Imbolg (February 2nd)

Written by Elkin Vanaeon

This is the holiday where we are reminded that Spring will soon be here. The Earth still sleeps under her blanket of snow, and the Young Maiden Goddess is beginning to awaken from her long winter's nap. Traditionally, this is the time when we coax the Goddess to awaken during our Imbolg ritual.

As the days' lengthening becomes perceptible, many candles are lit to hasten the warming of the earth and emphasizes the reviving of life. "Imbolg" is from Old Irish, meaning "in the belly," and Oimelc, "ewe's milk," as this is associated with the lambing season and the coming of spring, when the winter reign of the Cailleach Bheur is ousted!

It is celebrated as a fertility festival celebrating the things which are to come. In Ireland, Imbolg started out as a special day to honor Brigid (pronounced: Brigit g as in "get" and Bride (breed)) and the other goddesses including Dana, Anu, Arianrhod, Modron, Epona, and others, all were "The Great Mother" in Celtic cultures.

She is the daughter of Daghdha (Dagda) "The Good God" of the Tuatha, born at sunrise and in her triple aspect she was patroness of poets, healers and smiths. The ancient FILID or bards were under her direct inspiration! She was married to Bresthe Fomors and bore him one son Ruadam. When her son was killed in battle she made the first "keening" that was ever heard in Ireland. She was Saint Brigit of Kildare (450-523) the priestess who founded the first female religious community after Christianity had been established in Ireland. No man could enter the Abbey of Kildare, "Sanctuary of the Sacred Fire" which was tended only by women until the time of the Reformation, at which time the Church forced the closing of the Sanctuary.

Saint Brigid is further known as the 'Mary of the Gael' and is credited with being the midwife to the Virgin and foster-mother of Jesus. A folk-story tells how she played the fool by lighting a crown of candles and wearing it on her head to distract Herod's soldiers from the Holy Infant. Her primal function is that of fire and illumination; in Romano-Celtic temples she was frequently related with the goddess Minerva. The meaning of her name was Breosaighit (fiery arrow) and as one side of her face was ugly, the other side was very comely. It was she who first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night.

Februum is a Latin word meaning purification -- naming the month of cleansing. The Spring thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) -- all that was hindered is let flow at this season. Imbolg, Imbolg (Celtic), Feast of Lights, Candlemas, Lupercus (Strega), Imbollgc Brigantia (Caledonii), Candelaria (Mexican Craft) are celebrated on February 2nd, and February 2 in hopes of putting an end to the rival Pagan celebrations. The Church festivals then coincided with the month dedicated to purification in Roman Paganism, to Iunio Febrauta and the ritual of the Lupercalia. By removing all of these Pagan presences, and above all, the worship of Juno, February 2 became the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. This time was then known as Candelora or Candlemas because people were blessed by candles distributed to the faithful by the Church. These candles were believed to possess protective virtues against calamities, storms, and the agony of death.

The Goddess Februa was evidently Iunius Februata, also called Iunio Sospita, the Saviour. At the Calenda of February one celebrated the dedication of her temple on the Palatine Hill with a procession of torches. By the seventh century, Rome created a Christian festival of night time processions with candles from every parish, intended as a penitential procession to exorcise a resurgent licentious and carnal Pagan parade. The blessing of the candles took place just before the procession. Each candle was ceremonially lit from a main central candle. The ancient ceremony of the lighting of the candles had two meanings. First it was connected to the idea of a universal religion, a Catholicism, apparent in the liturgy of the Church. Secondly, the candle flames symbolized the vitality of the evangelical teachings spreading out into the word, for such was the command of Jesus to his disciples. According to the first connection, the specially lit candle symbolized the new living fire that reappears in nature by divine grace. The modern rite of Candlemas (or Imbolg) with its flickering flames is linked to the leather straps brandished by the Luperci. The central candle from which all others are lit is the life spirit of nature herself, the fertile essence.

Fire was a symbol of the divine energy of the cosmos according to ancient conceptions. On March 1st the perpetual fire of Vesta was extinguished and then re-lit. When the fire was extinguished for whatever reason, the new flame could not be lit from another hearth. The fire had to be new, obtained by the friction of boring or drilling a piece of wood taken from a fruit-bearing tree. In this we see the connection of the old wood of the last season replaced by the wood of the new season, a metaphor of death and rebirth. The connection of the dead and themes of death within the Roman celebration of February never disappeared, even in the distant conquered territories of the Roman Empire. The Full Moon following this month begins the time of self purification known as Lent. This is a remnant of the old rites of February.

In America, Groundhog's Day is celebrated on February 2nd and is basically a weather divination ritual. I am unsure of it's Pagan origins but depending on whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow, we learn whether we will have an early Spring or whether Winter will last six more weeks until the Spring Equinox.

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