Imbolc: Festival of Lights
Celebrated on February 2, Imbolc is one of the four fire festivals, and another Greater Sabbat. An alternative date is approximately February 4, when the sun is at fifteen degrees of Aquarius. On this day the goddess has recovered from childbirth and is maiden once more. She awakens from her slumber and the earth reawakens with her. The god is a young, growing boy, but not yet at the peak of his power.
Imbolc is literally translated as “in the belly,” because spring is in the belly of the mother. It is also known as the festival of lights because on this day it is traditional to burn candles in every window from sundown to sunup to welcome the sun, although some people now choose to light every lamp in the house for a short time. It is also known as Oimelc, meaning “in milk” or “ewe's milk,” because at this time of year, lambs are born. In the old days, the milk produced by sheep was used to sustain people through the rest of winter. Finally, this holiday is also known as Candlemas.
A corn dolly is a common symbol at this time of year. It represents the maiden as she prepares to become the bride. Traditionally, the one made at Lammas is now dressed as a bride, but a new one can be made specifically for Imbolc. The dolly is said to protect crops and is a symbol of fertility. While she is called a corn dolly, she is actually made out of wheat or other types of grain, although some Wiccans use cornhusks.
A candle blessing is usually included in any Imbolc ritual. To do this, candles in a variety of sizes and colors are placed in a basket. During the ritual, Brighid is called on to bless the candles for the coming year. Unused candles from the previous year can be reblessed for the next year. Some people save their candle drippings throughout the year, and then melt them into one large candle to be burned at Imbolc.
Because Imbolc honors new life and the return of life in its earliest stages, candles to be used over the course of the following year are blessed and many Wiccans choose to be initiated or to dedicate or re-dedicate themselves on this day. Imbolc is one of the few sabbats that is rarely open to outsiders. Most covens or working groups choose to keep this celebration a private one.
White is the most common color associated with Imbolc. It is a symbol of innocence and purity, and represents the state of the goddess as maiden at this time of year. White is also the color of snow, and in many areas the earth is still covered with snow, although the land is showing signs of reawakening. White cloth, sheafs of wheat, and stones known as fairy crosses are often used to decorate altars. Warm foods are often consumed, because during Imbolc, it is still very cold in most places.
The most common goddess to be honored on Imbolc is Brighid (February 1 is her Catholic saint's day). In some places they still burn fires to honor her on this day. The god's role is usually quite small at Imbolc, if he is honored at all.