A Novice Witch’s Guide to Imbolc: The First Light in the Dark of Winter

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At the beginning of every February here in the Northern Hemisphere, folks who observe The Wheel of The Year celebrate the festival of Imbolc. Pronounced with an emphasis on the IM, a softness of the B, and sometimes the addition of a G (IM-bulk / IM-mulk / IM-bullug) Imbolc has its roots in Celtic, Gaelic, and Pagan traditions. It’s a time where we look for the earliest signs of spring, in anticipation of the days getting longer and lighter; the Earth is beginning to reawaken and warm up.

If, like me, you live in a place that’s just experienced the first big snowstorm and cold snap of the year, and know February to be a particularly brutal month for winter weather in general, you might be thinking: how the hell are we supposed to find signs of spring in this mess? How are we meant to get pumped for warmer weather and longer days when all we can see is snow in our near future?

Listen, I feel you. This is my first Imbolc, and I’m the biggest hater of winter there is, so this is going to be a challenge for me as well. However, I’d really like to shift my perspective about February and start to, maybe not love the month, but figure out a way to not totally dread it, either. This seems like the perfect opportunity to give it a shot. I think I’ve found a few fun ways to honour the festival, while keeping it real about the weather outside.

Before we dive into all of that, let’s briefly discuss what the Wheel of the Year is.

A Reflection of Natural Cycles

The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle that honours Earth’s natural patterns, and celebrates 8 holidays, also known as Sabbats. Four of those are solar holidays – the solstices and equinoxes – and four are known as cross-quarter or agrarian holidays, which fall directly in between each season. Imbolc, for example, takes places at the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many people who observe the Wheel also incorporate the monthly moon cycles; the New and Full Moon are referred to as Esbats, or lesser but still important holidays.

The Wheel was derived from a combination of rites based on the traditions of pre-Christian populations, such as the ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Germanic people of Northern Europe. Today, many different cultures observe the Wheel, including Wiccans, Pagans, and non-labelled, witchy, soulful, magic-loving people like me. It’s essentially a celebration of the seasons, the mid-way points between them, and the associated celestial events – solar and planetary alignments.

The sun, the moon, the Earth, our bodies, plants, and animals: we all experience continuous cycles. The Wheel of the Year reflects these back into a simple yet powerful practice that reconnects us with both nature and our own rhythms. It illuminates our natural phases of plant, tend, harvest, release. Similar to a calendar, the Wheel provides us with a guide to plan our days, weeks, months, and years. Better than a calendar, it can be our map to manifesting goals and living our best lives. When we pay attention to the themes presented in nature, we can harness the power of the Wheel to gain wisdom about the direction of our own lives; we can live in higher flow and increased harmony.

Do You have to be a Pagan, Wiccan, or Witch to use the Wheel?

Absolutely not! Despite loving organization and structure in my day-to-day life, I’m not really into organized groups such as these. No shade to either of them, I just prefer to be a solo Witch. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to connecting with other Witches, though, just that we all have our own beliefs about and ways of doing magic, and we should be free to do so. But I digress…you don’t even have to call yourself a Witch to honour the Wheel of the Year. If you’re spiritual or soulful, if you love nature, if you’re into astrology, or even if you’re just looking for something that’s goal-oriented and can help you stay on track: the Wheel is for you!

So, What’s the Deal with Imbolc?

As I mentioned, Imbolc is a time to look for the first signs of light in the dark of winter. It’s a celebration of hearth and home, of fire and feasting, fertility, renewal, and hope. Per my research, there are varying opinions on whether the festival takes place on the 1st or 2nd of February – August 1st or 2nd in the Southern Hemisphere – so, I say, why not celebrate on both days? More food, more cleansing, more light; how can you go wrong?

My research has also lead to the discovery of a few different translations of the word Imbolc. Some sources say it’s “in the belly” – which, in that case, refers to pregnant lambs – some say it’s “lactate,” and others believe it’s “ewe’s milk.” Suffice to say, lambs and milk are involved in the holiday to some extent.

Traditionally, this was a time when people were nearing the end of their stores and reserves from the fall’s harvest. Anticipating spring was a bit more crucial for them in terms of physical survival. However, in modern times, we can relate to this in a more mental and emotional manner. Many of us are reaching our limits, our tolerance, our reserves for the cold weather.

