Imbolc: Wikis

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Imbolc
Observed by Gaels
Irish people
Scottish people
Neopagans
Welsh people
Type Gaelic, Celtic, Pagan
Date Northern Hemisphere: February 1
Southern Hemisphere: August 1
Related to Candlemas

Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the Irish calendar, celebrated among Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures, either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of Spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 1, which falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere.[1] Originally dedicated to the goddess Brigid, in the Christian period it was adopted as St Brigid's Day.[2] In Scotland the festival is also known as Là Fhèill Brìghde, in Ireland as Lá Fhéile Bríde, and in Wales as Gŵyl y Canhwyllau. [3]

Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

"The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground." [4]

Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival. Brigid (also known as Brighid, Bríde, Brigit, Brìd) is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft.[5] As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.[6]

Contents

Pre-Celtic origins

That Imbolc was an important time to the ancient inhabitants of Ireland can be seen at a number of Megalithic and Neolithic sites, such as the Mound of the Hostages at the Hill of Tara. At this site in County Meath the inner chamber of the passage tomb is perfectly aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain,[7] similar to the winter solstice phenomena seen at Newgrange, where the rising sun shines down the passageway and illuminates the inner chamber of the tomb.[8][9][10]

Celtic celebrations

Evidence of how Imbolc was celebrated in Celtic Ireland is found in ancient Irish manuscripts that mention the festival, and folklore collected during the 19th and early 20th century in rural Ireland and Scotland.[11][12]

Among agrarian peoples, Imbolc has been traditionally associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, soon to give birth to the spring lambs. Chadwick notes that this could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February.[13] However, the timing of agrarian festivals can vary widely, given regional variations in climate. This has led to some debate about both the timing and origins of the festival.

In Irish, Imbolc (pronounced "im'olk"), derives from the Old Irish i mbolg - which means 'in the belly'. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes. Another name is Oimelc - which means 'ewe's milk'.[14]

The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or simply watching for omens (whether performed in all seriousness or as children's games), a great deal of candles, and perhaps an outdoor bonfire if the weather permits.[12]

St. Brigid's Day

In the modern Irish Calendar, Imbolc is variously known as the Feast of Saint Brigid (Secondary Patron of Ireland), Lá Fhéile Bríde, and Lá Feabhra — the first day of Spring. Christians may call the day "Candlemas" or "the feast of the Purification of the Virgin".[12]

One folk tradition that continues in both Christian and Pagan homes on St. Brigid's Day (or Imbolc) is that of the Brigid's Bed. The girls and young, unmarried women of the household or village create a corn dolly to represent Brigid, called the Brideog ("little Brigid" or "young Brigid"), adorning it with ribbons and baubles like shells or stones. They make a bed for the Brideog to lie in. On St. Brigid's Eve (January 31), the girls and young women gather together in one house to stay up all night with the Brideog, and are later visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home, and then treat them and the corn dolly with respect.[12][15]

Brigid is said to walk the earth on Imbolc eve. Before going to bed, each member of the household may leave a piece of clothing or strip of cloth outside for Brigid to bless. The head of the household will smother (or "smoor") the fire and rake the ashes smooth. In the morning, they look for some kind of mark on the ashes, a sign that Brigid has passed that way in the night or morning. The clothes or strips of cloth are brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection.[12][15]

On the following day, the girls carry the Brideog through the village or neighborhood, from house to house, where this representation of the Saint/Goddess is welcomed with great honor. Adult women — those who are married or who run a household — stay home to welcome the Brigid procession, perhaps with an offering of coins or a snack. Since Brigid represents the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence is very important at this time of year. [12][15]

Gaelic folklore

Imbolc is the day the Cailleach — the hag of Gaelic tradition — gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.[16] On the Isle of Man, where She is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to have been seen on Imbolc in the form of a gigantic bird, carrying sticks in her beak.[16]

Neopagan revival

Neopagans of diverse traditions observe this holiday in a variety of ways. As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how the Ancient Celts and living Celtic cultures have maintained the traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals taken from numerous other unrelated sources, Celtic cultures being only one of the sources used.[17][18] Among those attempting to revive the older traditions comparisons are also made with studies of similar customs in Scandinavia, and customs maintained up till the present day in the Celtic nations and the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh diasporas.

