|Also called||Lá Fhéile Bríde (Irish)|
Là Fhèill Brìghde (Scottish Gaelic)
Laa'l Breeshey (Manx)
|Observed by||Historically: Gaels |
Today: Irish people, Scottish people, Manx people, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans
Pagan (Celtic polytheism, Celtic neopaganism, Wicca)
|Significance||beginning of spring|
|Celebrations||feasting, making Brigid's crosses and Brídeógs, visiting holy wells, divination, spring cleaning|
(or 1 August for Neopagans in the S. Hemisphere)
|Related to||Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau , Candlemas, Groundhog Day|
Imbolc or Imbolg ( [ɪˈmˠɔlˠɡ] ), also called (Saint) Brigid's Day (Irish : Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic : Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx : Laa'l Breeshey), is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. It is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. For Christians, especially in Ireland, it is the feast day of Saint Brigid.
Imbolc is mentioned in early Irish literature, and there is evidence suggesting it was also an important date in ancient times. It is believed that Imbolc was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid, and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brigid, who is thought to be a Christianization of the goddess.On Imbolc/St Brigid's Day, Brigid's crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brigid (a Brídeóg) would be paraded from house-to-house by girls, sometimes accompanied by 'strawboys'. Brigid was said to visit one's home at Imbolc. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, and items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also invoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were had, holy wells were visited, and it was a time for divination.
Although many of its customs died out in the 20th century, it is still observed and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. Since the latter 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Imbolc as a religious holiday.
The etymology of Imbolc/Imbolg is unclear. The most common explanation is that is comes from the Old Irish i mbolc (Modern Irish i mbolg), meaning "in the belly", and refers to the pregnancy of ewes.Another possible origin is the Old Irish imb-fholc, "to wash/cleanse oneself", referring to a ritual cleansing. Eric P. Hamp derives it from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning both "milk" and "cleansing". Professor Alan Ward derives it from the Proto-Celtic *embibolgon, "budding". The 10th century Cormac's Glossary derives it from oimelc, "ewe milk", but many scholars see this as a folk etymology. Nevertheless, some Neopagans have adopted Oimelc as a name for the festival.
Since Imbolc is immediately followed (on 2 February) by Candlemas (Irish Lá Fhéile Muire na gCoinneal "feast day of Mary of the Candles", Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau ),Irish Imbolc is sometimes translated into English as "Candlemas"; e.g. iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt translated as "after Candlemas, rough was their herding".
The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period.Some passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise around the times of Imbolc and Samhain. This includes the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, and Cairn L at Slieve na Calliagh.
In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Beltane (~1 May) and Lughnasadh (~1 August).
From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Imbolc or St Brigid's Day were recorded by folklorists and other writers. They tell us how it was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the past.
Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February. However, because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on what is now 31 January. It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes. It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season(which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February), the beginning of the spring sowing, and the blooming of blackthorn.
The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted.Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. A spring cleaning was also customary.
Holy wells were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Beltane and Lughnasa. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking 'sunwise' around the well. They would then leave offerings, typically coins or clooties (see clootie well). Water from the well was used to bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.
Donald Alexander Mackenzie also recorded that offerings were made "to earth and sea". The offering could be milk poured into the ground or porridge poured into the water, as a libation.
Imbolc is strongly associated with Saint Brigid (Old Irish : Brigit, modern Irish: Bríd, modern Scottish Gaelic: Brìghde or Brìd, anglicised Bridget). Saint Brigid is thought to have been based on Brigid, a Gaelic goddess. The festival, which celebrates the onset of spring, is thought to be linked with Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess.
On Imbolc Eve, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants.As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year.
Families would have a special meal or supper on Imbolc Eve. This typically included food such as colcannon, sowans, dumplings, barmbrack or bannocks.Often, some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brigid.
Brigid would be symbolically invited into the house and a bed would often be made for her. In the north of Ireland a family member, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes. They would then knock the door three times, asking to be let in. On the third attempt they are welcomed in, the meal is had, and the rushes are then made into a bed or crosses.In 18th century Mann, the custom was to stand at the door with a bundle of rushes and say "Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in". The rushes were then strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brigid. In the 19th century, some old Manx women would make a bed for Brigid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table. In the Hebrides in the late 18th century, a bed of hay would be made for Brigid and someone would then call out three times: "a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a stigh as gabh do leabaidh" ("Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready"). A white wand, usually made of birch, would be set by the bed. It represented the wand that Brigid was said to use to make the vegetation start growing again. In the 19th century, women in the Hebrides would dance while holding a large cloth and calling out "Bridean, Bridean, thig an nall 's dean do leabaidh" ("Bríd, Bríd, come over and make your bed"). However, by this time the bed itself was rarely made.
