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Imbolc: An Ancient Gaelic Festival

Good Morning My Confidants!

And a blessed Imbolc to you all!

Imbolc? What is Imbolc you may ask?

For those of you who don't know, Imbolc is an ancient Gaelic festival. It is celebrated beginning February 1st and ends at sundown on February 2, which is about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc is celebrated by many modern Neo-Pagans.

Imbolc (pronounced IM-bolg or IM-bolk) is thought to come from the Old Irish meaning “in the belly,” although it is also possible cames from the word oí-melc – “ewe milk(ing).” And interesting thought, because this day is also known as Oimelc, as well as Lady Day, Brigantia, and, in Christianity, Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day. Traditionally, Imbolc represents the beginning of spring and the time when the first lambs are born. It’s the time of the year associated with pregnancy and per Neo-Pagan tradition, a time to honor the fertility goddess Brigid.*

The writer Ash Elding goes on to say that, "As the days lengthen bit by bit. Imbolc is around the time this change really starts to show. The end of the day has noticeably more light, even though the trees and grass are still in winter’s grip. The divine spark that was born in midwinter is growing, and nature is beginning to wake up. Remember the intentions for the new year you made? Now is the time to clear the way for them to grow, symbolically, and maybe literally!"*

Ash also says that "Imbolc originated in pre-Christian Ireland and was celebrated widely in the ancient Celtic world. During the long winters in the North, wild garlic bursting through the snow and baby lambs were early signs of spring was on the way. The Celts celebrated Imbolc to honor these first stirrings of life. Bonfires were lit in honor of Brigid and girls carried small dolls made of straw or oats representing the goddess from house to house to bless them. Sometimes offerings were left tied to trees near small springs called clootie wells."*

Brigid or Brigit or Bríg, is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán. She is also thought to have some relation to the British Celtic goddess Brigantia. Interestingly, I couldn't find a single ancient representation of Brigid. But then that is not uncommon with gods and goddesses from that part of the world. Tales and legends and religion was, for the most part, passed down orally. It's why the Church was able to wipe out so much information from the British part of the world hundreds of years ago.

Ironically, medievalist Pamela Berger teaches that Christian monks "took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart," Brigid of Kildare. The goddess and saint have many of the same associations. Saint Brigid is considered a patroness of healers, poets, blacksmiths, livestock and dairy workers, as well as serpents (in Scotland) and the arrival of spring.**

Imbolc is mentioned in early Irish literature, and some evidence suggests it was also an important date in ancient times. It is believed that Imbolc was originally a pagan festival associated with the lambing season and the goddess Brigid.***

"Rather than being closely connected to the patterns of the sun" [like those celebrating the solstices and equinoxes] ... "it is accepted that the Irish festivals marked transitions in the agricultural year. Bealtaine was a time to drive cattle to summer pastures, Lúnasa marked the beginning of the harvest, and Samhain was considered the end of summer, the bright half of the year, with the focus on preparing to get through a long dark winter. Within this framework, it’s clear that Imbolc would have been the 'beginning of the end' of winter. The days starting to lengthen, the first flowers blossoming and, of huge importance to farming communities, lambing and calving season."****

Historians suggest that Saint Brigid and her feast day are Christianizations of these. The customs of St Brigid's Day did not begin to be recorded in detail until the early modern era. In recent centuries, its traditions have included weaving Brigid's crosses, hung over doors and windows to protect against fire, illness, and evil spirits.

People also made a doll of Brigid (a Brídeóg), which was paraded around the community by girls [this was obviously "borrowed" from pre-Christian Ireland's celebration of the goddess], sometimes accompanied by 'strawboys'. Brigid was said to visit one's home on St Brigid's Eve. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid, leave her food and drink, and set items of clothing outside for her to bless. Holy wells would be visited, a special meal would be had, and the day was traditionally linked with weather lore.***

I have been asked if I am pagan, and the true answer would be, "No." It is one more religion that, in the end, "failed" me. I have discovered that I am not anything when it comes to religions, however I happily incorporate many of their messages, lessons, traditions, wisdom, and even celebrations: the traditional teachings of Jesus, Buddhism, New Thought (it is where I "church" at this time) and yes, Neo-Pagan teachings. Since as far back as I can remember, it was on camping trips with my family when I was as little kid, and being in nature, that I felt the closest to "God." Nature felt far more like Church to me than any building of stone or wood or glass. I would walk a bit down a path on my own, surrounded by the trees, listening to the sounds, smelling the scents all around me....and something would...happen. I would feel things. Powerful things. Perhaps a presence. God? Who knows?

But no, I am not a pagan. However, I do believe that when "God" was said to have uttered those famous words, "Let there be light," what followed was the Big Bang. And the Law of Conservation of Energy states that "the energy of a closed system must remain constant—it can neither increase nor decrease without interference from outside. The universe itself is a closed system, so the total amount of energy in existence has always been the same. The forms that energy takes, however, are constantly changing." *****

What this means to me is that God, who created the Laws of the Universe, had only one thing from which to make the Universe, and that was God Itself.

So.... The tremendous appeal to me of nature-based religions. That everything is a part of me, and I am a part of everything else. And while that means the very things cities are made of, it is when those things are in their natural state--trees and rocks and earth--that I felt, feel, that closeness to everything that is a part of me, and that I am a part of. And the ancient religions that believed we were connected with nature were here long before Christianity, before the Jews were said to have become God's people, before Egypt, and going back to the first humans who looked up at the sky and at the earth around them and tried to make sense of it all.

And all of that is why I celebrate, along with numerous other "holidays" (including Christian, Hebrew, Hindu, and others), as well as the eight holidays that follow the cycle of the Equinoxes and Solstices through the year. I find a lot of wonder in the concept of the great Wheel of the Year. In many ways, it saved my sanity.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can barely abide winter. It has always felt to me as if summer were about a month long and that winter about nine.

But it was the year that me and some friends, and then a few years later, the year that my chosen family observed all eight of the Neo-Pagan holidays that I began to see the year differently. I began to appreciate each passing season and see them for what they were, and the equal parts these sections of the year took. Suddenly winter didn't seem quite as long. Even on the coldest days--and this year with many of them below zero--I was able to look to the promise of spring.

So tonight, we are going to celebrate Imbolc. We celebrate its promise of spring and warm days. We will light candles to symbolize the suns return. We are going to have lamb and sheep's milk cheese in a quiche for RBear and I, and Noah's will of course skip the meat. We'll take our small anvil out, a symbol of craftsmen and artists, and I will thank the Universe that my desire to write has returned, and perhaps ask for guidance? Connection with the creative energy of the Universe?

What we think about, and thank about, we bring about.

So I wish you all Imbolc blessings, a return of the sun, and return of light, and a return of joy! Maybe you all flourish this spring and spread that to everyone around you.

I think that is a wonderful way to think of it all!


BG "Gentle Ben" Thomas

* How to Celebrate Imbolc: The Festival of Brigid:

***** Fact or Fiction?: Energy Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed:


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I do love a good gay lick! ;-) Sorry, couldn't resist.

Happy Imbolc!

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