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The eight Wiccan/Neopagan sabbats (seasonal days of celebration)

Imbolc, held JAN-31 to FEB-02. (a.k.a. Bride's day,
Candlelaria, Candlemas, Disting, Feast of St. Brigid,
Festival of Lights, Groundhog Day, Lupercus,
Oimealg, Lá Feabhra, & Snowdrop Festival)

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Overview:

Imbolc (pronounced "IM-bulk"  or "EM-bowlk") has had a colorful and varied history -- all related to the seasonal return of light and warmth at the end of Winter:

bullet It is based on one of the four main festivals of the pre-Christian Celtic calendar. They are believed to have originated in the cycles associated with hunting, farming, and animal fertility. The name Imbolc is derived from "I mbolg" in the Irish language, which means "in the belly." This refers to "the onset of lactation of ewes, soon to give birth to the spring lambs." 1 It was celebrated during the evening of JAN-31 each year, and associated with Brigid, (a.k.a. Brighid, Bride) an ancient Irish Goddess.

bulletThe Roman Catholic Church subsequently adopted it as St. Brigid's Day. She was once the most important female saint in Ireland.

bulletIn recent times, it is celebrated annually by Wiccans and many other Neopagans as one of their eight seasonal days of celebration, called Sabbats. Four of these festivals are called major Sabbats and occur about halfway between an equinox and solstice. One of these, Imbolc, is observed near the end of January or in early February, roughly halfway between the Winter Solstice (about DEC-21) and the Spring Equinox (about MAR-21). In the southern hemisphere it is observed in early August.

bulletIn the U.S. and Canada, Imbolc has morphed into Groundhog Day. It seems to have been based on the ancient belief that Brigid's snake emerges from the Earth on Imbolc to test the weather. 2 On FEB-02, a specially selected groundhog is carefully watched. If he emerges from its hibernation and sees his shadow, he will return underground and we can expect six more weeks of winter before the arrival of spring. If the day is cloudy, there will be no shadow. He will remain above ground, believing that Spring has arrived.

bullet In the U.S., one of the groundhogs is named Punxsutawney Phil, after his home in Punxsutawney, PA. It is a multiple-day event extending from late January to early February. 3

bullet In Canada, the main groundhog is named Wiarton Willie, after his home in Wiarton, ON. In 2000 and 2002, it was named the "World’s Greatest Event" by www.festivals.com in Seattle WA. "This Award is for the coolest, wackiest, most fun and colorful event on the whole planet." 4

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Origins of Imbolc:

The celebration is dedicated to the "exalted one," the "light bringer" -- the queen and mother Goddess among many European pre-Christian Pagan tribes. Among the Celts, she was Brigit, the Goddess of poetry, healing, and blacksmiths.

Mara Freeman, author and webmaster of Celtic Spirit writes:

"The 10th century Cormac’s Glossary describes her as the daughter of the Daghda, the “Great God” of the Tuatha de Danaan. He calls her a 'woman of wisdom…a goddess whom poets adored, because her protection was very great and very famous.' Since the discipline of poetry, filidhect, was interwoven with seership, Brigid was seen as the great inspiration behind divination and prophecy, the source of oracles."

"She is said to have had two sisters: Brigid the Physician and Brigid the Smith, but it is generally thought that all three were aspects of the one goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft. Elsewhere she is described as the patron of other vital crafts of early Celtic society: dying, weaving, and brewing. A goddess of regeneration and abundance, she was greatly beloved as a provider of plenty who brought forth the bounties of the natural world for the good of the people. She is closely connected with livestock and domesticated animals. She had two oxen called Fea and Feimhean who gave their names to a plain in Co. Carlow and one in Tipperary. She was also the guardian of Torc Triath, king of the wild boar, who gave his name to Treithirne, a plain in West Tipperary. These three totem animals used to raise a warning cry if Ireland was in danger. 5,6

As with so many other Pagan Gods and Goddesses, the Christian church adopted Brigit as a Christian saint. In Ireland, she was once held in high esteem, second only to Saint Patrick. However, the church suddenly dumped her in the 20th century when a church investigation found out that she was a Pagan Goddess who never existed as a human person.

The Roman Catholic church renamed the St. Brigid's Day festival as Candlemas Day -- the day celebrating the of the purification of the Virgin Mary. The church continues to celebrate it on FEB-02. It often features candlelight processions.

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Prayer for Imbolc:

On this Imbolc day, as I kindle the flame upon my hearth,
I pray that the flame of Brigid may burn in my soul,
and the souls of all I meet today.

I pray that no envy and malice,
no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy,
contempt and pride,
may not pour like cold water on the flame.

Instead, may the spark of Brigid light the love in my soul,
that it may burn brightly through this season.
And may I warm those that are lonely,
whose hearts are cold and lifeless,
so that all may know the comfort of Brigid's love. 7

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A Druid prayer for Imbolc:

As the snowdrops rise from the frozen earth
And the snow falls from the steely frosty leaden sky
The waxing sun rises o'er the eastern snowy hills
Casting light onto a new day.

As we sit by the warming hearth
Contemplating the ancient fires of Brigit
The rising sun and the sacred flame become as one
And the Fiery Goddess of the dawn
Reaches out and touches each of us.

Warming, loving, healing,
Her solar rays reaching out
Spreading across the earth
Seeking all who need the ancient
Sanctity of Her healing rays from
Deep within Her ancient well and
The sacred oak ringed spring by the eternal flame
Which lights the way to
The earth's stirring womb of creation.

Be at our side Brigit
Guide us and show us your holy light and
Lead us to your sacred sanctuary
Where we can safely and quietly contemplate
Life's strange mysteries.

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Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Wicca > Sabbats > here

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Imbolc," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Imbolc by Akasha," at: http://www.wicca.com/
  3. "The official site of the punxsutawney groundhog club," at: http://www.groundhog.org/
  4. "2006 Wiarton Willie Festival" at: http://www.southbrucepeninsula.com/
  5. Mara Freeman, "Celtic Spirit," at: http://www.celticspirit.org/
  6. Mara Freeman, "Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient traditions to illuminate your Life throughout the Seasons," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Sixteen out of eighteen Amazon.com reviewing customers rated this book 5 stars -- the maximum rating.
  7. Morgana West, "The Wheel of the Year," Copyright © 2001

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Copyright © 2006 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-FEB-16.
Latest update: 2012-JAN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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