Imbolc: Brigid's Holiday of Inspiration
Learn why this holiday is important for you to celebrate.
(Everybody gets access to the voice over and the ritual ideas today, as a little gift for the holiday, enjoy!)
What is Imbolc?
Our holidays are more than just a re-enactment of rituals gone past. Our holidays celebrate our values and create a sacred relationship to the land we live on right now.
Imbolc, sometimes known simply as Brigid, is a festival of lights and a cross-quarter holiday in the pagan Wheel of the Year.
Some folks call this holiday Candlemas (Christian), or the Feast of the Purification or St. Brigid’s Day (Catholic), and in the United States it’s called Ground Hog’s Day (decidedly less romantic).
Falling on the eve of February 1st through the eve of February 2nd, the name Imbolc is said to mean “in the belly,” referring specifically to how this is ewe-ing season, when the sheep get pregnant, and begin to yield their milk. But it also refers to the goddess Brigid’s fertility magic, and the awakening of spring.
On Imbolc, the old woman of winter – the Cailleach – becomes Brigid, goddess of the spring awakening.
For my ancestors, the agrarian folk of the British isles — sheep, cows, and their milk and meat were the difference between life and death during the harsh winter months.
I do like to honor my relationship to the ancestors, and the land and its bounty, but it’s also important to make this holiday relevant for people now, today.
Milk of all kinds - oat to goat - is available year round, and Los Angeles it’s not unusual to spend Christmas day sunning oneself on the beach.
Though I’ve often referred to this holiday as Imbolc, right now, I’m in a place where I just want to call this holiday Brigid (commonly pronounced Breed, but there are many different pronunciations and none of them are wrong, so don’t let anyone get smug with you).
I call it Brigid because I want to honor the goddess by saying her name, but also I live in a city. I hardly ever eat lamb or hang with sheep, and I only own a few clothes made of wool. For me, it’s the goddess of the holiday that I want to celebrate…
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Why celebrate Brigid?
As a creative person who makes her living by her craft, inspiration is a matter of life or death for me.
I can live without a flock of sheep, but without inspiration I don’t think I could face the relentless soul destroying monster of capitalist culture.
Brigid is the goddess of inspiration, she is the FEELING of inspiration that makes our heart beat faster and IS our enthusiasm to create, to communicate, to live.
The pagan gods are not IDEAS, they are not abstractions, they are living energies that permeate all life. We feel and touch and experience them every day.
Brigid is the dauntless life force that resurges no matter how many times the overculture tries to suck it out of us.
Brigid, goddess of the sacred well, reminds us that water is sacred. Without water, there is no life. She IS the holiness of water.
As a keeper of the holy flame, Brigid reminds us that as long as one witch keeps the fires of inspiration burning, our power will never depart from this earth. No matter how meekly the ember dwindles, as long as it burns, the power of the witch can always be reborn.
Which is why I want to tell you about her today! So that you keep her fires burning too! On your altar, and in the sacred grotto of your life.
Like the Goddess herself, when we celebrate this holiday, we wear a crown of lights from which we bring our witches fire to everything around us.
Now, we celebrate the return of spring, the light of inspiration, the power of fire to transform and water to heal.
My favorite way to celebrate this holiday is to light candles and sing songs in Brigid’s name.
I give you many examples of how to celebrate this holiday at the end of this letter. So keep reading to discover many other things about this goddess that can “light your fire”.
Brigid: The Basics
Brigid is often thought of as a triple goddess; she is the goddess of poetry and inspiration, and she has two sisters (sometimes they’re her daughters), one who is the goddess of smith-craft, and the other of healing.
Let’s break this down.
Smith-craft: Is basically metallurgy and working with one’s hands. I took a welding class once, and it was Brigid’s fire that melted the steel that made my bookcase. She is the craftsmanship that goes into our work, and the heat of activity that transforms one form to another. Brigid is also a warrior, using the swords she forges in defense of justice and the beings whom she loves.
Healing: Brigid is the goddess of herbalism and holy wells, both are capable of healing. By bathing in her wells, drinking her waters, working with her herbs, she restores broken hearts and limbs, relieves impotence, restores the full blossom of health. We can invoke her to awaken the healing power within.
Inspiration: Brigid is perhaps best known as the goddess of fire and poetry. Poets call upon her to bring eloquence. Fire is the power of transformation, the life force itself, which poets share in the form of awen –– the substance that makes the spirit world –– imagination, passion, truth, creativity, all sung out through the lips of the poet/artist.
Brigid in Myth and Legend
Legend has it that the babe Brigid was born at sunrise. At that moment a geyser of flame burst up into the sky, licking the edges of the atmosphere, and everyone across the land knew that a holy babe had been born.
In ancient times, before there were states or countries, before the Roman conquest, Brigid was the goddess of the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe who’d crossed the mountains and rivers of Europe. They had villages as far reaching as Spain, Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and France. Eventually, they reached the edges of the North Sea in Normandy and were pushed into what are now the British Isles.
