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The Origins of Imbolc and How to Celebrate It

Author: Dustyn Deerman

After the winter solstice has come and gone, the next Pagan sabbat on the Wheel of the Year is Imbolc. 

Of the 8 sabbats, Imbolc’s focus is significantly on the themes of fertility, rebirth, renewal, and hope. 

This sabbat begins at sundown on February 1st and ends at sundown on February 2nd. It symbolizes the halfway point between Yule and the spring equinox, Ostara. 

The darkest months of winter are now behind us. Imbolc is meant to celebrate the emerging life all around us. It’s a time for bringing new ideas to light and for growing what we’ve reflected on over the cold winter months, and to make space — physically and mentally — for the intentions you made in the new year to develop and flourish. 

Imbolc is also a wonderful time for celebrating and getting crafty with your friends, family, and coven. As you prepare for this season of growth, explore how to celebrate Imbolc and how to bring Imbolc blessings into your home and life.

Origins of Imbolc

Imbolc originates with Celtic traditions and is sometimes referred to as Candlemas or Oimelc. Imbolc means “in the belly” while Oimelc means “ewe’s milk.” Both are appropriate for the traditional Imbolc symbols that represent what’s being celebrated during this sabbat: new life. 

The seeds of spring are beginning to stir (quicken) in the belly of Mother Earth, and animals are starting to give birth to their young, producing milk.

Imbolc is also traditionally the time of the year to honor the Celtic Goddess of fire and fertility, Brigid. Many Imbolc traditions are linked to her magic — Celts celebrated the early signs of spring with bonfires, Brigid dolls and crosses made of straw or oats, and offerings often tied to trees (called clootie wells).

How to Celebrate Imbolc

Today, pagans still incorporate Celtic traditions as part of their Imbolc celebrations. The sabbat continues to honor Brigid, and fire is still an important aspect of the sabbat.  In fact, in Marsden, Ireland there’s a fire festival every year to honor the holiday.

There are simple and fun things you can do to celebrate Imbolc. From decorating your tarot altar to crafting and performing house cleaning rituals, bring the energy of spring into your home. If you have little pagans, they can join in on all the festivities with you!

1. Decorate Your Tarot Altar With Imbolc Symbols

With Imbolc’s focus on fire and rebirth, the traditional colors and symbols of the sabbat include many sun and spring-themed objects. Get your friends, family, or coven together to create an altar that represents the light and warmth that is beginning to surface.

Colors, Symbols, and Imbolc Candle Colors to Use for your Tarot Altar:

  • White (snow), red (rising sun), blue (flowing water), green (Brigid)
  • Early greens like wild garlic
  • Snowdrops (first flower of spring) or daffodils
  • A triskele or triple goddess symbol
  • Crystals with passionate associations: garnet, amber, citrine, and sunstone
  • Sheep or lamb figurine (or something woolen)
  • White, red, or orange candles

Say prayers or daily devotionals at your Imbolc altar, and/or make offerings to Brigid. Eggs, milk, and other dairy items are appropriate to leave out for the goddess during this time.

2. Perform a Ritual for the Returning Light

bonfire imbolc

While bonfires are a traditional way of symbolizing warmth for the rest of the winter, you may not have access to a safe spot to build one. If not, perform an Imbolc ritual for the returning of light in your home. This is a simple ritual that can involve the whole family.

Once it’s dark, start by turning out every light in the house while you light a votive or pillar candle. Give all participants a small candle, like a tea light or chime candle, and have them light their candles from the larger one. This is a great opportunity to educate your little ones on the connection between fire, Imbolc, and the goddess Brigid

Reflect on what the darkness means and thank it as you invite the returning light. To end the ritual, have each member make a wish before they blow out their candles. 

3. Craft Brigid’s Cross

This is one of the few Imbolc crafts that continue to be made by modern pagans. Traditionally, talismans (dolls and crosses) were made primarily by children, so if you have little ones, they’ll love doing this with you. And if not, you can rest assured it’s easy enough to do yourself!

