The word Imbolc means, literally, "in the belly" or womb of the Mother.
And indeed, in the womb of our Mother Earth,
hidden from our sight, there is the quickening of the seed which was planted at the winter solstice
just as the seeds of plants are beginning to germinate under the frozen ground.
Imbolc is also the feast day of Brighid (Bride, Brigantia or Bridhe),
Celtic Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry, and she is symbolized by fire.
Brighid is also a fertility Goddess and the patroness of midwives.
The Celts honored Brighid by performing circumambulatory rituals for the benefit
of the crops and by lighting of sacred fires. Bonfires were lit on the tors.
At her shrine in the ancient Irish capital of Kildare, a group of ten
priestesses kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor.
At Imbolc, the Asatru tradition which worships the Saxon and Norse deities sees Bride
as transformed as part of her threefold nature from the winter aspect of the
aged hag into the virgin bride, which symbolizes the transformation from death to rebirth.
The attributes of the Goddess were transferred by the Catholic Church to Saint Brighid,
coincidentally the patron saint of healing, smithcraft and poetry!
The custom of the perpetual flame was maintained at the monastery at Kildare.
This fire was never to be breathed upon (it had to be tended by bellows). The flame was first lit in the sixth century,
and was only extinguished once in the thirteenth century before Henry VIII
disbanded the monasteries, at which time the flame was extinguished for good.
Another name for this holiday, Oimelc, means "milk of ewes" for it is at
this time when sheep and other farm animals (cows and goats) are giving birth.
In ancient times, the milk from their sheep was crucial to a tribe's survival over winter.
Ewes must become pregnant and give birth before than can lactate and produce milk.
As Goddess of Fertility, Brighid presides over the birth of the lambs.
In the fourth century, Christianity reformed the festival of Imbolc first into the celebration of the purification of the Virgin Mary
and called it "Candlemas", named for the lighting of candles at midnight by the faithful as symbols of the purification of Mary.
Under Jewish law, it was necessary for a woman to be "purified" after the birth of a child.
In Rome, by the end of the fifth century, the feast was celebrated with the addition of a candlelight procession
which was a substitute for the Pagan torchlight processions around the city walls.
This Pagan festival was a celebration honoring Juno, the virgin mother of Mars.
Traditions of Imbolc
A very nice tradition that is still practiced by Witches in the British Isles
and in many parts of the United States is to place a lighted candle in each window of the house, beginning
at sunset or after your ritual, in honor of the Sun's rebirth.
If it is possible, the candles are allowed to burn until dawn.
Of course, the making of candles is traditional at Candlemas.
To make homemade candles in molds, you will need the following supplies,
which are obtainable at most arts and crafts stores or in candle shops:
little star-shaped tin wick holders
metal rods or wooden dowels
equal amounts of parafin and pure beeswax
You can purchase candle molds, but there are many household items that can
be used instead. Empty wax milk or juice cartons, tin cans, and paper cups
make good molds that can be disposed of when you are finished.
Non-disposable items, such as muffin tins and jelly glasses, can also be used.
It will be necessary to spray the non-disposable item with special candle sprays available in craft stores,
or silicone spray non-stick cooking spray.
To prepare the molds, cut a piece of candle wicking long enough to fit the mold,
allowing a couple of inches to tie the wick to the metal rod or dowel.
Attach one end of the wick to a tin wick holder and bend the points of the star up to hold the wick in place.
Center the wick holder in the bottom of the mold and tie the other end of the wicking
around a metal rod (or dowel) placed across the top of the mold.
Cut the parafin into small pieces and the beeswax and place them into the top of a double boiler.
Fill the bottom part of the double boilder halfway with water, put the top part back on top, and heat the double boiler over low heat to melt the wax.
A coffee can placed inside a pot of boiling water will work, too, but you must be extremely careful to keep the flame very low on the stove.
Never, never melt the wax directly over the flame.
When the wax has melted, you can color by adding pieces of broken wax crayon.
You can also scent the wax by adding essential oils or special candle scents.
After the wax has melted and has been colored and/or scented,
remove the double boiler from the stove and pour the melted wax into the molds and allow it to harden.
As the wax cools, it may contract in the center at the wick and form a cone-shaped cavity.
You can just fill the cavity with some melted wax, if you wish.
After the candle has cooled and hardened thoroughly, remove it from the mold.
Another tradition is the weaving of Brighid's crosses from straw or wheat.
These might also be bought in Irish craft stores, but they are very easy to make.
If you are using dry reeds or straw, soak the materials in a bucket of water until they are pliable.
It is not necessary to soak them for hours...
twenty minutes to a half hour is sufficient for wheat or the kinds of reed used in basketry.
Twigs and vines might take longer to soften.
Cut the reed into uniform lenghths, depending on the size you want to make your cross.
To start, bend two pieces in the middle to form loops and hook them together.
Turn the pieces so that they lie flat at right angles to one another. This will make the base of the cross.
Next, bend another piece in half and loop it over one of the two base pieces,
but with the "legs" in the opposite direction from the legs on the other base piece.
Pull it tight and hold it in place while you bend another piece of reed and loop it over the piece
you just added in the same manner, forming the cross shape.
Now loop another bended piece of reed over the last piece you added, parallel to the first base piece of the cross.
Continue in this fashion, looping the reed over the piece you previously added until the cross is the size you desire.
Tie off the ends with a piece of reed, string or straw, and trim.
The crosses are then hung over the hearth or stove for protection, especially against fire.
It is traditional to burn the previous year's cross at Imbolc, but you could keep the same crosses from year to year.
Traditional Foods for Imbolc
Seeds (Poppy, Pumpkin, Sesame, Sunflower, etc.) Poppy and Sesame seed breads,
rolls and cakes, and herbal teas. Any dairy products. Spicy foods in honour of the Sun are excellent.
Dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic or chives are appropriate, along with curry.
Spiced wines and dishes containing raisins, which are also symbolic of the Sun, are also traditional for Imbolc.
I am the birght Queen who rides in on the morning,
I am the Light
I am the poet whose teeth bite the wind,
I am Song.
I am the serpent whose eyes are a flame and a testimony,
I am Truth.
I am the brown rabbit with her snow-tailed brood,
I am Creation.
I am the mist that pearls the edges of the days,
I am Merging.
I am the flutter of moonlight in the midnight forest,
I am Magick.
I am the white wolf with my sacred hunger,
I am Death.
I am the secret stream with my litany of soil and root,
I am Mystery.
I am the mute stone in the howl of moorland storm,
I am Wisdom.
Wonder, strive, search, and never find me, Yet know me always in the unfurled heart.
as taken from The Magickal Cauldron