Imbolc was not originally a Sabbat as we honor it. In the areas where it was observed, it was to honor the Goddess who was bringing back Spring. In the northern lands, where this was mostly observed, winters are harsh, dark and cold. Many people died over winter and were isolated from trade, socialization and communication. Thus those societies sought the aid of the Goddess to bring back the sun and spring as soon as possible. In Ireland, where most of the customs for Imbolc come, Brigid was honored as the waiting bride. This custom survives today as St. Brigid’s Day. The Gauls (French) honored Blaze (later St. Blaze), the Romans held feasts to Venus, the Greeks to Diana, and to the Norse it was known as Disting-tijd, to ritually prepare the earth for future planting – sprinkling it with salt, ashes and sacred herbs.
The month of February was named for the Goddess Februa (Goddess of new beginnings or fresh starts) and the God Februus (the god of the dead and purification).

Customs and Traditions

  • Imbolc is also known as Candlemas, taken from the old Celtic and Anglo customs of lighting ritual fires to bring back the sun. Among the custom was a young woman carrying a circle of lit candles representing the virgin Goddess. This represented the sun wheel and also was worn on the head.
  • Predicting the coming spring is a part of many cultures and is practiced in America as Ground Hog Day. If the ground hog sees his shadow – he is frightened into his hole and a longer winter is predicted. If he doesn’t, he will come out and Spring is on the way.
  • Hearing larks in Celtic lands signaled early Spring because they were sacred to the God.
  • Spring-cleaning is derived from the rituals of cleansing in February.
  • The adornment of crocus flowers (sacred to Venus and Diana) on altars homes and people.
  • From the Irish comes the dressing up as Brigid in old clothing (or to carry her image) and going through town asking for alms. Giving to them was thought to bring a good harvest.
  • Probably the most well known is the Bride Doll or Grain Dolly. This doll was made at Imbolg from dried grains from the last harvest. The doll was fashioned into a human or symbolic form and used in fertility and blessing magic. The grain can be of straw, wheat, barley or corn (corn was later used after its introduction from the New World). The doll was made and placed in a bed at the family hearth and dressed through the year to represent the phases of the Goddess. It was buried or burned in ritual at Yule.
  • Norse and Irish traditions have held that on Imbolg (Imbolc), the spirits of the dead walk among the living and seek the safety of crossroads. Thus the Norse held ritual at crossroads and the Irish buried negativity at them.
  • In Celtic lands, visiting wells on Imbolg was and still is a meaningful experience. Prayers and blessings are exchanged and coins and precious stones or metals were thrown into wells. It continues today.
  • Imbolg is also associated with the lactation of ewes signaling the coming births and spring. Divination at the hearth was also a family tradition.