The following is a short basic introduction to Imbolc.
Imbolc is a festival of purification and a celebration of the first signs of spring. It is the time when the milk begins to engorge the udders of the livestock in preparation for the first births of spring. It is an important date in the beginning of the agricultural year. Preparations for spring sowing, hiring of farm workers for the coming season, fishermen taking out their boats after staying in for the winter season, seaweed gathering on the coast to be used for fertilizer, and the gathering of shellfish all begin at that this time. The larder of the housewife and the hay stores of the farmer were also checked to make sure that only half had been consumed.
Most of the elements of the traditional celebration can be seen, as referring to sexual intercourse and fertility: the men, having the charge of making the “little Brid doll” often from the phallic dasher of a churn; the women preparing the “bed” for the don; the churning of butter; the emphasis on birth and milking; and the use of straw, which was the traditional material for the birthing bed for human and beast alike, etc.
In folk practice, it appears mostly as a holiday centered on the household, but it can easily be turned into a community celebration as well. Below are some customs that have long been associated with this sacred holiday. Feel free to modify them to match your needs and the particulars of your family and community.
This is the time to give your home a good thorough cleaning in preparation for a visit from Brigit. If you happen to have a fireplace, it especially should be cleaned very well. As a part of the magical purification of the house a birch branch should be used to symbolically sweep the floors. Birch has strong associations with Brigit, and has long been used for rites of purification and new beginnings.
Approach the altar and pause for a moment of silent meditation. Ground and center using whatever method you find most effective. Then ring the bell three times.
Say “I come to this place and this time to celebrate the holy day of Imbolc, and to commune with the Lady Brigit.”
Pick up the wand or athame, or if you prefer, just use your index finger. Move to the East, pause, then slowly walk the circle clockwise, drawing the circle as you go. See the circle rising in deep blue light. Make a complete circle, and see the ends joining together.
When you return to the East, set down the wand or athame and light the quarter candle. Say “Spirits of the East, Spirits of Air, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your wisdom. On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Air!”
Move clockwise to the South. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the South, Spirits of Fire, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your inspiration. On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Fire!”
Move clockwise to the West. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the West, Spirits of Water, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your love. On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Water!”
Move clockwise to the North. Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the North, Spirits of Earth, I call to you. Come into this circle, I ask, and share your stability. On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Earth!”
Move clockwise back to the East, then return to the main altar.
All of this work should be completed prior to the eve of Imbolc, when a small dish of butter should be placed on a windowsill and a fresh fire kindled in the hearth or a candle lit in honor of Brigit.
The eve of Imbolc is the best time of the year to perform divinations specifically pertaining to the future welfare and prosperity of your family.
Making the Brideog:
If possible (and applicable) this work should be done by the man of the household or a group of men in your grove. Long pieces of straw or rushes should be gathered and fashioned into the shape of a doll. The image should be dressed in white doll clothing or merely wrapped in a white cloth in the manner of a dress. Her image should be decorated with bits of greenery, early flowers, shells and pretty stones. An especially pretty shell should be placed over her heart. For the greatest magical effect, the doll can be built around the handle of an old butter chum dasher. When finished, she should be consecrated with a few sprinkles of sacred water while invocations to Brigit are spoken. The resulting effigy is called a Brideog (BREE-JOG), or “little Brid” and is an important component of the traditional Imbolc celebration.
This is the most widely practiced custom associated with Imbolc. Following the making of the Brideog, the extra straw should be gathered up and saved, for use at the family or grove feast on the eve of Imbolc. For the best results, the straw should be soaked in water for a couple of days prior to the feast. Pan of that evening should be devoted to making Brigit’s Crosses. These are weavings of straw that can be as simple as a few strands or amazingly elaborate. Most folks are familiar with the three or four-armed variety but there is a great number of different regional patterns including what most people in America know as a “God’s Eye” pattern woven around two sticks. At the end of the evening each person should take their cross home, sprinkle it with a bit of sacred water and speak a request of Brigit for blessing and protection of the home and family members. Old crosses from previous years should be moved to the rafters or attic of your home, and the new crosses hung in their place near the entryways to the dwelling. Crosses that were woven by the children should be hung on the wall over their beds, and if you happen to have a barn or out-building you should hang one there as well. They are especially effective in protecting the household and its inhabitants from fire and lightening.Throughout the year, the crosses may be taken down temporarily when a Brigit blessing is needed: the a healing of a sick child; tucking between the mattresses to assist in conception; placed upon a basket of seed being carried out to the garden for planting, etc.
If you’re not familiar with Brigit
On the eve of Imbolc, a family or community feast should be held. When all is prepared, and the table is set, the persons who were involved in the making of the Brideog should go outside and retrieve her. The doll should be placed on the outside of the building next to the open door. The men should get on their knees before the doll (the traditional gesture of respect for the Brideog) and shout into the house, “Go on your knees, open your eyes, and admit Brigit!” The celebrants inside should answer, “Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to the holy woman!” The Brideog should then be carried into the house and leaned against a leg of the feasting table. Begin the feast with a prayer of thanks.
Say “Brighid, Goddess of Healing, Goddess of Smithcraft, Goddess of Inspiration, I thank You for Your presence and Your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”
Say “Ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”
Say “Spirits of the land, spirits of this place, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”
Say “Spirits of the North, West, South, and East, Spirits of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”
Ring the bell three times.
Say “This celebration of Imbolc is complete. Hail and farewell.”