You’ll Need:

  • 16 reeds (pipe cleaners are easier to handle for kids)
  • 4 small rubber bands
  • Scissors

What to Do:

  1. As you hold one reed vertically, fold a second reed in half then place the first reed in the center of the folded one.
  2. Hold the center overlap tightly between your thumb and index finger. 
  3. Turn the 2 rushes (cattail ends) that are held together 90 degrees counterclockwise so that the open ends are pointed vertically upwards. 
  4. Fold a third reed in half over both parts of the second reed to lie horizontally from left to right against the first reed. 
  5. Hold the center tightly and turn the 3 reeds 90 degrees counterclockwise so that the third reed’s open end is pointing upwards. 
  6. Fold a new reed in half over and across all the rushes pointing upwards. 
  7. Repeat this process of rotating the rushes 90 degrees counterclockwise and adding a new folded reed until all of them have been used up to make the cross.
  8. Secure the arms of the cross with the rubber bands and trim the ends to make them all the same length.

After you’re finished with the crafting, hang the crosses around your home. They can be hung anywhere, but children’s crosses are typically hung over their beds.

4. Perform a House Cleaning Ritual

This time of year is perfect for a little spring cleaning. Once you’ve cleared every nook and cranny and each surface is sparkling, hold an Imbolc ritual to purify your newly polished home. Invite friends or family over to help you with the ritual and join you for a post-ritual feast, too!

You’ll Need:

  • A bowl of water
  • Sea salt
  • Blessing oil (you can also use rosemary oil)
  • A smudging bundle of sage or sweet grass

Begin at your front door and move clockwise through your home. Ask your guests to help you by smudging the perimeter of each room with the salt, sage, candle flame, and water. 

As you pass through each room, anoint each door and windowsill with the blessing oil by tracing a pentagram or a symbol of your tradition. This helps prevent anything negative coming into your home. 

If you’d like, you can also say an incantation:

With the purifying power of water,

with the clean breath of air,

with the passionate heat of fire,

with the grounding energy of earth

we cleanse this space.

May the goddess bless this home,

making it sacred and pure,

so that nothing but love and joy

shall enter through this door.

Once you’re done with the cleansing ritual, gather around the table with your guests for feasting and celebrating. An Imbolc feast can include comfort meals like fish and chips bacon and leeks, or a hearty pot pie.

Quickening Tarot Spread to do for Imbolc

imbolc spread

As the promise of spring lingers during Imbolc, the earth stretches her soil before fully awakening. This quickening tarot spread is focused on paying attention to the seeds you discovered and planted within yourself during the dark months, and how you can nurture those dreams into reality.

What to Ask of Each Card:

  1. Seed: What is the dream seed I hope to grow in the brightening year?

2 + 3. Quickening: What energies are stirring within me and beginning to wake?

  1. Fire: What aids and inspires my dream seed?
  2. Ice: What blocks and challenges my dream seed?

6 + 7. Forge: How can I support and shape my dream into reality?

  1. Surfacing: What part of my dream is currently emerging and what should I seek to support right now?

As you read your cards, write down what you are discovering with each response to the questions you’re asking. You can do this in the very back of your 2022 Writual Tarot Journal. There are pages that provide grids where you can draw the exact spread you’re working with. 


Keep track of all the tarot reads you do for each sabbat throughout the rest of the year this way!

Join Others on Your Tarot Journey

Imbolc is but one of the opportunities throughout the year to reflect, celebrate, and look forward to the future. 

This is an important one, as it can help establish your outlook for the remainder of the year. As the second sabbat of the Wheel of the Year, Imbolc is the time to lay down some strong roots to build upon. 

Practicing tarot as you navigate the Wheel and each sabbat can support how you process the changing of seasons and the growth that comes with them. Even if you’re just starting out on your tarot journey, there’s a lot you can gain from pulling and reading cards during these times of shifting perspective and goal setting. 

When you check in with yourself throughout the year, you can be a better member in your relationships, your family, and your community. You can gain deeper wisdom along your path and have a more nuanced understanding of your surroundings. 

The best part is, you never have to go through this journey alone! Join our community of like-minded Tarot lovers to get tips, answers to your questions, and access to special community events and workshops.

Join the Writual Society for a supportive tarot community! >


About the Author
dustyn deerman
Dustyn Deerman (she/her/hers) is an educator, copywriter, and ceramist based in Denver, Colorado. She has been studying Witchcraft and practicing Tarot since 2017. She’s a sucker for comedy, a good charcuterie board, and the puppy eyes her dogs give her.

 

*Tarot deck images from the Tattoo Tarot by Megamunden and Diana McMahon Collis.

 

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