This past weekend is when many modern Pagans celebrate the fire festival of Imbolc sacred to the goddess Brigid, patroness of poets, healers, and smiths. Yesterday was also the feast day of Saint Brigid of Ireland, the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies. In Kildare, Ireland’s town square, a perpetual flame is kept lit and housed in a statue that pays homage to Brigid. Festivities for La Feile Bride in Kildare started on Jan 31 and will continue through Feb 7.
There are many other notable observances held during these first few days of February. For example, in some Celtic Recon traditions, this is a time to honor Cú Chulainn’s three-day combat with his foster-brother Fer Diad. According to the chronology in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the epic battle happened during these dark mid-winter days.
Additionally, the Shinto Festival of Setsubun is held on Feb. 3. This holiday is more commonly known as the Japanese bean throwing festival. Around Japan and the world, people visit their local Buddhist or Shinto temples to toss soybeans, in order to drive away the evil spirits of winter. Setsubun is translated as “seasonal division” and is considered to be the final day of winter on the Shinto calendar.
That seasonal theme is carried through in many Pagan Imbolc observances. This weekend Earth Spirit Community’s Feast of Lights, held in Northampton, Massachusetts and honoring a similar spirit. And, of course, there is Groundhog Day.
Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, Pagans are celebrating Lammas or Lughnasadh, and enjoying the beginnings of the harvest season.
This year several Imbolc-inspired articles were published in the mainstream media. The Huffington Post featured “Imbolc 2016: Facts, Dates, Traditions And Rituals To Know.” World Religion News published, “Pagans Celebrate Coming of Spring with Imbolc Festival.” The International Business Times shared, “Imbolc 2016: Facts, Traditions And Foods To Celebrate The Pagan Holiday.”Here are a few quotes on mid-winter observances:
“I’ve never seen a purple crocus shyly peeking its fragile bud through virgin snow. Where I live, [we] have colorful roses into January and the citrus trees are heavily laden with fruit, coloring our land in shades of lemon yellow, lime green, and orange, well, orange. Fresh snow will never make it onto my altar. The winter, with its sabbat of Imbolc, is a hard season to attune to here in California. Yet, as a native southern Californian and a Witch, I can feel it in the land. It’s subtle, and most people from other parts of the country would never notice it, but there are little signs of winter even here in the LA Basin.” – Tim Titus, “Virtues of the Goddess: Beauty”
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“In my Reclaiming tradition of Witchcraft, we celebrate a Brigid ritual every Imbolc. It is one of my favorite rituals, if not the favorite. Up to two hundred people gather to make their pledges for the year, witnessed by their community. In the center of our circle we tend the cauldron of Brigid, flames hissing and burning throughout much of the ritual. Each of us has the opportunity to step up to the cauldron. If we wish, we can anoint ourselves with the Waters of the World. Waters collected from melted arctic snow, the Chalice Well, spring water from Germany, San Francisco tap water, and hundreds of other places. We then speak our pledge over the flames and wait until a hammer rings on the anvil, sealing our words. – Annika Mongan, “Imbolc is My New Year”
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“Each year I use this traditional welcome to invite Her into my home, by opening the doors wide and calling in Her blessings for the whole family, ‘The bride has come! The bride is welcome! Goddess Brighid, this is your day, I welcome you to our home, beloved guest. Blessed be!’ I also light the fire in the hearth afresh asking for Her blessings and put a glass of milk out in a special place for Her as a thank you. Then I also put a special white cloth, or Brat Bhride (mantle of the bride) outside on a bush for the Goddess to bless as she passes, to be imbued with Her healing powers, for use throughout the year ahead. I use this cloth to cover sleeping children, as well as anyone unwell or in distress in the house as a magical comfort blanket.” – Danu Forest, “A Wisewoman’s Imbolc.”
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“Back when I was a beginner pagan, I participated in Imbolc rituals, making Brigid’s Crosses and putting little corn dollies in little beds and so on. It was fun to participate, but it never resulted in a connection with the goddess like I have with Odin, or any of the other Germanic deities I worship. I do have a Brigid’s Cross on my mantle now, given to me by one of my Brigid-worshipping friends as a housewarming gift, but that’s about it. How does this time of year between Yule and Easter fit into my own personal practice? Can I have Imbolc without Brigid?” – Amanda at Heathen Naturalist “Looking Into Imbolc”
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“Imbolc is coming. My altars are all packed away, along with art and books, photos of ancestors, and most of my clothing. I have a computer, some client files, two paper books, and two suitcases. But poetry moves through my blood. Stories tap out from my fingertips. I march in the streets, strong and true. And after pounding rain, there comes the sun. I have no altar to Brigid, except the altar in my heart and of my life.” – T. Thorn Coyle, “Well, Forge, Flame: an Imbolc Essay“