneself", referring to a ritual cleansing.
- Professor Alan Ward
derives it from the Proto-Celtic *embibolgon, "budding".
From folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took
place at this time.
All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival.
Some passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise around the times of Imbolc and Samhain. This includes the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, and Cairn L at Slieve na Calliagh. (This photo is of the chamber of the Mound of the Hostages).
Imbolc was also traditionally a time of weather divination. In Ireland and in Europe the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day.
In Ireland and Scotland, Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach - the divine hag of Gaelic tradition - gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.
Scottish Gaelic proverb:
Thig an nathair as an toll là donn Brìde, ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd air leac an làir.
The serpent will come from the hole on the brown Day of Bríde, though there should be three feet of snow on the flat surface of the ground.
At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.
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Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.