In the Wheel of the Year, there are four Greater Sabbats and four Lesser Sabbats. The Lesser Sabbats are celebrated on the Solstices and Equinoxes of the year, while the Greater Sabbats align with the cross-quarter days – the halfway points between the Solstices and Equinoxes.
In our series, Let?s Learn About The Sabbats, we?re going to learn about the origins of both the Greater and Lesser Sabbats, and at the end of each article, we?ll post a ritual that you can do pertaining to each Sabbat.
Today, we?ll be discussing Imbolc (also written as Imbolg), which is the first Sabbat of the Gregorian Calendar year. However, it?s the third in the calendar year upheld by Celtic, Wiccan, and many Pagan traditions, as New Year?s Eve is celebrated on Halloween (Samhain, pronounced sow-wen) in those traditions.
The Wheel of the Year
Wiccans and many Pagan and Neopagan traditions follow a calendar we call The Wheel of the Year. It?s divided into eight equidistant spokes, with each spoke representing either a Greater Sabbat (fire festivals), found on the cross-quarter days, or a Lesser Sabbat (sun festivals), found on the quarter days – the Solstices and Equinoxes.
We will delve more into the Wheel of the Year in a later article, but for now, let?s just take a quick look at the Sabbats and the dates they are celebrated.
- Samhain: October 31st, Greater Sabbat.
- Yule/Midwinter/Winter Solstice: on or around December 21st, Lesser Sabbat.
- Imbolc/Imbolg/Oimelc/Candlemas: February 1st, Greater Sabbat.
- Ostara/Lady Day/Vernal Equinox: on or around March 20th, Lesser Sabbat.
- Beltane/May Day: May 1st, Greater Sabbat.
- Litha/Midsummer/Summer Solstice: on or around June 21st, Lesser Sabbat.
- Lughnasadh/Lammas: August 1st, Greater Sabbat.
- Mabon/Autumnal Equinox: on or around September 21st, Lesser Sabbat.
The Origins of Imbolc
The exact origins of the celebration of Imbolc are highly debated. Some scholars believe that it?s a newly established holiday within the Wiccan tradition, while others argue that it dates back to the Neolithic age in Ireland.
Regardless of when exactly Imbolc began as a religious celebration, there is much evidence to suggest that it?s a far older holy day than just a recent addition by Gardnerian Wicca.
The translation of the Irish word Imbolc is, ?In the belly,? while Oimelc translates to ?ewe?s milk.? This suggests that Imbolc, held on February first, was a fire festival welcoming in the coming spring, where ewes would begin giving birth (in the belly), and lactating (ewe?s milk).
Symbolizing the halfway mark between the Winter Solstice and Ostara, the Celts celebrated Imbolc as a representation of rebirth. The snow beginning to thaw, livestock giving birth or heavily pregnant, the days getting longer while the nights shortened. After months of battling the cold, hard winter, brighter, warmer days are ahead. We celebrate Imbolc as a rebirth of Mother Earth and a rebirth of ourselves. A breath of fresh, soon-to-be Spring air after harsh winters.
The Celts also celebrated the Goddess Brigid on Imbolc, who represented fire and fertility. Idols were made for Brigid in the form of dolls made from wheat or oat straw. Young girls would take these dolls and visit all the homes in their community, where they were given small gifts from each house as a means of currying favor from Brigid and having her bless the households. Bonfires were also lit in Brigid?s honor on Imbolc.
In post-Christianization Ireland, the celebration of Imbolc became St. Brigid?s Day. The original Celts were having a hard time converting to Christianity, and so the Christian church adopted a number of Pagan holidays in order to ease conversion. St. Brigid?s Day was one of these holidays.
A Ritual To Celebrate Imbolc
Before you begin your Imbolc ritual, it?s good practice to take a warm, cleansing bath. With this ritual bath, you?re not only cleansing your outward body, but also your mind and soul. Shedding off the winter and making way for the spring.
Dim the lights, light some candles, and pour Epsom salts into the bath. Hang a muslin cloth filled with herbs from the faucet as it runs. Cleansing herbs include sage, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, peppermint, sandalwood, cinnamon, and lavender.
Once the bath is full, get in. Let the warm water surround and soothe you. Close your eyes and visualize all the negative energy you?ve accumulated throughout the year leaving your body. Allow yourself to feel purified by the warm, cleansing waters enveloping you.
When you?re ready, get out of the tub and dry off. Only after you?ve gotten out, release the plug and allow all that negative energy to flow down the drain.?
You will need:
- Four tealights
- A lighter or matches
Cast your circle and call upon your deities.
Light the first candle and say out loud (or to yourself if you?re more comfortable that way, ?Though Winter is still here, I feel new life trembling amid the darkness.?
Next, light the second candle and chant, ?I call upon the light of the sun, as it grows larger every day. I call upon its light and flame to breath a spark of new life in the waning darkness.?
Light the third candle and chant, ?As with the sun?s light, inspiration, wisdom, and new life shall too always grow. May the sun?s life-giving light stir the reborn flowers of Spring.?
Lastly, light the fourth candle and say, ?I call upon these candle flames to purify and cleanse me as I move from the darkness of winter to the light of spring. New life comes to manifest among these purifying flames. Blaze of the sun, fire of the hearth, fill me with your life-giving light.?
Meditate on the candle as they burn. Think about Imbolc and what it symbolizes: healing, rebirth, and inspiration.
Open your circle, take out your grimoire or journal, and write about whatever thoughts are coming to mind after performing the ritual.