What Is Imbolc + How To Celebrate It With Ritual
If you’re new to working with the wheel of the year and witchy holidays, you may wonder what Imbolc is and how to celebrate it. In this post, I’ll explain the origins of Imbolc, who Goddess Brigid is (and what she has to do with it), and a list of simple rituals to try at home to honor this season.
Years ago, I began a spiritual journey, seeking ways of living and leading outside modern religion. Along the way, I found the moon, her phases, and the wheel. At its heart, the wheel of the year is about living in harmony with nature and celebrating the beauty and bounty of each season.
Many people don’t realize that modern holidays (like Easter, Christmas, and Halloween) are clones of the original, ancient holidays, with many key details changed to fit new religious teachings.
I’ve found that reconnecting to nature has helped me reconnect to my internal rhythm, and working with the wheel holidays (also known as sabbats) feels much more spacious, nourishing, and aligned.
The wheel of the year holidays:
- Samhain (October 31st to November 1st)
- Yule/Winter Solstice (December 20th-23rd)
- Imbolc (February 1st)
- Ostara/Spring Equinox (March 20th-23rd)
- Beltane (May 1st)
- Litha/Summer Solstice (June 20th-23rd)
- Lammas (August 1st)
- Mabon/Autumn Equinox (September 20th-23rd)
What is Imbolc?
When: 1st Feb
Pronounced: im-bolg or im-bolk
Also known as: Brigid’s Day, The Feast of Torches, Oimelc, Lupercalia, The Feast of Pan, Snowdrop Festival, The Feast of the Waxing Light
Type of sabbat: Cross-quarter (fire) holiday
Imbolc is a celebration of the successful pass of Winter and the first signs of Spring and marks the halfway point between Winter Solstice (Yule) and Spring Equinox (Ostara). Candlemas and Groundhog Day are both alternative, modern-day celebrations of Imbolc.
Yule is linked to the archetype of the Crone, while Imbolc is connected to the Maiden, so around this time, we feel the transition from an inward, reflective, peaceful energy to an outward, innocent, playful energy.
The Sun is returning, days are lengthening, and the planet is warming again. The Goddess (Mother Earth) has given birth to the God (the Sun), and although he may be young, we start to feel more of his energy every day as we step closer to Summer Solstice.
His warmth fertilizes Earth, and this is why seeds begin to germinate. New colors greet us, leaves sprout, and flowers bloom (crocuses), symbolizing the start of a new agricultural year. Although Earth feels mostly still, life is stirring below the surface, waiting for its moment to shoot up.
Imbolc is a final chance to reflect on all that arose during the dark time of the year (Fall and Winter) and integrate the reflections, lessons, and wisdom that came through during this time. Just as new life will soon be born, new ideas and projects will be, too. This is the time to choose where you wish to devote your energy between now and Summer Solstice.
What calls for your attention?
What is stirring within you, ready to be born?
Who is Goddess Brigid?
Imbolc is also known as Brigid’s Day and is a celebration of the Celtic Goddess Brigid. It’s said she brought civilization to the Celts. To celebrate Imbolc, Wiccans and witches will often light white candles for Brigid.
Brigid is a Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother & Crone) of many things, including midwifery, healing, and fire. She rules the fire of the hearth, the fire of creativity, and possesses special skills that call on fire, like blacksmithing.
As a Goddess who rules over fire, Brigid is strongly linked to creative energy, which is another reason why Imbolc is the perfect time to create, entertain new ideas, start new projects, plant new seeds, and gain clarity on what you want to water and grow over the coming moons.
Depending on who you ask and what you read, some Christians say that Goddess Brigid was renamed Saint Brigid, most well known for feeding the poor and healing the sick.
Author Felicity Hayes-McCoy made a connection between Saint Brigid and Danu, the ancient Celtic Goddess of fertility. “Danu” means water (the element of the feminine), which is needed for growth and is what all living things on Earth are primarily made of. Her energy was also said to reawaken the Earth every year in Spring, which echoes Brigid’s essence.
Persephone is also frequently associated with Imbolc as each time she returns from the Underworld she brings “life” back to Earth with her.
How to celebrate Imbolc
Now that you know what Imbolc is, I’d love to share some simple, beautiful rituals you can do at home to celebrate this season of light, hope, and new beginnings.
As I always say, don’t feel pressured to do anything. Take and leave what you want here; there is no right or wrong way to honor the seasons and sabbats of the wheel. Let your intuition guide you as you decide how to celebrate Imbolc.
1. Light it up
Imbolc is a celebration of moving out of the dark and welcoming the light. So one of the most popular rituals at Imbolc is to light candles in your house around sunset and leave them burning late into the night to honor this new beginning.
Place a candle in each room to symbolize the rebirth of the Sun, or follow the ancient witch tradition of wearing a full crown of lit candles.
Take some time to sit in stillness and meditate on the light of your candles. Think about what today means to you, and let this light heal, inspire and purify your mind, body, and soul.
2. Go for a walk
Imbolc is a wonderful time to get outdoors and be in nature. Can you see the first signs of Spring sprouting?
