What is Imbolc? The First Sabbat in the Wheel of the Year

What is Imbolc? The First Sabbat in the Wheel of the Year

Imbolc (Imbolg), also known St. Brigid’s Day, is a celebration that marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It represents the welcoming of spring’s return and the early shift into the light half of the year.

In this article, you’ll find information about Imbolc, including what it is, how it originated, why it’s relevant, easy Imbolc recipes to try, tips to decorate your altar, and more.

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When is Imbolc?


Traditionally, Imbolc is celebrated from February 1 through sundown on February 2. This is the official halfway point between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara).

However, some people prefer to rely on the weather instead of the calendar — they celebrate Imbolc based on the seasonal shift when the weather finally warms and the smell of spring is in the air.

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What Is Imbolc? Exploring the Spiritual Significance of the First Sabbat


Whether you celebrate on the first of February or the first pleasant spring day, the spiritual meaning of Imbolc remains the same. It’s a time to reconnect with nature and appreciate the shifting cycle promising light, warmth, and growth as we leave winter behind.

Imbolc is a celebration of spring’s earliest stirrings. It’s also the first Sabbat in the Wheel of the Year, which is a series of eight nature-based festivals spread evenly throughout the year. Although Sabbats are known for being tied to modern Wiccan and Pagan traditions, other cultures also participate. At its core, the Wheel of the Year is a celebration of nature, and the Sabbats can be adapted to honor various deities… or none at all.

Why is the first Sabbat important? After all, why welcome spring in February when winter tends to be especially bitter in the northern hemisphere?

Remember that winter was a difficult time for our ancestors. February was the final stretch to weather. The rationing of food, the freezing temperatures, and a lull in warfare (which was an important part of Celtic society) would soon be over.

The earliest spring flowers such as snowdrops will be poking their heads out of the snow in the coming weeks if they haven’t already started. Also, now that Yule has shifted us into the light half of the year, the days are getting longer, and that’s cause for celebration as we gain more sunlight every day!

Origins, Folklore, History, and Early Traditions of Imbolc


Early roots of Imbolc celebrations date back to the pre-Christian era. In Gaelic Ireland, many Pagans worshipped the fertility goddess Brigid on Imbolc. (Alternative spellings: Brigit, Bríg)

Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the most powerful Celtic gods. According to myths, she was born with a flame in her head and drank the milk of a mystical cow. The goddess Brigid is generally associated with poetry, wisdom, protection, healing, smithing, and domesticated animals, especially animals used for dairy products. Brigid is credited with the first keening, a traditional Gaelic Celtic funeral practice of wailing for the dead as a form of vocal lament.

People of ancient times would commemorate Imbolc with fire to welcome the sun’s return. Unlike other Sabbats such as Beltane and Samhain when large bonfires were used to ward off evil spirits, Imbolc fires were usually burned inside the home’s hearth. If such a fire was unfeasible for any reason, lighting candles was an acceptable alternative.

Fire and purification were an important part of the rituals, which often included a feast. It was customary to set food and drink aside for Brigid, who was symbolically invited into the home to welcome a new season of growth and fertility. Children often carried dolls made of rushes and reeds and decorated with bits of cloth, flowers, or shells around the community to represent Brigid.

Within the home, people would make a bed for Brigid and set out items of clothing or cloth for her to bless. Brigid’s crosses were crafted from rushes and hung over doors, windows, and stables to greet Brigid and protect her worshippers against fire, illness, and evil spirits.

Brigid’s cross, Wikipedia

Eventually, Brigid was Christianized into St. Brigid, one of Ireland’s three patron saints. The goddess and saint are both associated with milk and fire, and they share many other similarities. The church decreed February 1st to be St. Brigid’s Day to replace the Pagan festival of Imbolc.

Weather divination traditionally took place around Imbolc. In some cultures, the divine hag of Gaelic tradition would gather firewood for the rest of winter on Imbolc. If the day was bright and sunny, the hag could travel farther and collect more firewood, meaning winter would last longer. But if the weather was foul, it meant the hag was still sleeping and winter was almost over.

The types of informal weather predictions are likely how traditions such as Groundhog’s Day were inspired. People would watch to see if serpents, badgers, and other wildlife would emerge from their winter dens. The first Groundhog’s Day occurred in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887, likely as an adaptation of a German tradition involving a badger at Candlemas. (However, it’s unlikely that Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day are directly related.)

The Christian holiday of Candlemas is also celebrated on February 2nd. Although Candlemas coincides with Imbolc and uses candles (fire) as a key ritual feature, historians speculate that Candlemas is likely the Christian adaptation of Februalia, a Roman holiday of purification and cleansing.

