Oimelc / Imbolc / Candlemas
Imbolc ('In the belly') or Oimelc, literally meaning 'ewe’s milk' in Irish, is a festival of fertility, in that it marks the time of lambing and the grasses beginning to grow again enabling ewes to produce a nutritious milk. Many plants show the year's first signs of growth at this time, my favorite is the fragrant evergreen daphne (Daphne odora), which flowers now. In Greek mythology Daphne was a beautiful nymph who asked her parents to transform her into a laurel bush so she could avoid the 'amorous' pursuit of the god Apollo.
For agricultural peoples this new grass would surely be a sign of hope and optimism and welcoming the growing seasons, but also a time to feast and build your strength as it won’t be long before the long hot days of spring and summer will bring more work than can be managed easily. It’s a time to look forward, plan ahead and seek the blessings of that which you hold sacred. Very few Australians tend sheep these days and so alternate methods are required to decide when to celebrate Imbolc. There are a variety of methods one could use.
If you celebrate Imbolc as a quarter cross day you could determine the midpoint between the solstice and the equinox. Observation of the point on the horizon where the sun rises would be ideal however you would need a good year round view of the horizon and your own version of ‘stonehenge’ with markers for the solstices and equinoxes. It would be little trouble to locate the half way point between the winter solstice and vernal equinox with a piece of builders string. Rather than do all the astronomical calculations yourself you could consult an archeo-astronomy site such as this, or consult an astrological site to check when the sun will be 15 degrees into Leo. Or you could simply transpose a traditional date from the northern hemisphere, rather than celebrating Imbolg on February 2nd Imbolc becomes August 2nd. You could even just divide the number of days between winter solstice and the spring equinox in half and count that many fays forward of the solstice. Ultimately you want a date that is practical and permits you to celebrate as you see fit. Any of these methods could be used to determine the other quarter cross days as well.
February 2 is of course the feast day of the Catholic Saint Bridget. Some say she is a Christianized version of the Goddess Brigit, others say the Goddess Brigit only appeared after the Saint, others say the Goddess Danu is the antecedent of Brigid. No doubt another example of new religious traditions and places being built upon those of the old. As Brigit is the Maiden aspect of the Great Goddess, venerated for her gifts of healing, poetry and smithcraft. it is entirely appropriate to include Her in an Imbolc celebration when they are celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere.
There are many songs dedicated to Brigit, this traditional Irish song -- Ode to Brigit -- is still popular. One translation of the lyrics reads:
Not just in Ireland,
but in many countries ...
a shining lantern,
a flame throughout the land ...
winter is hard and dark,
but once Brigid's day comes,
spring cannot be far behind
The days have begun to lengthen noticeably from the shortest day at midwinter. We pause at Imbolc the be grateful for that little extra light, a blessing of the Goddess Brigit. Sacred fires are dedicated to Her more for the light they bring than the heat they generate. Traditionally, tiny effigies of Brigit, made from sheaves of corn, were brought into the home and placed in a bed on the hearth. It was hoped Brigid would bring fertility to the home and fields and protect the family and community from ill fortune. Being as it is at the start of the start of the cycle of seasons it is thought to be an excellent time for setting the ground and making plans before starting new endeavors. It's a good time to get your life in order, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Cleanse your sacred space, sweep away the past, burn small white candles and decorate your altar with a Brigit's Cross made from grass, rushes or whatever you have ready at hand. Gather some water from a holy well or nearby stream or creek, sprinkle it round the house as an act of blessing or poor libations as an offering to the Goddess. It was also traditional to leave items outdoors over night so Brigit could bless them as she passed.
Prayer to Brigit
All hail the Maiden, all nature’s queen
Come dear Lady in your mantle of green
The days are cloudy the rains come still
and nights cold grip, please hear our will
Daphne flowers fragrant, starry eyes bright
limbs still bare and buds held tight
Bless us dear lady, keep our homes dry
and our hearths warm comfort, as winter does fly
grant us good health and give us grace
Bestow your blessings, upon this place
Farewell dear Lady, in your mantle of green
All hail the Maiden, all nature’s queen.
As well as making Bridget's Crosses, this is a great time of year to visit your local botanic gardens with young children and look for signs of European plants coming out of their dormant period. The buds swell, stems begin to fill out, a new leaf or two might unfurl. What signs of life can you see on the trees? have the gardeners started planting? How many different bulbs are in bloom? If you’re parenting a teen it might be a good time of year to have a “mother daughter” talk about recognizing and managing fertility in our own bodies, before spring blooms and days grow mild, and before the heat of summer.
This page is written and coordinated by Cara. Last updated 1 August 2015.