Imbolc, pronounced EM-bolgk, is an ancient Irish festival marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man on February 1st and 2nd, or when the ewes were lambing. It is one of the four Gaelic festivals: Samhain in autumn, Imbolc in winter, Beltaine in spring, and Lughnasadh in summer. An inner chamber in the neolithic Irish monument Mounds of Hostages is aligned with the rising sun on Imbolc and Samhain, pointing to the importance of this date since ancient times.
In Ireland, St. Brigid’s Day coincides with Imbolc. St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s most beloved figures, and is linked in Irish folklore with the goddess Brigid, whose festival, in pagan times, was also on Imbolc. St. Brigid is said to visit all the homes in the village and bring them her blessing of fertility, healing, and peace. Various folk traditions invite Brigid into the home and into a special bed by the hearth made of rushes and reeds. On Imbolc, little girls carry a homemade St. Brigid doll, called a Brídeóg, from house to house and are given tokens and charms with which to decorate the doll. They may also be given food to carry on to the St. Brigid’s Feast.
Brigid arrives with a promise of light, warmth, fertility, and growth, and heralds the departure of the Cailleach, the storm hag of winter. Imbolc, halfway between the start of winter and the start of spring, is a much-needed celebration of the returning sun. After the celebration of Imbolc, we will be closer to the spring equinox than to the winter solstice.
Excerpt from Hag Stone Journal issue 019: Imbolc.