Soak up the fresh air, let the newness and possibility inspire you, and if the Sun is out, let it wash over your skin as you recall the warmth of Summer that awaits.
3. Decorate your altar
If you have a sacred altar where you do all your ritual and spellwork, decorate it in the colors and themes of the sabbat as a lovely reminder every time you glance at it to help evoke the energy of the season.
Cleanse your altar (and yourself) before you decorate it by burning some herbs to clear out the old and welcome in the new.
Imbolc is symbolized by crocus flowers, snowdrops, daffodils, early green plants and herbs, anything that represents the Sun (a Citrine or Sunstone crystal is perfect), a cross (for Brigid), white candles, and anything that represents the elements of water and fire.
Choose objects that mean something to you and conjure the gifts of Imbolc.
4. Set your intentions for the year
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings, and creative energy is abundant.
Many of us set new goals at the end of December/the start of January. But this is the dreaming phase. It’s a time to reflect, ponder and dream about what you might like to do.
By the time Imbolc rolls around, the energy of the Earth is in a supportive, inspiring state, ready for you to declare your intentions. So one of the best ways to celebrate Imbolc is to journey deeper into your heart and clarify where you want to devote your time and resources this year.
Write these out in a journal and place them somewhere you’ll see them every day (like your altar).
5. Make a Brigid cross
When you think of a cross, images of Christian crosses may instantly flash into your brain. But before this symbol was attached to Christianity, the cross symbolized the wheel of the year.
The difference is that the wheel cross didn’t have one line longer than the other; both lines are of equal length, creating a plus sign. Each of the four lines represents the four elements and seasons.
This is why Goddess Brigid is linked to the symbol of the cross. Make a cross out of whatever you have: sticks, fabric, or wire. Place it on your altar, hang it over a child’s bed, or place it under your mattress if you need extra help conceiving.
6. Self-care at Imbolc
If you live somewhere with traditional seasons and a cold Winter, you’ll notice that your skin becomes dry over these months. Let Imbolc be a time to nourish your body by exfoliating dead skin, stepping up your lotion routine, or doing a face or hair mask.
As you pamper your body, send yourself love and visualize your body restoring and your inner fire burning brighter.
7. Enjoy something milky
Imbolc is associated with milk because it’s typically a time when sheep and cows are pregnant and due to give birth to their little ones at Ostara (what Christians have renamed Easter).
So celebrate this day with a creamy golden latte, a cup of cacao, panna cotta, or rice pudding. Use plant-based milk if you don’t do dairy.
8. Plant seeds
If you are setting new intentions, buy a few packets of seeds. Do a planting ceremony to symbolize your intentions rooting into the Earth, ready to shoot up.
All you need is a small pot with some soil. If you don’t have a garden, choose seeds that can grow indoors.
Water them regularly and place them somewhere they’ll catch some light. Let this be your reminder that what you nurture will grow.
9. Bake some bread
Imbolc is also associated with bread, so this is a fantastic time to bake a homemade loaf. Try to source locally produced ingredients where possible.
Let the process be your ritual, and think about this season as you mix, knead, proof, and bake your bread. Score a cross into the bread as a nod to Brigid. Give thanks for the beauty of life as you eat the bread.
10. Spring clean
As Imbolc signifies the first signs of Spring, this is a great time to clean and declutter your home. Get rid of anything you no longer need or want.
When we clear out the old, we eliminate unwanted, stagnant energy and make space for the new to flow in.
11. Take a cleansing bath
It’s easy to turn any bath into a ritual by adding candles, setting an intention, and treating it as a sacred experience. And taking a bath is a wonderful, relaxing way to celebrate Imbolc and cleanse your mind, body, and soul.
Indulge in a milk bath just like Cleopatra did. Add coconut milk powder, rose oil, and fresh rose petals or dried lavender buds to the water.
Alternatively, make your own bath tea and weave in some cleansing herbs like sage, lemon balm, peppermint, or chamomile.
Put on some soothing music and immerse yourself in the healing water. Visualize anything negative, washing away and leaving your body. Focus on your intentions for the year and imagine your life as if they’ve already manifested.
12. Visit holy water
The final way to celebrate Imbolc is to visit a holy water site like a natural spring, river, or well.
Wells were traditionally holy sites where the Priestesses would gather. Much later, when Christianity rose, the people in charge of the church purposely built their churches on top of these sacred, feminine sites. This is why you’ll often see wells or springs close to churches or buried underneath them.
Choose a local source of water to visit. If the water is clean, splash it over yourself. Pour some into a bottle and take it home to add to your bath. Give thanks to your guides and the spirits of the land you visit.
Celebrate Imbolc in a way that feels good to you
For me, the phase of leaving Winter behind and welcoming Spring is wrapped up in spotting the first flowers blooming, the trees regaining their leaves, the frost melting into milder days, morning birdsong, and that exciting feeling that everything is possible again.
Think about what it means for you, and let this guide you as you celebrate Imbolc.