The long cold months of winter seem to always have a way of dragging out in a way that makes January seem absolutely unbearable. Basically I would love to hibernate and just skip winter all together. So the crossing of the suns journey that marks Imbolc coming into our calendar is a warming spark in winters cold bleak days for me.
If you are new to this path you might be wondering about the history of Imbolc and what does it have to do with groundhog day. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from this sabbath from long ago and the ways its been celebrated through the centuries.
What is Imbolc
Imbolc is the sabbath that represents the turning of the seasons from winters cold grasp to springs warm awakening. February 2nd is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. A celebration of springs approach to bring new life to the barren winters land.
We start to notice the lengthening of days as winter starts to end its reign over our dreary souls (can you tell I really don’t like winter), the ice begins to thaw and we can begin to take inventory of our lands once again. This isn’t the start of spring but better perceived as the midpoint of the changing season.
Imbolc has three main associations: the start of new life, the lactation of ewes, and the reverence of fire and water, providing many ways to give homage to all three.
In times of the early Celts, it was said that the Spirit of the Grain, or the Goddess Herself resided within the very last of the grain from the harvest festival, and Imbolc was the time that the grain was ritually brought within the house along with the tools that would be used, to be blessed, and planted as the first seed of the next harvest.
This is the time to start all the preparations for springs arrival, her gift of new life, as well as all the work for the upcoming season. What seeds are you wanting to sow this year?
Ewes to the Rescue
If your harvest wasn’t bountiful enough, in the midst of the frozen days of winter, you would start to run low on your main food source, and as there isn’t much for foraging in the bleak of winter, you would then rely on the budding of new life that causes the ewes milk to flow. Ewes only lactate when there are new lambs to nurse, lactating ewes would mean the presence of milk, and the ability to make butter and cheese, also the difference between life and death.
Imbolc is translated to mean in the belly and with all the promise of new life all around the gift of life is honored at this time. The new life of livestock, the new life of the seeds for the upcoming season, new life of this years creative works, to the new life you are starting for yourself are all to be celebrated at this time.
The Triple Goddess
The Triple Goddess Brigid is the goddess associated with Imbolc, with her forge fires burning like the sun, she transforms her metals with the heat of the forge fires, as the sun helps to transform the earth for new growth, and the healing waters of her well that gives fresh life in the times of winters darkness is like the ice melting into fresh flowing waters again. Brigid is the triple Goddess well-known for her metalsmithing and healing waters, but she is a goddess of inspiration, creativity, and poetry as well.
Today Pagans recognize Brigid in her role as protector of the hearth and home. Constructing Brigid cross, a brides bed (as she as also recognized in her maiden state), a Brigid corn husk doll, or a brat bhride are all ways to call the blessings of the goddess into your home for the coming year as well as being traditions from the days of the past when the blessings of the goddess meant the difference between life and death.
Light candles in your home on this night for use of light instead of electric lamps and build a fire in your fireplace if you have one. When lighting your fires think of the Goddess and her forge fires of transformation, invite her into your home to spread her healing blessings and fires of creativity all around.
Fire and Water
Fire was revered with traditional rituals representing the observance of the returning sun to turn the winters snow into water, what is referred to as “the first light”. Imbolc was marked with the traditional lighting of the candles, signifying purification, inspiration, and growing light. The smithcraft aspect of the goddess Brigid, with her forge fires burning bright, represents the physical transformations that occurs at this time. The same way she bends and transforms her metals, snow transforms to water, the seed starts its transition, and so we are to start our transformations as well.
Water is the essence of all life, without it we can not grow, heal, and transform. One of the gifts of Brigid is the healing waters of her sacred well. On Imbolc processions were made to her wells that were adorned with greenery at this time to symbolize springs return, circling the well in the path the sun takes (clockwise), finishing with a drink from her healing waters, ensuring a blessing of good fortune.
The Groundhog and The Crone Caileach
Groundhog day is celebrated in different ways all over the world but chances are not too many people know of the Pagan roots behind this tradition. The Crone Caileach is the ancient earth herself in the midst of winters reign, cold and barren of life, the complete opposite of the Goddess Brigid radiating like the sun, ready to start the seasons new life cycle.
As the seasons are just on the verge of changing, is when the crone goes out in search of firewood to be able to keep her fires burning and extend her cold grasp even longer. If on Imbolc the weather is wet, her search will be unsuccessful, only finding wet wood in her days journey she is forced to allow spring to come into reign. However, if the day is dry and well lit the day will bring a bounty of fuel to keep her fires burning during her continuation of her frigid season.
And so the story of the crone was replaced with the groundhog, and if he sees his shadow, he runs into his burrow to hide for the extension of winter. Makes me wonder to myself if its his shadow that he sees or does he spot the crone herself out gathering wood.
Phil… Phil Conners?!
There is a very good chance that you have seen Phil Connors (Bill Murray) live the same day over and over again in the movie Groundhog Day. For those who have not seen it, or if its been a while if you have, I encourage you to watch it. While you are doing so take into consideration of the repetition of our lives, both current and past, and the way the same opportunity or lesson can pop up, until we truly change our outcome for the better.
Take it as a reflection of the way we make changes for the positive or the negative and the effects our decisions make on our lives. Will we be like Phil and keep making the same mistakes each day? When do we recognize the fact that we have the power to change the destiny of that day? And when we come into the recognition of that power, will we use it to our own vain advantage? Or would we possibly take the opportunity to make a change in the world for the better of humanity?
Bringing the Past to Present
The History of Imbolc can make things seem a little out of relevance for those who don’t live in rural areas or those who live in a milder climate zone, however I encourage you to take up this time as fresh starts and new beginnings. Honor the Goddess Brigid and ask her to come into your home with her blessings. Imagine yourself as the earth herself, in the midst of the cold winter, and feel the warm sun start to shine on you,
thaw out your hard frozen layers to prepare for new creative energies to flow out once again.
Love and Light