Those of us who suffer from seasonal depression can start to really feel it around this time. So, in a way, Imbolc can be treated as a self-care holiday – a way of helping us get through this final stretch of winter. This is precisely why I saw it as a great opportunity to shift my thinking on February, and to start taking on a more positive perspective.

For each sabbat in the Wheel, there is an associated Goddess and/or God; in the case of Imbolc, we honour Brigid. There is a ton of information available online about this Goddess (whose name may actually be pronounced “Breet” depending on who you ask) and the accounts are pretty varied in terms of what she represented. The clear through line in these accounts – apart from her fiery red hair – is that she rules over concepts like fire, hearth, home, fertility, creativity, inspiration, writing (poetry,) and healing.

If you’re not super into praising Gods and Goddesses, that’s totally cool. I honestly haven’t had much of a chance to get into Deity worship myself. While I believe in the energy of these beings, I just haven’t found one that resonates with me yet. Seeing as Brigid is a Goddess of inspiration, creativity, and writing – which, if you haven’t noticed, are kind of my jam – I’ll be giving it a go this weekend. I’ll keep you posted on the results!

How To Celebrate

Your celebrations can range from simpler activities – cooking a meal, going for a walk, or lighting some candles and journaling about your intentions for the coming weeks – to something a bit more elaborate – a day worth of rituals and ceremonies, full of spellcasting, and divination. It’s whatever works for you and makes your life a little more magical.

This is the perfect time for cleansing your home; through rituals, spells, or even a bit of spring cleaning. As we anticipate the rebirth of so many things in nature, we can use this as a time to cleanse and reawaken ourselves, too. Of course, any celebration is incomplete without some good grub, so let’s start there.

Foods & Herbs

Root vegetables, milk, seeds, and bread are the mainstays of Imbolc. As we learned from the translation of the holiday’s name, the traditional milk would come from ewes, or at least an animal, but plant-based milks are more than ok to use – I think it’s important for traditions to evolve and become more inclusive, how about you?

A few meal ideas:

  • Root vegetable curry with chickpeas and a coconut milk base. Be sure to use ginger, basil, and bay leaf.
  • Roasted root vegetable soup with a sunflower, pumpkin, or sesame seed topping. Again, ginger and basil, as well as rosemary, would be perfect to spice it up.
  • Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with sweet potato mash on top.
  • Savoury bread with seeds throughout or just as a topping.
  • Lemon poppy seed loaf for dessert or a snack.
  • Waffles made with coconut, oat, or seed-based milk.

Types of Magic to Perform

Purification & Healing – This is where the idea of spring cleaning originated – more on that below – but it’s not an activity you need to limit to your house. Your body, mind, and spirit deserve a bit of cleansing and restoration, too. It’s time to shake off the wintery cobwebs and start fresh.

Ritual suggestion: Take a cleansing/purification bath. Set the mood with candles, a diffuser or some incense, and your favourite music. Incorporate herbs like lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and chamomile into your bath water – you may want to make your own mix and place it inside a tea bag, and then either add it directly to the water or just tie it to the faucet so the water runs through it as it fills your bath. Then, allow yourself to relax while submerged in the water. Once you’re pretty chill, imagine all the negative energy in your body, all the baggage you’ve been holding onto throughout winter, all the shit you need to let to heal and reawaken this spring, flowing smoothly out through your pores. Try to really visualize it; see the energy releasing. Once you feel you’re ready, drain the water, give your tub a quick rinse, and take a shower to wash away any remaining negative energy.

Spell suggestion: Enjoy some chamomile tea, infused with intention. Useful for more than just its cleansing and calming properties, chamomile is often referred to as “the sun’s herb” making it perfect for an herbal tea at Imbolc – add some ginger to really up the fire element. As you pour the water over your tea bag or fresh herbs, concentrate on the first light in the dark that Imbolc represents; visualize it infusing into your tea. As you wait for it to steep, hold your hands over the steam and imagine it’s the sun’s warmth. With each sip of tea, picture it bringing the light it’s been infused with to the areas of your body, mind, and soul that need it most. The places that need restoring and healing, and are ready to start reawakening for spring. If it helps, use the words below to give a little more structure to the spell work.

