Imbolc or Oimelc ‘first milk’ (February 1) also known as Candlemas in the Christian ritual year, or Brigid’s (pronounced BREED’s) Day is one of the four Celtic “Fire Festivals” and commemorates the changing of the Goddess from the Crone to the Maiden and celebrates the first signs of Spring – the first sprouting of leaves, the sprouting of the Crocus flowers, snowdrops, new born lambs and the successful passing of winter at the beginning of the agricultural year.
Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Smithcraft, and Midwifery. She is a triple Goddess, so we honour her in all her aspects. This is a time for communing with her, and tending the lighting of her sacred flame.
The Brigid first worshipped in ancient times was the daughter of the great Irish god Dagda, the ‘Good Father’. She had two sisters who were also named Brigid. Taken together, they were called the ‘Three Mothers’, ‘Three Sisters’, or simply the Goddess Brigid.
Brigid’s Cross symbolizing the sun and the beginning of Spring
Imbolc coming with the first signs of Spring and following on from the reflective ‘going within’ period of Winter is a time of purification and renewal through the power of the Sun. It is a festival of light and of fertility, once marked in Europe with huge blazes, torches and fire in every form. Fire here represents our own illumination and inspiration as much as light and warmth.
Imbolc is also known as Feast of Torches, Oimelc, Lupercalia, Feast of Pan, Snowdrop Festival, Feast of the Waxing Light, Brighid’s Day, and probably by many other names.
It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth. If snow lies on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, recalling the warmth of summer and with your hand, trace an image of the Sun on the snow. An old Scandinavian custom was to wear crowns of lit candles.
I am She that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements,the initial progeny of worlds, chief of the powers divine, Queen of all that are in the otherworld, the principal of them that dwell above, manifested alone and under one form of all the Gods and Goddesses. ~ Lucius Apuleius
Mother of Inspiration, Healing, Poetry and Smith craft and known as a powerful Fire Goddess, Brigid is also a Water Goddess. In this aspect she presides over fertility and childbirth as well as all forms of creation.
One legend which connects Brigid with water, tells how a crystal drop from the mantle of Brigid touched the earth and became a deep and clear lake. This was said to be a lake from Tir-Na-Moe ‘Land of the Living Heart’ and there was healing in it for all weariness and battle wounds.
At Imbolc, Brigid gives us the promise of spring, and of new life returning to the Earth. Because of this, she is also referred to as ‘Brighid of the Green Mantle’. She is also known as goddess of healing and has many sacred wells , devoted to granting wishes and healing, including the one at Kildare in Ireland, not far from where her fire temple used to be located. In pagan Ireland, wells were visited at the festival times of Imbolc February 1, Beltane May 1, Lughnasa August 1 and Samhain October 31. These are all regarded as special turning-points of the druid year when the gates of the Otherworld are opened.
Wells, springs and water in general were of great important to the ancestors as Water was seen as a boundary or gateway to the otherworld and a place to communicate with deity. From ancient times people have visited wells for their qualities of healing and divination and many holy wells have been dedicated as shrines to the miraculous emergence of living water, a symbol of generation, purification, and the matrix of life itself. Since water comes from the otherworld, deep within the earth, it is especially blessed. At certain special places offerings have been made to wells and springs from time immemorial by those in search of healing or favours from the water gods or goddesses.
“A holy well, or sacred spring, is a small body of water emerging from underground and revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both. Holy wells were frequently pagan sacred sites that later became Christianized. The term ‘holy well’ is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name, an associated legend, the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or Christian saint, or a ceremony or ritual centered on the well site. In Christian legend, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint, a familiar theme especially in the hagiography of Celtic saints.”
In pre-historic times springs were particularly revered since the waters emanating from their depths have been touched least by the crude matter of the exterior world and as such carry the memory of the womb of Mother Earth in its pristine state.
This understanding survives in folklore all around the world, and it was understood by ancient cultures for thousands of years. The reverence of the sacred spring went beyond maintaining the purity of the water, a thing most essential in itself , but it appears that the equilibrium of the individual, the tribe, even the immediate landscape depended on the purity and sanctity of the water emanating from a sacred spring.
Votive offerings are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favour with supernatural forces. Votive offerings have been described in the historical Roman era and in Greek sources, and many artifacts have been recovered from wells, rivers and lakes. Similar votive acts continue into the present day, for example in traditional Catholic culture and in the modern-day practice of tossing coins into a wishing well or fountain.
In many parts of Europe the tradition of honouring sacred springs was maintained well into the Celtic era. When they were protected by what is called ‘well dressing’, where permanent stone structures were erected over the spring so as to maintain the purity of the site.
The Holy Well, Southam, Warwickshire
Later such places became holy wells. But the practice of well dressing survived right into Victorian times, specifically in Britain, where it is still possible to see elaborate, Gothic structures protecting the springs and where the practice is still common.
Holy Well in Frome, Somerset