Imbolc Festival…

As winter takes its first tentative steps towards spring many folks prepare to celebrate Imbolc (sometimes called Imbolg), or St Brigid’s Day. This is a Celtic festival marking the beginning of spring and it is often celebrated on 1st or 2nd of February.

In the belly

Imbolc’s strange sounding name refers to farming and it derives from the ancient Irish phrase meaning; “in the belly” which is a reference to the pregnancy of sheep. Although Imbolc has been associated with the fecundity of ewes and looking forward to the birth of spring lambs the timing of such events can vary widely depending on regional variations in the climate, in turn this has led to some debate over the date and origins of the festival.

One solution has been to base the timing of Imbolc around the flowering of the first Blackthorn blossoms. The festival has a long history and was observed in Ireland during the Middle Ages but may be much older as it appears in the Tochmarc Emire collection of folklore.

Pagan Festival

It has been suggested that Imbolc was a pre-Christian festival associated with the goddess of poetry, healing and metalwork – Brigid, who later was Christianised as St. Bridgid. In the 20th century Imbolc was rediscovered by the pagan community and has become an important pagan festival.


The holiday celebrates the joys of home life and fire, as well as being a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Imbolc celebrations often involve hearth fires, special foods, divination and ideally, a bonfire if the weather is suitable. Fire is an important element at Imbolc and represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun at this time of year.

Fire is also associated with cleansing and purification which play a major role in the celebrations. Neo-pagans celebrate Imbolc in various ways depending on their tradition and personal preference. Some, like the Celtic Reconstructionists, celebrate as closely as possible to how the Ancient Celts are believed to have observed the festival.


Other groups are more eclectic and observe the festival with rituals taken from many sources which may or may not have a Celtic element. Imbolc is usually celebrated by Pagans on February 1st or 2nd in the northern hemisphere, and August 1st or 2nd in the southern hemisphere. Some Neo-pagans time their celebrations according to the solstice and equinox, whilst others favour using natural phenomena such as the time the first shoots break through the soil. Whichever method they use, Neo-pagans like everyone, rejoice to see the lengthen hours of daylight and the first signs of new life which greet us all in the spring and we can all say hurrah to that in the Northern Hemisphere!

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Post Author: Patrick Arundell

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