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Imbolic (Celtic): Oimelc, Festival of Bride (pronounced 'Breed'), Festival of Bridgit, Candlemas, Imbollgc Brigantia (Caledonii), Lupercus (Strega)
February 2 Northern Hemisphere / August 1 Southern Hemisphere
Candlemas is the Christianized name for the holiday, of course. The older Pagan names were Imbolc and Oimelc. 'Imbolc' means, literally, 'in the belly' (of the Mother). For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows.
At the time of Candlemas, the newborn Sun God is seen as a small child nursing from his Mother. The holiday is also called 'Brigit's Day', in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. She was considered a goddess of fire, patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing. The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be 'Saint' Brigit, patron SAINT of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. They 'explained' this by telling the Irish peasants that Brigit was 'really' an early Christian missionary sent to the Emerald Isle. Today, this holiday is chiefly connected to weather lore. Even our American folk-calendar keeps the tradition of 'Groundhog's Day', a day to predict the coming weather, telling us that if the Groundhog sees his shadow, there will be 'six more weeks' of bad weather. This custom is ancient. An old British rhyme tells us that 'If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year.' Actually, all of the cross-quarter days can be used as 'inverse' weather predictors, whereas the quarter-days are used as 'direct' weather predictors. Imbolic involves celebrations of banishing the winter and welcoming the spring. At this phase of the cycle, winter is swept away and new beginnings are nurtured. Some Wiccan groups favor this time of year for initiations into the Craft. It is traditional at Candlemas to light every lamp in the house for a few minutes in honor of the Sun's rebirth.
The Following is from Kate West
At Imbolc the spark of light born at Yule becomes a flame to warm people and the land. Now we see the first signs of spring. The trees are in bud and some flowers (snowdrops for example) begin to blossom. The word 'Imbolc' means 'in the belly', whilst 'Oimelc' means 'ewe's milk'. Both refer to the fact that many ewes are pregnant at this time and in a mild year the first lambs will be born about now. Imbolc is the quickening of the year, the time when the Earth is made pregnant with the promise of summer fruitfulness and the harvest to come. At Imbolc the Goddess casts aside the robes of Wise One and returns as Maiden, dressed in white. In some groups a Maiden will be chosen and will wear a crown of lights and a white robe or cloak for the ritual. It is worth noting that up until relatively recently, the term 'maiden' was used to denote a female who had not yet given birth to child, so that even an obviously pregnant married woman could be a maiden and take this role in ritual. The God, who was reborn at Yule, is now seen as a young man, full of vigour, and his pursuit of the Maiden starts at this sabbath. Imbolc is the time when the last of Yule's festive evergreens are removed. In some places it is still traditional to hold on to the (undecorated) Christmas fir until Imbolc, when it is taken and burned on the Imbolc fires. These days few of us can afford to keep the tree in place, especially as our modern forced and treated trees find it hard to keep their needles until January, let alone a whole month later. However, there is a practical alternative. As part of your Imbolc celebrations, take all the Yule and Christmas cards you have been given and recycle them, either making them into gift tags for the following year or cutting out the pictures to give to a local playgroup. In ancient Rome this was a festival of Pan and the priests of Pan, called the Luperci, would run through the streets dressed in goatskin cloth whipping the people, especially women, to make them fertile for the coming year. In many parts of the British Isles you will find wells dedicated to Bride or to the Christian St Bridget. Originally these would have been associated with the Goddess. If you are lucky enough to live near one of these, or able to visit one, look for a nearby tree with scraps of fabric tied to its branches. This will be a 'wishing tree'. Many people, whether Witches, Pagans or otherwise, visit these places to make an offering to the Goddess in the hope of having a wish granted. Such offerings are usually a strip of cloth, but it is not unusual to see necklaces of plaited grasses, small posies of flowers and even a child's shoe tied to a wishing tree. If you do visit such a site and wish to leave an offering, try to make it something which will soon return to the earth - a small circlet of grass plaited whilst thinking about your wish, or a hair from your own head, offered as a form of sacrifice. Look in your local press for notices of well-dressing celebrations, as many of these still take place at this time of year.
AN IMBOLC RITUAL
This festival is the first rite of spring. The dark of winter is behind us and now the Goddess takes on the robes of the Maiden and the God is seen as a young man. Find some time and a place where you will be undisturbed. Take a black or dark red candle to represent the Goddess as Wise One and a white one to represent her as Maiden. As with all your rituals, call upon the elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth as well as the Goddess and the God to be with you. Light the dark candle and say, 'This light is the light of the Crone, the Wise One who has ruled over the winter months, the resting time'. Spend a few moments thinking of all that has passed since your celebration of Samhain, especially of what you have learned in this time. Next say, 'Now it is time for the Crone to turn away and become once more the Maiden, Lady of Spring and of promise'. Light the white candle and extinguish the dark one. Now spend a little time thinking about what you would like to begin in this new season. Thank the elements and the Goddess and the God for their presence during your rites. An alternative to this ritual would be to take some ice, a large piece if possible, and, taking it in your strong hand (your right if right handed, your left if left handed), hold it over a bowl and say, 'This represents the Crone, Lady of Winter, of the time when the land is still and resting. But as winter's thaw begins, so the Lady casts off her robes of stillness and becomes once more the Maiden. Full of movement, like the cool waters of spring, she flows once more to bring life and hope to all the land'. Once the ice has fully melted, keep the resulting water to put on your favourite plant, either indoors or in the garden. Please wait until the water has reached a reasonable temperature before you do this, otherwise you will freeze the poor thing's roots! Once again, this ritual should begin by asking the support of the elements, the Goddess and the God, and they should be thanked at the end.
OTHER WAYS OF MAKING IMBOLC
* As this is a time of new life and growth, it is appropriate to plant bulbs or flowers or to sow seeds. However, you will need to use your judgement and some local knowledge to decide whether to actually do so at Imbolc or whether to wait a week (or several) until the last frosts have passed. Of course seeds can often be started indoors and planted out a month or so later. A word of caution here - if you are unlucky and your seedlings or plants fail, try not to read anything 'significant' into this. Unless and until you are an experienced and seasoned gardener, or unless you naturally have 'green fingers' you are quite likely to have a less than impressive success rate the first few times. If you don't have access to a garden, you can always choose an indoor plant to nurture. Many of the herbs that Witches use in their Magic, as well as their kitchen, will grow quite happily on a window sill. Rosemary and lavender are perhaps the two most useful, as well as having a pleasant scent all year round. * If you are lucky enough to live near a suitable tree, choose one to be 'your own'. This is the tree that you will watch to mark the seasons. Observe its cycles of growth and fruitfulness, the way it reacts to the seasons. By doing this you will have a natural link to the Wheel of the Year. It is better to choose a tree which does shed its leaves in winter rather than an evergreen, as the cycles of the latter can be very difficult to see. There are many trees which have particular significance to Witches; oak, ash, hawthorn, elder, willow, rowan and many others. If your tree is in your own garden or in an accessible place, then you will be able to visit it and even meditate under it whenever you please. You may even find that this is the tree which gives you the wood for your wand.
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