Other names for this Sabbat are Imbolg and Oimelc, both meaning "ewe's milk". In Europe, when the pregnant ewes began lactating, this was another sign that winter would soon be over.
Much of the lore of Imbolc originates in Ireland. Here, Imbolc was a holy day for honoring the Great Mother Goddess, Brigid(Brid, Brighid). At this time of year, Brigid is seen as the Maiden of the Triplicity, the waiting bride of the youthful Sun God who was reborn at Yule. Brigid's festival was so ingrained in Irish culture, that the Christian Church was forced to rename the holiday "St. Bridget's Day", turning her from a Goddess into a Saint.
In France, the Feast Day of Blaize, (a thinly disguised version of Brigid), is the celebration of a saint of winter protection and healing who was once worshipped by the Celtic Bretons. Blaize's name is associated with the English word "blaze", as in fire.
The Romans dedicated Imbolc to Venus, the Greeks to Diana, both goddesses of love. The crocus, the first flower of Spring, was sacred to these goddesses. Crocuses were picked and used to decorate homes, altars, and people.
In England, Cornwall, and Ireland, magickal wells are visited on Imbolg. People throw coins into them in the Goddess' name in hopes of making wishes come true. The well is symbolic of the birth canal of the Goddess, from which all things are born.
In the Nordic tradition, known as Disting-tid, the Earth was prepared for planting byestrewing it with salt, ashes, and sacred herbs.
Candle Wheels and Sun Wheels
In ancient cultures, one of the popular customs was to have a young woman, representing the Virgin Goddess, enter the ritual space carrying a circle of lit candles. The candle wheel represented the Wheel of the Year being lighted and warmed again by the Sun. Norse invaders had a Yule custom of wearing a ring of candles as a chaplet on the head. This custom was later adopted for Imbolc celebrations.
Sun Wheels, known also as Brigid's Crosses, are often woven at this time of year. They are equilateral crosses encased in a circle that represents the Wheel of the Year. Crossroads figure prominently in Imbolc, because of their association with the Sun Wheel. In both the Norse and Irish traditions, Imbolc is a night that the spirits of the dead are said to walk among the living. For centuries, people have claimed to have seen spirits seeking the safety of a crossroads.
Grain dollies are sheaves of grain (straw, wheat, corn, or barley) woven into human or symbolic form. They were once part of crop fertility magick. Today, the dollie represents the Goddess and is kept throughout the year and dressed according to the Sabbat. At Imbolc, she is dressed as a bride, and laid in a bride's bed, often a wooden doll bed. Here she awaits the God.
The heart is the symbol of the organ of love. At Imbolc, the heart symbolizes the hopeful and waiting heart of the Goddess as she waits for her lover, the God. This association was later transferred to St. Valentine's Day.
Imbolc is the traditional time to collect stones for magick circles and uses. Stones contain within them the energies of the Earth Mother. They were used to create Stonehenge, Woodenge, and the other circles of Europe. Click here for a table containing some common stones and their magickal associations.
In ancient times, during the bitter cold of winter, the fireplace was the only source of heat. Family members would often throw protective salt in the fire and divine their future from the pops and lights it made. Grain sheaves were also thrown into the fire. If they were consumed quickly it meant spring was close at hand. If they took a long time to burn, the winter would be long.
In the northern hemisphere, Imbolc comes in the dead of winter. The birds and animals are attempting to also survive through the winter. You can help them along a bit by providing food for them. Fill bird and animal feeders with bird seed and small animal food. Decorate in a useful way by hanging strings of fruits and berries from the trees in your yard.
Imbolg is a season of hope, a time to look forward to the warmth and joy of spring.