Imbolc is an ancient Celtic festival day held on February 1 each year. This is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, that invites the beginning of spring.
Depending on where you live, springtime may feel very far away on February 1. However, for us in the Northern Hemisphere, we begin to notice the days lengthening around this time of year, stirring a feeling of change in the air. The word imbolc roughly translates to “in the belly,” and refers to the time of the year when the sheep had their babies and produced life-giving milk after a long, cold season when the harvest stores were likely thinning.
Imbolc as a Celebration of Hope
Energetically, the meaning of Imbolc is hope. It’s a reminder that the Wheel of the Year is always turning, even when we can’t see it. Think of all the work a seed has to do underground before it hits the surface—that’s the energy of Imbolc.
Imbolc is sometimes called Brigid’s Day, a celebration of the ancient Celtic goddess of inner fire, springtime, fertility, and poetry. She is often shown with bright red hair, holding a bowl of fire, with green rolling hills behind her.
This goddess was so beloved by the ancient Gaelic people that the Christians claimed her as their own and renamed her St. Brigid, the mother saint of Ireland. Brigid’s mythology and miracles reveal her to be a cheeky, powerful woman who had a particular interest in protecting women from ill-intentioned men.
In one story, Brigid’s brothers were annoyed with her for pledging her chastity to God because it meant the loss of her bride price. A man named Bacene made fun of Brigid, saying that the beautiful eye in her head would be had by a man whether she liked it or not. She poked her own eye, telling Bacene that no one would want a blind girl, so she would keep her beautiful eye to herself. Her brothers tried to tend to her wound but couldn’t find any water. She put her staff in the ground and a clean stream appeared. Then she cursed Bacene, saying that soon his two eyes would burst in his head, and they did just that. You don’t want to mess with St. Brigid.
Weather Divination on Imbolc
Imbolc was traditionally a day for weather divination, and this ritual has managed to survive and thrive as Groundhog Day, a popular yearly ritual in North America. Punxsutawney Phil and other famous groundhogs are watched carefully on this day when they emerge from their burrows. If they see their shadow and head back inside, there shall be six more weeks of winter. If not, spring will come early.
While there is no evidence that groundhogs have weather-predicting powers, there is something so hopeful for cold North Americans in February that we really want to know what Phil thinks about how much winter we have left to get through.
Imbolc as the Fire
The energy of Imbolc is subtle and underground, but it is also fierce and intense. It’s the fire in the belly that we need in order to push through something scary or difficult; to warm the weight of the snowbanks enough that they melt; to powerfully break the habits and patterns that are no longer serving us so that we can evolve and grow and become lush and abundant.
Imbolc’s energy is deeply feminine, and there’s a gentleness and a sweetness to it, as it offers us reassurance and hope. But it’s also fierce in its insistence that this feminine energy will grow and blossom, and anything that gets in the way of that will be destroyed.
This is a time to revisit your New Year’s resolutions or even make new ones that feel more relevant to your progress. It’s a time to imagine the fertile new energy of spring and what you would like to do with it. And don’t let anyone get in your way.
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