I’m so glad you asked. Imbolc, which falls on February 1st or 2nd is something I hadn’t really heard of until a couple of weeks ago and it turns out it’s pretty darn cool. It’s an ancient Gaelic festival which marks the beginning of spring and was celebrated by Scotland and Ireland way back in the day along with Samhain, Lughnasadh and Beltaine. Before I begin I should say that I am not a practising Wiccan, just an interested party.
As with all good things, it started off with a bad ass woman, in this case, the pagan goddess Brigid, who was later nicked and Christianised by the Christians, meaning that Imbolc is also popularly celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day. But as we all know by now from watching Vikings etc, pagans really knew how to have a good time, so we’ll focus on the pagan Brigid, not the Christian one, although I’m sure she was a laugh as well.
Celtic Brigid was a goddess of fertility and spring, and she would be invited into the houses of those who believed in her at Imbolc. Traditions varied from place to place but most involved the creation of a bed for Brigid in the family home with offerings of food and drink laid beside it. Processions around the community or the home of a Brigid figure were also common, and rushes were a popular material for this. Crosses made of rushes or straw are still made on this day every year, replacing the previous years. There was food, drink and dancing, and this presented communities with the opportunity to collectively look forward to spring. Seeking the blessing of a goddess in a world where weather forecasts and tractors didn’t exist makes a lot of sense to me. The unpredictable and harsh realities of life and nature could be offset by gaining the good favour of this powerful female deity who was associated with fertility, warmth and plenty. It was also an excellent excuse for a party, a pastime which the Scots and the Irish both certainly enjoy.
After reading about this I was rather charmed and wondered if I could (as an atheist historian who is a firm believer that Hogwarts is real) have a go at celebrating this festival too. It seemed like a nice way to set myself up for spring and faff about with candles. Turns out plenty of people still celebrate Imbolc. There are the Christians with (St.) Brigid, and then there are the Wiccans, witches, and neopagans, whose religions do genuinely really interest me.
After some further internet searches, I did indeed find some fun rituals to have a go at. I’m going to light a candle in every room of my house, this appeals to me as I am very fond of candles and it’s also very ‘hygge’, that ever-so-instagrammable Danish phenomenon the world has recently become obsessed with. The point in the candle lighting is to welcome light to your house, encouraging spring to get on with it. Eating foods with seeds and dairy is recommended, as is going for a walk and trying to spot the first signs of spring. You can even plant some seeds for extra Imbolc points. A spring- cleaning of your home can also be carried out as we emerge from hibernation and suddenly realise we’ve been hiding out in dusty hovels. You can enjoy a soak in the bath with your favourite oils and scents as a cleansing ritual/excuse for a pamper session to give you time to think about the year ahead. For the more crafty you can make a Brigid doll or a cross from straw, but that seems like it’s well above my skill level so I’ll stick with lighting candles, eating and bathing.