It seems like everyone agrees that the end of January and beginning of February is quite possibly the hardest time of the year. Dark, cold, and hollow after the energy of the holidays and still too early for the excitement of spring. With climate change starkly upon us, this is an extra strange limbo period, without frequent snow or charm as winters have once had here in New York. But there is one great relief during this in-between time; that is the celebration of Imbolc or La Fhéile Bríde – Saint Brigid’s Day.
Marking the middle ground between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, Imbolc is a celebration of new intention. A recognition of the rumblings under the cold ground and dormant foliage that is bright and alive that will arrive above the surface in a matter of weeks. A recognition of imminent, inevitable change.
History of Imbolc:
I would argue that Imbolc and Saint Brigid’s day are separated only by name and power struggle. The essence of Bríde, the pre-Christian goddess of poetry, metallurgy, midwifery, and warrior-hood – are four aspects of life that forge the way for new meaning, and whose name means ‘exalted one’ in Irish. This is who we honor and make our offerings to for Imbolc. A member of the pantheon of Celtic deities, Tuatha Dé Dannan, was very much ‘the exalted one’ long before the introduction of a sainted day with her name on it. In the Anglo conquest of clan lands in the middle ages, the monarchy knew traditions wouldn’t be broken but they aimed to assimilate them into Christianity, thus hoping to erase her original name by anglicizing the story as we have seen imperial efforts do with traditional spiritualities throughout history (and still do today all over the world).
One of the greatest symbols of Imbolc is Brigid or Bríde’s cross. Although Christian efforts adopted the image of her cross, any Irish or Scottish folklorist will tell you, it’s impossible to change the meaning. Brigid’s cross can be found in Celtic art for many decades before the story of her Christian counterpart’s sainthood and it is equal lengths on all sides – representing powers of nature like the winds in the East, the West, the North and the South or birth, life, death, and rebirth. It also bears the ancient Celtic labyrinthine spiral at its core – a powerful spiritual symbol of journey and change.
How to make a ritual for change:
On this day of celebrating growth, there are a variety of ways you can honor your movement into an abundant springtime.
Traditional ways to invoke the power of Brigid and the presence of a positive transition time include:
- Setting up an alter with offerings like home-cooked foods, your choice of stones and herbs, (I would suggest rosemary for strength, lavender for peace, and rose petals for positive manifestation as a start,) or imagery of a Brigid’s cross.
- Spring cleaning – clearing space for a new step.
- Have a bonfire, light a fire in the fireplace, or light candles – fire burns through the old and ignites the new.
- Call upon Brigid, your spiritual guides, or ancestors in prayer and ask for their blessings as you pass through this time of growth.
- Be outside – take in all that happens around us, above our heads, and under our feet.
- Celebrate! Spend time with loved ones, enjoy the reverence.
At a time in our world where so little seems to change for the better, let this day be a day of celebration but also of planning and believing in our ability to take action – to fight the oppressive hegemonies of colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy that keep progress stagnant, preventing the much-needed growth. Let the exalted power of Brigid be harnessed in our rituals to help visualize, listen, educate, uplift and enact change with the turning of this season.
So, whether you find Brigid as your inspiration this Imbolc, or whether its deities of your own cultural backgrounds or perhaps just the spirit of ancestors or the forces of nature, let this mid-winter celebration ignite a fire in you. Be comfortable with being in flux. Clear your path, set your sights. We may not yet be out of the cold and the dark, but there is strength and warmth to be found on our way.
Lá fhéile Bríde sonna dhaoibh and a very happy Imbolc!
For herbal offerings and ideas from The Alchemist’s Kitchen, click here!