I embrace this first light in the dark. I allow it to flow freely within and throughout me. I ask that it bring light to the areas of my body, mind, and soul that need restoring and healing. I am ready to reawaken for spring.

Shadow – Use Imbolc as a time to look inward and examine honestly what you’ve been keeping in the shadows. Ask yourself the following questions: What behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes are you ready to let go of? What wounds can you allow to heal? How can you evolve and reawaken for the coming spring? What are you ready to show to the world?

Ritual suggestion: on strips of paper, write down all the things you’re ready to let go of,  and then burn those strips in a fire safe dish to symbolize their release from you.

Divination – Traditionally, Imbolc was a great time for divination, which I find fascinating because we can trace that practice all the way to modern times where we celebrate Groundhog Day. I’m convinced Imbolc was the precursor for this funny little holiday. Strange how that form of divination is so widely accepted by the masses, while others are so easily dismissed. Anyways, I’ve created a special Imbolc Tarot spread for those interested, but feel free to turn to your divination tool of choice like runes, oracle cards, pendulums – it’s whatever you feel suits the moment.

 

Imbolc Tarot Spread

1: Spring Cleaning: What energies am I ready to leave behind?

2: Planting Seeds: What energies are reawakening and need my attention to cultivate?

3: Rebirth: What might these energies blossom into by springtime?

4: Snow: What stands in the way of my progress?

5: Sun: What helps to nurture my progress?

6: Brigid: Guidance from the Goddess of Imbolc.

Altar Décor

Candles, candles, candles! Imbolc is a celebration of light after all. Go for green, pink, yellow, and white candles – all colours associated with early spring. I don’t need to remind you about candle safety, right? I don’t know why you’d walk away from all your gloriously burning candles in the first place, but don’t!

You could weave your own Brigid’s cross to hang for protection. Here’s a link to a very thorough DIY with the traditional materials of reed and straw, and another one for using more readily available pipe cleaners.

Spread out some snowdrop and daffodil petals, maybe some lamb figures. A bowl of seeds, a few herb bundles, and any other items you associate with cleansing and rebirth.

Activities

Sun Gazing – In the coming weeks, try to keep an eye on when the sun rises and sets to acknowledge the lengthening of our days. Keep it in your heart that our part of the world is, indeed, getting warmer, despite all that snow outside.

Nature Walk – If the weather permits and you feel you can brave the cold, get out and look for some signs of spring. I know this sounds difficult, maybe impossible, but even the smallest signs of new life can provide an uplifting moment for our souls. Try to plan your walk for when the sun is at its peak, so you can fully appreciate its warmth.

Journaling – If you’re less into the witchy and nature-based activities, use this time to start setting intentions for the coming weeks, months, and years. Get clarity on where you’re going, where you’re starting fresh, and set goals for positive new patterns. You might also write about something you’re looking forward to or something you have to be hopeful about. What brings you light in the dark?

Learning – If the weather simply isn’t playing fair for you this Imbolc, maybe you could cozy up inside by the fire (your candles, your heater, under a lovely blanket, in the arms of a loved one) and learn more about the Wheel or the festival of Imbolc. Maybe you’d like to know more about Brigid; how you can connect with her, what energy she can offer you, etc.

Spring Cleaning – Honestly, this might be the activity I’m looking the most forward to; I have several cupboards and drawers that need to be cleared out. It’s a perfect task for when the weather is extra crummy, too. Getting rid of items that no longer serve you, is an easy but powerful way to cleanse your home. Consider if anything is worth donating – whether to an organization, family, or friends – what you no longer need may help someone else start fresh this spring.

Burning – If you still have any Yule greens – trees, wreaths, etc. – you could burn them to symbolize sending winter away.

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I hope this introductory guide has been helpful for those of you celebrating Imbolc for the first time. This will be my first celebration of the festival, so I imagine there is still much for me to learn, but I already feel a deep connection to the Wheel of the Year in general and I can’t wait to move through its cycles.

How will you be spending February 1st and/or 2nd? I’d love to hear about your Imbolc rituals and ceremonies. Are you a first timer, or are you an Imbolc pro now?

Bright and Blessed Imbolc, Witches!

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