Before going to bed, people would leave items of clothing or strips of cloth outside for Brigid to bless.Ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brigid had visited. The clothes or strips of cloth would be brought inside, and believed to now have powers of healing and protection.
In Ireland and Scotland, a representation of Brigid would be paraded around the community by girls and young women. Usually it was a doll-like figure known as a Brídeóg (also called a 'Breedhoge' or 'Biddy'). It would be made from rushes or reeds and clad in bits of cloth, flowers or shells.In the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the reul-iuil Bríde (guiding star of Brigid) was set on its chest. The girls would carry it in procession while singing a hymn to Brigid. All wore white with their hair unbound as a symbol of purity and youth. They visited every house in the area, where they received either food or more decoration for the Brídeóg. Afterwards, they feasted in a house with the Brídeóg set in a place of honour, and put it to bed with lullabies. In the late 17th century, Catholic families in the Hebrides would make a bed for the Brídeóg out of a basket. When the meal was done, the local young men humbly asked for admission, made obeisance to the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in dancing and merrymaking. In many places, only unwed girls could carry the Brídeóg, but in some both boys and girls carried it. Sometimes, rather than carrying a Brídeóg, a girl impersonated Brigid. Escorted by other girls, she went house-to-house wearing 'Brigid's crown' and carrying 'Brigid's shield' and 'Brigid's cross', all of which were made from rushes. The procession in some places included 'strawboys', who wore conical straw hats, masks and played folk music; much like the wrenboys. Up until the mid-20th century, children in Ireland still went house-to-house asking for pennies for "poor Biddy", or money for the poor. In County Kerry, men in white robes went from house to house singing.
In Ireland, Brigid's crosses (pictured on the right) were made at Imbolc. A Brigid's cross usually consists of rushes woven into a four-armed equilateral cross, although three-armed crosses have also been recorded.They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and for protection against fire, lightning, illness and evil spirits. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc. In western Connacht , people would make a Crios Bríde (Bríd's girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle. Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed.
Today, some people still make Brigid's crosses and Brídeógs or visit holy wells dedicated to St Brigid on 1 February.Brigid's Day parades have been revived in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry, which holds a yearly "Biddy's Day Festival". Men and women wearing elaborate straw hats and masks visit public houses carrying a Brídeóg to bring good luck for the coming year. They play folk music, dance and sing. The highlight of this festival is a torchlight parade through the town followed by a song and dance contest.
Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:
Thig an nathair as an toll
Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach —the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.
Imbolc or Imbolc-based festivals are held by some Neopagans. As there are many kinds of Neopaganism, their Imbolc celebrations can be very different despite the shared name. Some try to emulate the historic festival as much as possible. Other Neopagans base their celebrations on many sources, with historic accounts of Imbolc being only one of them.
Neopagans usually celebrate Imbolc on 1 February in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 August in the Southern Hemisphere.Some Neopagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox (or the full moon nearest this point). In the Northern Hemisphere, this is usually on 3 or 4 February. Other Neopagans celebrate Imbolc when the primroses, dandelions, and other spring flowers emerge.
Celtic Reconstructionists strive to reconstruct the pre-Christian religions of the Celts. Their religious practices are based on research and historical accounts,but may be modified slightly to suit modern life. They avoid syncretism (i.e. combining practises from different cultures). They usually celebrate the festival when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon nearest this. Many use traditional songs and rites from sources such as The Silver Bough and The Carmina Gadelica. It is a time of honouring the Goddess Brigid, and many of her dedicants choose this time of year for rituals to her.
Wiccans and Neo-Druids celebrate Imbolc as one of the eight Sabbats in their Wheel of the Year, following Midwinter and preceding Ostara. In Wicca, Imbolc is commonly associated with the goddess Brigid and as such it is sometimes seen as a "women's holiday" with specific rites only for female members of a coven.Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc is the traditional time for initiations.
Beltane or Beltain is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset. This is about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasadh. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Similar festivals are held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands, for example the Brittonic Calan Gaeaf, Kalan Gwav, and Kalan Goañv.
