February 1 is Imbolc, also known as Candlemas. Imbolc is a cross-quarter day, midway between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (Ostara). At Yule, the days slowly started getting longer, and at Imbolc the lengthening days are finally noticible. Although in many places this is the coldest time of the year, we are moving toward spring.
Imbolc is an old Irish word meaning “in the belly” (or Oimelc, meaning “in the milk”). This was the lambing season and the sheep were beginning to lactate in preparation for giving birth. “In the belly” also refers to the womb of Mother Earth, to the land and the soil becoming fertile in preparation for the planting season in the spring.
This is the time of the Maiden Goddess, ripe with the promise of new life. The light is returning and with it comes the urge to start new projects and begin to plan for the next season. Some days seem bright and warm, and then the next day it seems to be winter again. Similarly, on some days projects seem to be off to a great start, then the next day lethargy overtakes us and problems spring up. But in this season of waxing light, we need to look ahead to the promise of the increase of light and overcome the obstacles we set up for ourselves.
Here is the United States, many people celebrate this day as Groundhog Day. According to the legend, if the day is bright and the groundhog sees his shadow, he retreats back to his hole and there will be six more weeks of winter. But if the day is overcast, we can look forward to an early spring. It seems like the groundhog would be encouraged by the sunlight, but it is his own shadow that drives him underground. This exemplifies the uncertainty and struggle of this season, when our own lethargy or “shadow” becomes an obstacle against moving forward. So don’t look at the shadows – look ahead to the light!
Imbolc traditions center on light and purification. Candles are a symbol of Imbolc (hence the Christianized name “Candlemas”). Candles are often lit in each room to honor the returning sun. This is a perfect time to cleanse or bless your house.
This day is also the festival of the Goddess Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. She is associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. She was so beloved by the Celtic people that she was one of the few ancient deities to survive into modern times. When the Catholic Church became dominant in Ireland they could not demonize her and so she was canonized as St. Brigid, patron saint of the arts and healing. Many people weave corn dollies out of cornhusks to symbolize Brigid, and crosses woven out of rushes are known as Brigid’s Crosses.
Light some candles or a fire and visualize the returning warmth of spring and the spark of life and fertility for the coming planting season, whether you will be planting actual seeds or the seeds of creativity. Shake off the shadows of winter and look ahead to the light and abundance of the upcoming spring.