Brigid also known as Bríg, Brigantia, Briginda, Brigidu, and many other names…
…was the tutelary deity of these migrating people. Her name meant many things, all circling around the central theme of “Greatness”: high one, brightness, energy, power, prestige, sacred hill, most holy…
Some sources say that all goddesses in Ireland were originally referred to as Brigid, indicating that her name might have been more like a title than the name of one goddess. Almost like saying “Queen So and So.”
What I’m getting at here is that Brigid has deep roots.
She has rivers, sacred sites, and holy wells named after her all across Europe, people have been celebrating her since long before the Roman conquest.
If you have any Celtic blood, your ancestors likely said Brigid’s name.
Because she was the Goddess of brightness, heat, flame and fire, in Ireland she had a shrine Kildare where her priestesses tended a constant flame. It was said to be of the same flame that sparked at the moment of her birth.
After the Holy Roman Empire’s conquest of Britain (an island named after the Brigid in the form of Brigantia), knowing that the people would not surrender their devotion to the great goddess, the church turned her into St. Brigid, midwife to the Virgin Mary. They had the nuns take over for the priestesses at Kildare to keep her sacred fires burning.
It was said that heathen miracles occurred at this shrine: lepers healed, barren people became fertile, the surrounding lands were always in bloom.
Unable to tolerate such flagrantly heretical powers, in 1220 A.D. the King and Bishop demanded the fires of Brigid at Kildare be extinguished forever.
But Kings and Bishops can roll in their graves, because the fires of Brigid still burn.
They may have put the fires out in Kildare. But today, witches still sing the songs of Brigid.
For me, the power of this holiday comes when light the fires of Brigid in our own homes.
No hegemonic authority can extinguish our fires. They did everything they could destroy or pacify this goddess, and they couldn’t do it.
By our own hands, the fires of Brigid still burn.
Witches, united, will never be defeated.
Ways to Celebrate
See below for simple ways to celebrate this holiday and cultivate the blessings of Brigid in your life.
[Initially I had this section behind a pay wall but because it’s a holiday I want to offer it to everyone as a gift! Happy Brigid / Imbolc!]
Light Candles: this one is my favorite (and the easiest). I love to think of lighting the fires of Brigid all across the world, knowing that the light of this goddess was not, and could not be, extinguished by the Church or any other oppressive power.
Sing her song: Another favorite! The song is so simple and so beautiful. I often think songs are the very best offerings, because they come from the heart, and they’re the substance that makes the universe. This Reclaiming song is one I used to sing with my mother, it’s is super simple and fun to sing.
Divination: Imbolc is a cross-quarter holiday, one of four in-between holy days (between Solstice and Equinox) in the wheel of the year. Being a liminal in-between time makes cross-quarter days an especially good time to practice divination because these are times when the veils between worlds are thin. Messages come through easily. Dust and twilight are the best times to practice.
Make Corn Dollies: traditionally these dolls were made out of wheat or barley, and were fertility fetishes that you’d keep in your house throughout the year. But historically, the materials would’ve been growing in the fields around your house. I don’t have a field of wheat, barley, or corn growing anywhere near me, so if I were to make one of these, I’d use plants I have a relationship with that are growing in my area, especially those that had something to do with to fertility, creativity or inspiration. Once you’ve created the doll, you place it in a basket with a crystal on its chest to bring abundance throughout the year.
Make a Brigid’s Cross for protection: Like the corn dollies, normally these were made of whatever you had growing in your field. So I like to make them out of whatever is growing near me. Brigid is a warrior and she has powerful protection magic.
Visit a holy well: or any natural spring in your area. I like to collect waters from Holy Wells on Brigid’s holiday while singing her songs and leaving her offerings of honey and milk. This holiday is a great time to do any kind of work to protect the sacred waters of your lands.
Write a poem: the goddess of poetry appreciates poems being written in her name on her feast day!
Herb-crafting: Imbolc is great time to harvest medicinal herbs and place them on your altar as offering.
Practice a craft: this goddess has SKILLZ, any craft is blessed by Brigid.
Wear metal jewelry: or make some… in any case, this is a good day to bless and consecrate jewelry in Brigid’s name by passing it through a fire.
Bake crossed buns: Brigid’s crosses can be made of ground wheat, not just stalks of wheat, and this way you get to eat them!
Leave a comment and let me know which of these is most appealing to you! I want to hear how you’re keeping Bridget’s fires burning.
Stone, Merlin. Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood A Treasury of Goddess and Heroine Lore from Around the World.
Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets.
Rees, Alwyn and Rees, Brinley. Celtic Heritage.
McCoy, Edain. Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition.
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Happy Imbolc! I did something I’ve never done before, I took the day off for a pagan holiday. The whole day has felt sacred. I hiked to a waterfall this morning (listened to your post on the drive there) made a “Brigid Cross” with grasses I gathered on my hike, and started working on a painting of what I saw in my underwater room in the last full moon ritual. Today has been a gift. And you are a gift to us all Amanda.
Thank you, Amanda, for recording this in your voice! I engage so much more in the content when it’s you doing the voiceover. I also recognize that this means more work for you. I appreciate your time & energy!