Imbolc Altar Tips: Colors, Crystals, and Decorations


Imbolc’s predominant colors are white to represent the blanket of snow and red to represent the rising sun. Green (especially lighter hues) is also associated with Imbolc to symbolize life beginning to grow again as the earth thaws.

Other spring colors would be welcome on the Imbolc alter, including robin-egg blue, pale yellow, pink, and lavender.

The best crystals for Imbolc include:

  • Amethyst – spiritual protection, insight, self-reflection, shadow work
  • Moss Agate – restoration, healing, rebirth, a connection with earth and plants
  • Onyx – strength, stabilization, grounding, alleviating fear (tourmaline and obsidian are also good alternatives)
  • Selenite – purification, cleansing, protection, a symbol of light, ties to the moon
  • Moonstone – new beginnings, fertility, intuition, lunar/feminine energy
  • Sunstone – light, life, energy, luck, prosperity, empowerment, especially powerful stone to help combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Carnelian – connected to the element of fire and the sacred flame
  • Clear quartz – healing, peace, cleansing the mind and aura, divination
  • Rose quartz – love, self-love, friendship, romance, companionship

Because Imbolc is symbolized by a hearth fire, consider adorning the altar with a generous number of candles. (See my candle color guide to choose the right color to match your intentions.)

*Remember to be safe when using fire as part of your ritual!*

Other items that would serve an Imbolc altar well include healing herbs, a poem or candle spell, milk, and baked goods made with dairy products. Lavender, meadowsweet, and rosemary are excellent herbs to burn for Imbolc, and corn is also significant since corn dolls were a big part of ancient Imbolc celebrations.

As you decorate your Imbolc altar, think sun, light, spring, and growth.

Imbolc Ritual Ideas and Inspiration


How are you planning to celebrate Imbolc? Depending on the weather in your area, you might not be able to do much outside quite yet, but there are still plenty of rituals you can do indoors.

  • Learn how to make a Brigid’s cross or a corn doll for the altar
  • Bake goods to honor Brigid and share with your friends and family
  • Journal about your hopes, goals, and intentions for the new year
  • Burn sage and/or Imbolc herbs to purify your home (see my list to help choose the right herbs)
  • Consult runes or tarot/oracle cards for insight into your past and future
  • Take a walk and gather natural items (pinecones, seed pods, stones, etc.) for your altar
  • Craft a spring wreath
  • Do candle magick
  • Write a poem about spring
  • Take a ritualist bath* surrounded by candles and Imbolc crystals

*Hemlock Park crafts beautiful aromatherapy candles and spa packages, handcrafted with natural ingredients. They offer crystal candles and organic coconut wax candles with wood wicks. But here’s why I love this company — they partnered with One Tree Planted to focus on reforestation. A tree is planted for every order placed.

Easy Imbolc Recipes


Below are a few simple traditional recipes to celebrate Imbolc.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES

1 lb red potatoes
1/2 lb carrots
1/2 lb rutabagas
1/2 lb turnips
1/2 lb parsnips
4 shallots
1/4 c olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
10 garlic cloves
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 green onions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Chop the rosemary and green onions. Peel the turnips, parsnips, and rutabaga and then slice into wedges with the potatoes. If the carrots are large, they can be cut too; otherwise, leave whole. Cut the shallots in half.

3. Toss all of the ingredients except the garlic cloves in a bowl to mix well and coat with the olive oil, then arrange on a flat baking sheet.

4. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, then another 15. Add the whole garlic cloves and bake for another 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Add additional seasonings to taste. Enjoy!

BAKED POTATO SOUP

2 c chicken stock
2 c milk
4 tbsp butter
1/4 c flour
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 large potato
1/2 tsp salt
1 c sour cream
1 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 c green onions
1/2 c bacon bits

1. Peel and finely dice the potato.

2. Heat the chicken stock and milk in a saucepan on medium-high heat, taking care not to boil to ensure the milk doesn’t scorch. Once heated, remove and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a soup pot on low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Gradually add the milk mixture while continuing to stir to avoid clumps. Add bay leaves, black pepper, diced potato, and salt. Continue to simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the soup has thickened.

4. Gently mash the potatoes in the soup and blend well. Pour servings into soup crocks and top with sour cream, cheese, chopped green onion, and bacon bits, then bake in the oven until the cheese is melted.

Have fun!


However you choose to celebrate Imbolc, there truly is no “right way” or “wrong way.” You can celebrate with loved ones, or your rituals can be solitary. You don’t need to have a coven to participate in Wheel of the Year activities. Choose the practices that best apply to you and make them your new tradition with your own personal spin.

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Award-winning fantasy author, freelance writer, spiritual explorer, and sole founder of Green Witch Lunar Witch. She created her first website in 2016 and published her first novel two years later. Sara spends most of her time writing, creating, and daydreaming.

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