Fires of Purification: the meaning of Imbolc

This was supposed to appear in the Winter/Spring, 2010 issue of Immanence, but it never made it into print because of some miscommunications. It’s my last Immanence article, and probably my best, so I post it here for you. 

Imbolc is on February 2nd. It is a Celtic fire festival dedicated to purification and the Goddess Brighid (also Bride, Brid, Brigit, Bridget, Ffraid, Mary of the Gael, and Saint Brigid). Brighid is thought to have originally been a Sun Goddess in Celtic myth. She is a Triple Goddess, ruling over the three aspects of Poetry, Smithcraft, and Healing: three forms of fire. In some Celtic traditions Fire is seen as the inspiration or spirit that exists with the three realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. Water and divination are also associated with Brighid.

Imbolc traditions are still celebrated today, and you too can honor Brighid and ask for Her blessing in your life.

One tradition that many people follow, even if they know nothing about Imbolc and Brighid, is Spring Cleaning. Now is the time to clear out the clutter of the winter months – as the days are getting longer and brighter, you can throw open your windows and doors and chase the cobwebs away. Also consider looking at this time for cleaning not only the house you live in, but your body, mind, and soul too. Take advantage of Brighid’s purifying blessing to clear your life of old paradigms, destructive habits or patterns, or even people. Cleaning your life out is a good way to start Spring, and you’ve got an Irish Goddess of Healing on your side for that added oomph.

To secure Brighid’s blessing for the coming year, consider putting out a piece of cloth onto a bush or a tree in your backyard (just make sure it’s secure, and not something terribly precious) on Imbolc Eve – February 1st. During the night Brighid travels around and touches the cloth left out for Her to bless. In the morning collect the cloth and divide it up into a piece for each family member. Carry your piece throughout the year for good health, strength, and creative inspiration.

If you want to get more involved, you can make a Brideog and some Brighid’s Crosses. The Brideog is a straw doll clothed in a white dress, traditionally made by the males of the family. Brighid’s Crosses are three or four-armed straw crosses and have several variations – one you may recognize is the “God’s Eye” they had us make out of popsicle sticks and yarn back in third grade. Please check the resource list at the end of this article for a link to a site that will tell you more about these crafts.

You can also make an altar to Brighid and give Her offerings – flowers and milk are appreciated, and I’ve heard on good authority that She likes French fries as well. Put representations of fire and water on your altar, and maybe a poem or too – She is the Goddess of the bards, after all. There are more ideas on the sites I’ve provided addresses to, but don’t feel limited – creative inspiration is incredibly important! If you feel something should go on the altar, go wild – it’s probably a subtle hint from the Goddess Herself.

Finally, Imbolc is the perfect time to do some divination, particularly if it’s about the welfare and prosperity of your family. If you’re curious as to how the year will fare for your loved ones, on February 2nd break out the Tarot cards, ask for Brighid’s blessing, and go nuts.

These, of course, are all suggestions, and non-compulsory. The important part of any holiday, whether it’s part of your traditions or not, is to do what makes you feel comfortable, and what is appropriate for your life and situation. Whatever you choose to do, I wish you a bright and blessed Imbolc, and hope Brighid’s light shines love upon you.


Brighid/Imbolc Resources


Brideog and Cross information