Happy Imbolc, a Midwinter Celebration of Light


Imbolc Shona Daoibh - Happy Imbolc!

This ancient pagan festival marks the moment in the Celtic year when winter is coming to an end and we can begin to look forward to the impending light half of the year. Though this holiday is typically celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar at the onset of February, the Celts placed great importance on the wanderings of the moon, so the actual date of the festival fluctuated widely each year to coincide with the new moon and the animals' behavior. This year, Imbolc is being celebrated beginning on the evening of February 1 and carrying into the evening of February 2.

Ancient Celts saw time as a non-linear but rather cyclical process which was deeply interwoven into their mythology. Astronomy was regarded as a spiritual science and the sun and moon were the ultimate deities. The ancient Celtic Wheel of the Year calendar was based on the astronomical divisions of the year - the equinoxes and solstices - but also uses a midpoint, or "cross quarter" to mark seasonal divisions. These cross quarter festivals had an implicit recognition of an end as well as a beginning. Imbolc is one such Cross Quarter holiday, the first following the Winter Solstice, and marks the midpoint between winter and spring. It is quite literally mid-winter, and while the days continue to grow lighter, it is still dark and cold outside.

The word Imbolc derives from the Old Irish i mbolg meaning in the belly, and celebrates the time when sheep began to lactate and their udders filled and the grass began to grow. It is sacred to the goddess Brigid, a triple aspect goddess of fertility, poetry, smiths. When later Christianized, it became known as St. Brigid's Day but the ancient rites and superstitions associated with it still carried on. A ribbon or cloth exposed on St. Brigid's Eve became endowed with curative powers and St. Brigid's Crosses hung on the house and byre were believed to protect the home and livestock. Furthermore, it is traditional to embark on a pilgrimage to the holy well of a saint on their feast day.


When I was in Ireland this autumn, I visited Brigid's Well outside of Kildare and saw for myself how the importance of this patroness of the Eire still carries on. Just a few minutes' drive outside of town, the site of the well is rather unremarkable, hidden even, down a narrow road with hardly even a spot to pull off and park. Only a small wooden sign points the way over a rickety footbridge and through an overgrown archway into a serene clearing where the healing waters blessed by St. Brigid still flow. The well at the far end of the clearing is fed by a spring that flows underground before appearing again under a stone archway. The stream then flows passed a modern bronze statue of Saint Brigid which is decorated with offerings. All along the perimeter of this clearing stand mighty ancient oaks, the sacred tree of Brigid and the national tree of Ireland, adorned with pieces of cloth, called clootie. Lore has it that if a piece of clothing from someone who is ill, or has a problem of any kind, is hung from the tree, the problem or illness will disappear as the rag rots away. 

While I am about 4,500 miles from Kildare today, and winter still has its icy grip on the mountains of northern New Mexico, I too am looking forward to the beginning of Spring. Having been born on February 3, the energy of this midwinter holiday has always resonated with me, and each year I look forward to turning over a new leaf into my personal new year, with all the teachings and blessings of this expectant time to carry me forward. This year, I happen to be celebrating my 33rd revolution on this earth in a brand new landscape, the high desert of Taos, in an artist residency where I am fully equipped and energized to pursue new artistic endeavors and blossom forth with the spring into this next phase of my creative life.

Wishing you all the hope, health, and creativity of this highly magical season,

- Annie