Imbolc is usually celebrated by modern Pagans on February 1 or 2nd in the northern hemisphere, and August 1 or 2nd in the southern hemisphere. Some Neopagans time this celebration to the solar midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, which now falls later in the first week or two of February. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is most likely that the holiday would be celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, or when the primroses, dandelions, or other spring flowers rise up through the snow, or when the sun aligned with the passage tombs among the pre-Celtic megaliths.[15][19]

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Celtic Reconstructionist

Like other Reconstructionist traditions, Celtic Reconstructionists place emphasis on historical accuracy. They base their celebrations and rituals on traditional lore from the living Celtic cultures, as well as research into the older beliefs of the polytheistic Celts. They usually celebrate the festival when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time. Many use traditional songs and rites from sources such as The Silver Bough and The Carmina Gadelica. It is especially a time of honoring the Goddess Brighid, and many of her dedicants choose this time of year for rituals to her.[20][21]

Wicca

Wiccans celebrate a variation of Imbolc as one of four "fire festivals", which make up half of the eight holidays (or "sabbats"), of the wheel of the year. Imbolc is defined as a cross-quarter day, midway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). The precise astrological midpoint in the Northern hemisphere is when the sun reaches fifteen degrees of Aquarius. In the Southern hemisphere, if celebrated as the beginning of local Spring, the date is the midpoint of Leo. Sometimes the festival is referred to as "Brigid". Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc (also referred to as "Candlemas") is the traditional time for initiations.[22]

Astronomical correlation

"Cross quarter" solar alignments occur when the celestial latitude of the Sun is at exactly 23.44 sin 45, or about 16.57 degrees north or south of the Equator. Astronomical Imbolc would thus occur when the Sun is 16.6 degrees in the opposite hemisphere and moving toward the Equator.

See also

References

  1. ^ http://wicca.timerift.net/sabbat.shtml
  2. ^ Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 21, 25. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.  
  3. ^ MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 270. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.  
  4. ^ Carmichael, Alexander (1900) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations, Ortha Nan Gaidheal, Volume I, p. 169 The Sacred Texts Archive
  5. ^ MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 58. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.  
  6. ^ Chadwick, Nora (1970) The Celts London, Penguin. ISBN 0-14-021211-6 p. 181
  7. ^ Mythical Ireland - Tara
  8. ^ O'Kelly, Michael J. (1989) Early Ireland: An Introduction to Irish Prehistory. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-33687-2 pp. 104–7
  9. ^ Dames, Michael (1992) Mythic Ireland. London, Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-27872-5. p. 214
  10. ^ Murphy, Anthony (2001) Loughcrew: Sliabh na Caillighe Mythical Ireland
  11. ^ Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2 pp. 200–229
  12. ^ a b c d e f McNeill, F. Marian (1959, 1961) The Silver Bough, Vol. 1–4. William MacLellan, Glasgow pp. 11–42
  13. ^ Chadwick (1970) p. 181
  14. ^ Chadwick (1970) p. 181
  15. ^ a b c d Carmichael, Alexander (1900) pp. 166–8 The Sacred Texts Archive
  16. ^ a b Briggs, Katharine (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies. New York, Pantheon Books., pp. 57–60
  17. ^ Adler, Margot (1979) Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston, Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-3237-9. p. 3
  18. ^ McColman, Carl (2003) Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Press ISBN 0-02-864417-4. p. 51
  19. ^ Bonewits, Isaac (2006) Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. New York, Kensington Publishing Group ISBN 0-8065-2710-2. p. 184–5
  20. ^ McColman, Carl (2003) p. 12
  21. ^ Bonewits (2006) pp. 130–7
  22. ^ Budapest, Zsuzsanna (1980) The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries ISBN 0-914728-67-9

Further reading

  • Carmichael, Alexander (1992) Carmina Gadelica: Hymns and Incantations (with illustrative notes on wards, rites, and customs dying and obsolete/ orally collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland) Hudson, NY, Lindisfarne Press, ISBN 0-940262-50-9
  • Chadwick, Nora (1970) The Celts London, Penguin. ISBN 0-14-021211-6
  • Danaher, Kevin (1972) The Year in Ireland. Dublin, Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-093-2
  • McNeill, F. Marian (1959) The Silver Bough, Vol. 1–4. William MacLellan, Glasgow
  • Ó Catháin, Séamas (1995) Festival of Brigit

External links


Simple English

Imbolc is a festival belonging to Brigid, the Celtic goddess who, in later times, became famous as a Christian saint. At first, her festival on February 1 was known as "Imbolc" or "Oimelc", two Gaelic names which refer to the lactation of the ewes. Lactation is the flow of milk that happens when the baby lambs are born in the spring, and Gaelic languages are those spoken in countries like Ireland and Scotland.

Imbolc was, and still is, a time to celebrate that winter would soon be over. Sometimes in Ireland, the first flowers are coming up at the time of this festival, even when there is still snow on the ground.

Later, the Roman Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, a day that now belongs to the Virgin Mary. On this day, people may have ceremonies or processions by candlelight - walking together in the dark, with the only light coming from candles they carry. The may also sing songs to Brigid, or say poems or prayers to her.

In both Pagan and Christian celebrations, Brigid is celebrated as a powerful female figure, who brings light, inspiration, and healing to the world.



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