Today, many modern Pagans and polytheists celebrate the fire festival of Imbolc, sacred to the goddess Brigid, patroness of poets, healers, and smiths. The modern celebration is often held on Feb. 1 or Feb. 2. Because of practical concerns including work schedules, many groups hold their rituals and events can throughout the week and weekend.
Ralph Whitlock wrote in 1982 (Guardian Publication ltd), “Outside the Roman Catholic Church, Candlemas Day, February 2, now has little significance in Britain. In the ecclesiastical calendar it is the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, referring to the ancient custom which required a mother to offer candles on her first visit to church after childbirth. Actually it supersedes a much older pagan festival, the feast of Imbolc…. A Celtic quarter-day in pre-Christian Britain, Imbolc belongs to a pastoral calendar which preceded the agricultural one with its quarterdays on Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas. Imbolc was important in marking the traditional beginning of the lambing season. Although the name is largely forgotten, the date retains some of its old significance for farming communities, as the time when the earliest lambs are born.”
Whitlock noted, “The first week of February, when some of the worst winter weather can be expected, may seem a particularly inclement season for starting lambing, but there are good reasons. Lambs born then are just the right age in April and May to make full use of the spring grass… What is even more important to the sheep farmer, they are ready for marketing, as fat lambs, in early July, when prices are at their peak. So February lambs are worth the extra trouble.”
Similarly, Feb. 1 marked the feast day of Saint Brigid of Ireland, the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and newborn 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. 29 and will continue through Feb. 5. The center that hosts the event is now celebrating its 25th year.
This is the last year that Brigid’s Day will not be a bank holiday. Beginning in 2023, February 1 will be an official national holiday in Ireland.
The goddess Brigantia of Celtic (Gallo-Roman and Romano-British) religion of Late Antiquity was venerated at Imbolc. Towns bear her name such as Brigetio in Hungary, Briançonnet and Briançon in France, Bragança Portugal and the cities of cities of A Coruña and Betanzos in Celtiberian Spain.
The late Alexei Kondratiev wrote, “The fire of Brigantia was both the fire of fertility with the earth and the fire of the sun, which gradually gained in strength as the days lengthened. The lighting of bonfires or candles was an expression of magical encouragement to the sun, as well as a sign of rejoicing at the more abundant light. Traditionally, Imbolc marked the point after which it would no longer be necessary to carry a candle when going out to do early morning work.” – The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual
The vigil from February 1 to 2 also marks the Feast of Oyá in some African traditional religions in the diaspora including Lucumí and Ifá. Oyá is the orisha of flux and change. She rules winds, lighting, and violent storms. She is the first and last breath and marks death and rebirth. She lives at the cemetery gate and through this post communicates with the ancestors. She also rules the marketplace of change.
February 2 is also the Feast of Maman Brigitte. Last year, author Lilith Dorsey told TWH, “This is one of my absolute favorite times of year. I get the chance to celebrate the ‘fiery one,’ the Goddess Brigit.”
Dorsey said, “[Maman Brigette] is a powerful Lwa of the Dead, a foremother dedicated to justice and wisdom. My own spiritual house is dedicated to her and me and my godchildren take special care to honor her at this time.”
There are many other notable observances held during these first few days of February. For example, in some Celtic reconstructionist 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. In the Urglaawe Heathen tradition, Feb. 2 marks the beginning of the twelve-day observance of Entschtanning (the emergence). It is a time to clean out hearths and honor feminine spirits and female ancestors.
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, observers throw soybeans in their homes to drive away the evil spirits of winter while others visit their local Buddhist or Shinto temples and toss soybeans there. Setsubun is translated as “seasonal division” and is considered to be the final day of winter on the Shinto calendar.
This seasonal theme is carried through in many secular and modern religious observances, such as EarthSpirit Community’s Feast of Lights and, of course, Groundhog Day.
In the Southern Hemisphere, modern Pagans are beginning their harvest season, celebrating Lammas, Lughnasadh and other similar festivals. Autumn will soon be at their doorstep.
University lecturer, psychologist, Wiccan high priestess Vivianne Crowley wrote, “As Pagans, we honor our warrior goddesses, and we can remind ourselves that over time Brigantia became fused with wise Minerva. To ride safely through the changes to come, we must hold true to ideals and values in the face of all that would pressurize against them. We must honour science, history, and fact. We must become politically active to influence those in power to exercise their responsibilities wisely and well. We must support and find strength and inspiration from one another, bonding ever closer as the upheavals come. Sometimes bad changes can bring new light and dawning, as we realize the value of what is all too easily lost. Let the light of strength and wisdom shine in the darkness on Brigid, Bride, Brigantia’s day.” – Light in the Darkness on Brigantia’s Day
The Wild Hunt wishes our readers many blessings this holiday! Despite the challenges in our world at this moment, may you have a moment to honor the growing light this day.