Imbolc is halfway between the dark of winter and the beginning of spring. Read about my own ritual to honor Brigid and discover what this ancient holiday can teach us.
Last night, I left a shallow bowl of milk out in the middle of my garden.
I was leaving an offering for the Goddess Brigid, celebrating Imbolc.
I set it out before bed, on a flat rock, not telling my husband for fear he would laugh at me or give me one of his “ok whatever you’re weird” looks. I said a few words, quietly so only the milk and my swaying cover crops could hear, and left it there, under the large almost-full moon. In the morning, I returned to the bowl, said thank you, and poured it into my garden beds. I watched as it seeped into my soil. Then, I quickly hoped that milk wouldn’t kill garlic.
It’s quite possible I was a day late with my milk offering. There was some confusion in the things I read between February 1st and February 2nd. But February dates are always weird, with some being a leap year or not. I figured Brigid would appreciate the thought, regardless.
Who is Brigid?
Brigid, also known as Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, or Bríd, was a goddess celebrated by the earth-worshiping Celtic people and was often celebrated and honored on February 1 or 2.
Brigid was the patron of poets and healers, was known to watch over childbirth, and became known as a goddess of hearth and home. She was the keeper of the flame and took form as the maiden of the sun. She would revive the earth from its winter sleep so the planting and growing season could begin.
In agrarian cultures, early February was a time when food stores would be running low. The green shoots in the fields and swelling buds on trees were a sign of hope, and the promises of her return would once again bring the seasons of plenty. Some saw her as the triple goddess, believed to originally been 3 sisters, who over time morphed into one diety. Others see her as the 3 life stages, maiden, mother, crone, with Imbolc representing the maiden stage.
Brigid was later absorbed by the Roman church, becoming known as St. Brigid, bridging the ‘old’ ways of paganism with the ‘new’ ways of Christianity. Her Celtic feast day, Imbolc, became the Christian festival of Candlemas.
What is Imbolc?
February 1st (or 2nd, if you’re confused like me), is known as the celebration of Imbolc (or, Imbolg). It is during this time that Celts welcomed their goddess Brigid in the form of the coming of spring.
I had never heard of Imbloc until just recently when I was researching information about full moons and their names. Something about it really resonated with me, and I dug a bit deeper.
Imbolc is a Cross Quarter Day
There are 4 cross quarter days, falling at the midpoint between solstice and equinox. Along with the solstices and equinoxes, these holidays make up the Wheel of the Year. In modern pagan practice, these are known as sabbats. Imbolc is the halfway point between the Winter solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is a celebration of the start of spring, the early stirrings of the earth, the awakening of the Goddess.
This really made sense. I never understood why the Solstice or Equinox was seen as the first day of that season, when it represented the high point between day and night, cosmically meaning the season was half-way over. I think the cross quarter days, like Imbloc, represent a more accurate nature-based representation of the seasons.
So back to my milk.
I read about many ways to celebrate Brigid and Imbolc.
Imbolc is the time when the evergreens brought into the home from Yule are removed, and you burn them in an Imbolc bonfire (FINALLY- a defined date on when it’s ok to take the tree down!) You can weave Brigid’s cross from reeds and hang in your home, an invitation for her to bless and protect. Or, you can lay a piece of green cloth upon your hearth or on your doorstep for Brigid to bless in the night, leaving you a shawl holding her blessings and powers of healing.
Or, you can give her milk. I heard a story of her flying from home to home, blessing the home of those who had honored her (kinda like the spring version of Santa Claus) and bringing fertility to the gardens and fields. More research showed that this time of year is when ewes began to birth, and the new milk was sacred to the Celts. During Imbolc, it was tradition to offer this milk to Brigit by pouring it onto the earth to assist the return of fertility to the land.
This called out the most to me. My fall garden sucked, so I’d happily take any blessing and fertility that I could get. I didn’t have any new ewe milk, just an open carton, half-filled with Clover organic whole milk, but I loved the symbolism and wanted to invite this magic into my own garden.
Reflections on Imbolc and Brigid
Do I actually think a firey goddess flew over my house last night, blessing my garden? No. But, I love the ideas of ancient traditions that are centered around nature. After all, Christmas trees are no different, so why should Brigid’s milk be any different? An earth-based goddess, waking up from a long winter’s sleep, and waking up the earth in the process? Sign me up.
If you’re not into the actual symbolism, and the Imbolc celebrations are too far out there, I get it. Why do you think I hid my milk bowl from my husband? Regardless, we can use this ancient knowledge and apply it to today.
Let’s make time to notice the earth gently waking up, and allow ourselves to do the same.
Our very modern and patriarchal world sees things very linear and defined. We go to high school, we go to college, we get a job, we get promoted a few times, we retire. We dig, extract, build, leave. We are born, we live, we die. The new year starts with abrupt resolutions, a new calendar on January 1st. Each quarter starts over, Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, new budgets and new todo lists.
But really, EVERYTHING is a cycle, and everything is interwoven, overlapping circles, rotating within each other. Things curve gently into each other, there is no start and stop. Taking time to celebrate, or, even just pause and notice, cross quarter days and the solstice and equinoxes helps us tune into nature, and inviting these subtle cycles into our own lives.
Imbolc is a time to remember and embrace that it’s ok to wake up gently. We are coming out of the “dream state”, or winter dormancy. We are experiencing stirrings, a crossroads between worlds, or the transitions between winter and spring. There is a slowly growing fire in our bellies and our souls, and soon, we will jump up and be ready for planting seeds (literally and figuratively).
Historically, the date of the Imbolc and Brigid celebrations probably shifted, taking cues from the natural surroundings and the first signs of spring. In my own place, this week in particular, falls right in line. Spring is showing everywhere!
Do you do anything to celebrate the coming of Spring? Don’t forget to pin this post and remember for next year!