In the Celtic Pagan Tradition, February 1st marks the celebration of a holiday known as Imbolc. This winter festivity announces the arrival of spring, marks the return of light and solar strength, and is dedicated to Goddess Brigid.
In the great rhythm of seasonal cycles, February 1st pays homage to light and the days that are gaining strength. Imbolc is then dedicated to a Celtic deity, Goddess Brigid. She is the one who brings this cyclical return of light. Her name originates from an Indo-European tribe and it means highness, sublimity.
The etymology of the name Imbolc is also quite revealing: it stems from old Irish and it means “in the womb”, referring to a woman’s pregnancy, which relates Brigid to fertility and the protection of pregnant women.
Veneration to Brigid in Imbolc is associated to divine protection, medicine, fertility, and prosperity. Livestock was dedicated to her as a sign of abundance. But in popular traditions, Brigid is predominantly a goddess linked to fire. The symbolism of fire connects her to the sun, which incarnates the return from the winter period.
Veneration to Brigid was so embedded within the Celtic people that Christianisation never managed to eliminate their devotion. Nonetheless, attempts from the Christians were numerous and similarly to what occurred with other pagan deities, they eventually turned her into Saint Brigid of Ireland, who’s commemoration day is, not coincidentally, on February 1st.
Therefore, she hasn’t gone down in history as a demon, as it occurred with other goddesses. The Irish had such faith in this deity that they maintained all her characteristics as a Christian saint! According to the legend, Saint Brigid of Ireland was the daughter of a Christian slave and a pagan king, and was baptised by Saint Patrick. She is thought to have lived sometime around the VI century. Later on, the Catholic Church also added the Candlemas festival on February 2nd, which is dedicated to Virgin Mary and is celebrated with candle processions, which once again links these dates to fire.
Brigid inspires the art of smithy and healing, blesses poetry, creativity, prophecy, and the arts. As the Goddess of the Forge, she blesses blacksmiths, jewellers, and other craftsmen of the world. As the Goddess of Healing, she blesses physical and spiritual healing, fertility of the land, fertility of livestock, and the art of midwifery. In terms of prophecies, Goddess Brigid marked the Imbolc celebration, and amongst other traditions, it was believed that this day was good for fortune telling and questioning signals to decipher what the future had to offer to the home.
Within the rituals practiced during the Celtic Imbolc, those related to cleansing the body as a symbol of purification are of great importance. Hands, feet, and head have to be washed, similarly to Roman traditions taking place in February such as Lupercalia.
Purifying oneself during the Celtic festivity of Imbolc allows individuals to be in complete harmony with the cosmic forces and be prepared for the cyclical return of the solar forces.
In Ireland on the 1st of February, day of the Imbolc, many protect their houses with the cross of Saint Brigid. It consists of a cross made of rushes, and is easily found in souvenir shops. According to Catholics, the cross protects households from bad luck and fire (element which, as previously stated, is linked to Brigid).
To honour Goddess Brigid, another ritual that can be carried out consists of making an altar for Imbolc with eight candles floating in a container filled with water. It is common for women to set up the altars and place white elements in them, as white is the colour of snow, milk, the moon, and the candles which represent Light.
To celebrate Imbolc, since it is a period of transition, it is recommended to finish all the ongoing work from the winter, leaving nothing behind. This is because it was a time of preparation for the new year, in which it was checked that all tools worked correctly and the land had been ploughed. Some households would carry out a thorough spring cleaning. Imbolc brings hope for new beginnings, and healing of internal wounds.
Wicca is a religion that is inspired in pagan practices and is based on the respect for nature’s creative forces, generally symbolised by Goddesses and Gods that represent the feminine and masculine aspect of creation. Those who practice Wicca, just like the Celts did, practice Brigid’s festivity on February 1st.
Many of their worshippers welcome the new members in their circle or group during Imbolc. Candidates are initiated, celebrating life and the first fruits of spring, baptisms are carried out, and presentations to the Gods and the elements are conducted.
In the Celtic Imbolc, baptisms and rituals of purification are performed using sacred water, which was originally dew water collected from prairies, after a new moon, at dawn. This water, once filtered, is placed in a crystal jar.