I don't think I had ever heard the word until last year when someone I follow on Instagram posted a gorgeous photo of snowdrops and referred to 'imbolc' (pronounced im'olc). It's a time of year that always reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Freda. Her birthday was 7th February and she had the most wonderful array of snowdrops in her garden.
Imbolc celebrates the return of the Sun and the re-awakening or 'quickening' of nature following the Winter's rest. In the last few days it has been noticeably lighter in the mornings and the afternoons don't seem to close in quite so early. Snowdrops and daffodils are pushing up through the earth and there are buds of blossom on the trees, forerunners of the Spring to come. Imbolc is traditionally the start of the lambing season too, although we had our first twins in the field adjacent to the yurts on New Year's Day so they are now nearly a month old! Read on to learn more about the origins and traditions associated with imbolc.
Imbolc is associated with the pagan goddess Brigid who at this time of year shifts in form from the wise old crone of Winter to the fair young maiden of Spring. The original word 'imbolg' means 'in the belly', a reference to the earth being pregnant or expectant with new life about to burst forth.
As with many of the old Celtic and pagan festivals, aspects of imbolc have been included in the Christian festival of Candlemas, which this year is celebrated on Sunday 2nd February. Watch the weather on Sunday as tradition dictates that:
“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.”
Symbols of imbolc
White seems to feature heavily - snowdrops, swans and water, especially at sacred springs and wells. Think of cleansing and renewal, re-invigoration and starting to be more active and putting plans hatched during Winter into action during Spring.
The willow tree is associated with imbolc - anyone who has coppiced willow will know that it grows back quickly and strongly in the Spring. We have plenty of willow here at Blackdown Yurts, most notably forming a screen around Willow Yurt but also fringing the ponds on the farm. I'm keen to create a living willow dome by replanting cut branches of willow in the ground to grow anew.
How to celebrate imbolc
Imbolc is a fire festival so light candles this weekend and visualise what you want to achieve during the active season or think about particular people and what you wish for them this year. Use white and green candles to evoke the freshness of Spring.
Search for signs of Spring
Get outside and look for the little cues that nature is getting ready to burst into life again - shoots, buds, catkins, early spring flowers - really notice what is around you and inhale the fresh cool air to breathe new life and energy into your body and soul for the busier months ahead.
Craft a brigid cross
Using reed or willow (soaked to make it supple) or even paper if you would rather, fold lengths over one another to form a cross. You could place your brigid cross in the centre of your imbolc wreath or hang it near your fireplace. For instructions on how to make your cross and more about imbolc visit this fabulous webpage The Goddess & The Green Man.
Make a living wreath
Now is the time to coppice plants like dogwood and willow so they sprout again in the Spring with new growth. Use the offcuts of these and other plants such as honeysuckle, winter jasmine and forsythia to weave an imbolc wreath. Place the wreath in a shallow dish of water and watch as it gradually comes alive over the next few weeks.
Plant a tree
This time of year is perfect for planting trees. Indeed we will be starting our own tree planting programme soon. If you don't have enough space to plant your own tree, consider adopting a tree to be planted here at Blackdown Yurts for you. Click here for more information on our Adopt a Tree programme.
Katie is one of the owners of Blackdown Yurts and likes to write about things going on at and around her beautiful glamping site