The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans, consisting of the year's chief solar events and the midpoints between them. While names for each festival vary among diverse pagan traditions, syncretic treatments often refer to the four solar events as "quarter days" and the four midpoint events as "cross-quarter days", particularly in Wicca. Differing sects of modern Paganism also vary regarding the precise timing of each celebration, based on distinctions such as lunar phase and geographic hemisphere.
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. However, in recent centuries some of the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date. Lughnasadh is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane. It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas.
Brigit, Brigid or Bríg was a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.
In Gaelic mythology the Cailleach is a divine hag, a creator deity, a weather deity, and an ancestor deity. In modern Scottish folklore studies she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter. The word literally means "old woman, hag", and is found with this meaning in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland is one of Ireland's patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba. Irish hagiography makes her an early Irish Christian nun, abbess, and foundress of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland, which was famous and was revered. Her feast day is 1 February, which was originally a pagan festival called Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring. Her feast day is shared by Dar Lugdach, who tradition says was her student, close companion, and the woman who succeeded her.
Brigid's cross or Brigit's cross is a small cross usually woven from rushes. Typically it has four arms tied at the ends and a woven square in the middle. Historically, there were also three-armed versions.
The Irish calendar is the Julian calendar as it was in use in Ireland, but also incorporating Irish cultural festivals and views of the division of the seasons, presumably inherited from earlier Celtic calendar traditions.
The Presentation of Jesus atthe Temple is an early episode in the life of Jesus, describing his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to officially induct him into Judaism, that is celebrated by many Christian Churches on the holiday of Candlemas. It is described in the chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Within the account, "Luke's narration of the Presentation in the Temple combines the purification rite with the Jewish ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn ."
The Celtic calendar is a compilation of pre-Christian Celtic systems of timekeeping, including the Gaulish Coligny calendar, used by Celtic countries to define the beginning and length of the day, the week, the month, the seasons, quarter days, and festivals.
The culture of Ireland includes language, literature, music, art, folklore, cuisine, and sport associated with Ireland and the Irish people. For most of its recorded history, Irish culture has been primarily Gaelic. It has also been influenced by Anglo-Norman, English and Scottish culture. The Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century, and the 16th/17th century conquest and colonisation of Ireland saw the emergence of the Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish.
Carmina Gadelica is a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909. The material was recorded, translated, and reworked by the exciseman and folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912).
Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism is a polytheistic reconstructionist approach to Celtic neopaganism, emphasising historical accuracy over eclecticism such as is found in many forms of Neo-druidism. It is an effort to reconstruct and revive, in a modern Celtic cultural context, pre-Christian Celtic religions.
Bridget or Brigid is a Gaelic/Irish female name derived from the noun brígh, meaning "power, strength, vigor, virtue". An alternate meaning of the name is "exalted one". Its popularity, especially in Ireland, is largely related to the popularity of Saint Brigid of Kildare, who was so popular in Ireland she was known as "Mary of the Gael". This saint took on many of the characteristics of the early Celtic goddess Brigid, who was the goddess of agriculture and healing and possibly also of poetry and fire. One of her epithets was "Brigid of the Holy Fire". In German and Scandinavian countries, the popularity of the name spread due to Saint Bridget of Sweden.
Carlin Stone or Carlin Stane is the name given to a number of prehistoric standing stones and natural stone or landscape features in Scotland. The significance of the name is unclear, other than its association with old hags, witches, and the legends of the Cailleach.
Groundhog Day is a popular American tradition observed in the United States and Canada on February 2nd. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; but if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
Briganti is the Proto-Celtic term for Brighid, or Brigid. The name *Brigantī means "The High One", cognate with the name of the ancient British goddess Brigantia (goddess), the Old High German personal name Burgunt, and the Sanskrit word Bṛhatī (बृहती) "high", an epithet of the Hindu dawn goddess Ushas. The ultimate source is Proto-Indo-European *bʰr̥ǵʰéntih₂, derived from the root *bʰerǵʰ-.
Brideswell is a small village located in the south of County Roscommon, Ireland.
The Dun Ailline Druid Brotherhood is a pagan organization for followers of the Celtic Neopaganism based on Spain in 2010, which supports the practice of a type of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism called Druidism, centered on the Celtic culture of Ireland, and whose principal deities are known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. Its members consider themselves practitioners of a European native religion and they call themselves creidim, a concept of Irish origin.
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