Imbolc is one of eight major pagan festivals on the Wheel of the Year. Imbolc is celebrated on or around February 2nd, often beginning at sundown on February 1st. Imbolc marks the mid-point between Yule and Spring Equinox. The origins of Imbolc's name are up for debate, but there are a few common theories. Some people think that Imbolc was originally a pre-Celtic festival which was then taken over by the Celts. Imbolc is associated with Brigid, a triple goddess associated with healing, poetry, smithcraft and childbirth. In ancient times, domestic animals would be milked at this time of year.
Signs of Spring
Imbolc is celebrated on or around February 2nd, the same date as Candlemas and Groundhog Day. The date varies depending on where you live but generally falls between February 1st-2nd each year - just after Groundhog Day but before Valentine's Day!
The word Imbolc means "in the belly," and refers to the first signs of spring when animals are beginning to give birth or are nursing their young. It also marks a time when many plants begin to bloom after being dormant through winter months.
Imbolc marks the mid-point between Yule and Spring Equinox. Yule is the winter solstice, which occurs on December 21 or 22 depending on your time zone. The spring equinox is the first day of spring and occurs around March 20 or 21 depending on your time zone. Imbolc falls in between these two important events, usually falling between February 1st and March 1st each year (though it can vary slightly).
Where does 'Imbolc' come from?
The origins of Imbolc's name are up for debate, but there are a few common theories. The word "imbolg" means lactation in Irish and could be connected to the goddess Brigid--who was said to have been born on this day. Another theory is that it comes from "imbolc," which means spring in Irish; this would make sense considering that Imbolc falls halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox (which happens around March 20).
Another idea is that Imbolc is derived from "in bloom," which would make sense given that many plants start blooming during this time of year--and flowers are traditionally associated with Brigid's holiday in Ireland.
Some people think that Imbolc was originally a pre-Celtic festival which was then taken over by the Celts. The word "imbolg" is thought to come from the Old Irish for "in milk", and so it's possible that this festival was originally held in honour of Brigid, goddess of milk and fertility. This would make sense as it falls around the same time as Candlemas (which celebrates Jesus' birth) but also coincides with lambing season - when farmers traditionally give their animals extra food and care to ensure a good yield for their crops later on in springtime.
The Goddess Brigid
Imbolc is associated with Brigid, a triple goddess associated with healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is also known as a patron of cattle and fire. She is associated with the sun, fire and water; as well as hearth and home; cows (especially white ones); corn/barley/wheat growing; beekeeping; flax cultivation/spinning/weaving etc.
Brigid was originally an Irish goddess who was later absorbed into Christianity as St. Brigit or Bride (meaning "exalted one"). She is associated with springtime in Ireland and has been linked to the Gaelic festival Imbolc which takes place on February 1 every year (or sometimes March 1).
The name Mary is a traditional name for girls born around this time in Ireland, because they are considered to be under the protection of Brigid.
In ancient times, domestic animals would be milked at this time of year
The Imbolc season is a good time to think about how important milk is. It's a nutritious food source, and it can be used in so many ways:
Milk can be drunk straight from the cow, goat or sheep (or other animal).
Milk can also be used to make cheese, butter and yogurt.
Imbolc is a great time to celebrate the coming of spring and all of its wonderful things. It's also a good opportunity to reflect on the past year and set goals for the future. If you're interested in learning more about this holiday, check out our Imbolc Digital Workbook!