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Celtic Festival of Imbolc

Updated: Feb 1

The Celtic year was divided into eight segments of equal length. The winter solstice (shortest day of the year) and summer solstice (longest day) divided the year into two halves. The spring and autumnal equinoxes (days of equal length day and night) then divided it into four quarters. These quarters were then bisected by the major sabbats or festival days of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, also known as the 'cross quarter days'.

The fire festival of Imbolc was traditionally celebrated on February 1st - 2nd. Imbolc in gaellic means 'in the belly' and some have said this is because we are approaching lambing time, while others take a more spiritual perspective and say it means 'in the belly of the goddess' or the Earth Mother and refers to the growing new year that was conceived last November at Samhain or the growing light that started to make a return from midwinter day.

Another name for this Celtic cross quarter day is Gwyl Mair, a time of confronting our root issues uncovered in contemplation over the winter. The inner work has been done and it is now time to face the truth in stillness. We can begin our ascent towards the lght, allowing the natural rhythm of healing to take place. Having been cleansed of our darker self we are ready to come back to life.

As Imbolc is celebrated on St Brigid's Feast Day, It is also known as Brigid or Bride's day in honour of the Irish goddess of poetry, healing and smith-craft. The Christian name is Candlemas, not surprising when we realise that Brigid was also a goddess of fire and a perpetual flame was kept burning at her shrine in Kildare. Hilltop fires were lit and candles placed in windows of every house.

Corn Maidens or Dollies were fashioned from corn or wheat and were then dressed up and placed in a cradle or 'Bride's Bed'. These were then kept all year as a symbol of abundance and fertility. The homefire was extinguished for the first time all winter and the ashes raked smooth before going to bed. In the morning the ashes were examined for marks of Bride's passing through the house as a blessing and then the fire was rekindled as a sign of a new start or rebirth.

In Celtic Britain February is an exciting month for gardeners as this is when the first seeds of broad beans and garlic cloves can be planted out into the earth. It is also when snowdrops and crocuses thrust up through the earth and come into flower, the first signs of new growth in the new year. As this year is unusually warm the daffodils and cherry blossoms are also in bloom.

So it is appropriate to celebrate by lighting a fire or a candle and having a celebratory meal to give thanks for the blessings of the dark winter now passing and to welcome the return of the light and new life. We can also do the same for our inner life giving thanks for the time of reflection and self-nurturing during the hibernation period and starting to sow the seeds of our wishes and dreams that we will nurture in the coming months and welcome into our lives later in the year.

Blessed be.

by Cameron Broughton

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