Category: celtic and pagan

How to Celebrate Imbolc Candlemas

Celebrating the Pagan Sabbat Imbolc – Candlemas

Ways Pagans celebrated and honored Imbolc – Candlemas

What is Imbolc?

Between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox is Imbolc (pronounced em-bolg). Imbolc translates roughly to ‘in the belly.’ and signifies the quickening of new life within Mother Earth and coincides with the stirring of the seeds that were planted at Solstice. Occurring sundown February 1st to sundown February 2nd, Imbolc is one of the four fire festivals on the Celtic Wheel of the Year. Evenly spaced throughout the year, these fire festivals mark the sun’s transition through the seasons. The other fire festivals of the Celts are Samhain (October 31st), Beltaine (May 1st), and Lughnasadh (August 1st). While Imbolc is usually celebrated from February 1st to February 2nd, the exact midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, falls around February 6th or 7th. Just as this holiday’s agricultural roots emphasized planting new crops, Imbolc can be when people implement new plans and ideas. Other names for Imbolc are Feast of Waxing Light, Feast of Pan, Feast of Torches, Lupercalia, and Brighid’s (pronounced breed) Day. Wiccans, Druids, and followers of ancient European earth-centric religions celebrate Imbolc. 

Appropriated into Christian practice, Imbolc was syncretized to Candlemas. And, in the modern secular world, it is reworked as Groundhog Day. No matter what name we put upon this part of the year, there is no doubt that we look toward the promise of sunnier days and warmer temperatures, still knowing that nature may have a few chilly surprises for us until the coming of springtime.

bay leaves in snow imbolc

Bay leaves stuck into the snow is said to symbolize the coming of Spring.

Agricultural History of Imbolc

For Celtic peoples, Imbolc marked the time to prepare the fields for the first planting. No longer having to be dependent on stored hay, they put their farm animals out to pasture. They could now air out their barns and homes that had been shuttered throughout the cold winter. Fresh milk flowed because of the newly born animals in the pens. So, this point of the year represented a time of cleansing and rebirth. To celebrate the pregnancy of their farm animals, they held rituals to thank the powerful fire and fertility goddess Brigid. Some historical records show Imbolc marked the first day of ‘ewe’s milk,’ (a translation of one of its alternate names, Oimelc) when sheepherders noticed their animals’ cycles shifting toward lambing. It was believed that in mid-winter, at Imbolc, the cattle would walk knee deep through fresh green grass in preparation for spring. As they ate their way to the ground the land would be fertilized. It was also thought that when you were finished eating your oatmeal on Imbolc morning it would turn into butter before day’s end. 

So, why is new life and springtime associated with this holiday when much of the Northern Hemisphere is still enduring wintery temperatures? You have to consider the pregnancy symbolism associated with Imbolc. New life is within the womb before it is delivered into the world. With this in mind, we can understand Imbolc as a celebration of the life that has not manifested outwardly yet – but we know it’s on the way. 

Goddess Associated with Imbolc

Brighid is a Celtic goddess of fire, information, smithcraft, poetry, healing, midwifery, and divination. She’s also a goddess of home, hearth, and hospitality. As a cleansing and purification rite, priestesses would burn a sacred flame to honor Brighid during Imbolc. In the Roman Pantheon, Brighid corresponds to the goddess Minerva (Greek Athena). It is said that St. Brigid or St. Bridgit (the spellings are interchangeable) restored milk to a neighbor’s livestock out of pity while she was a poor young girl living on a farm.

Saint Brigid Imbolc

Imbolc is the time to honor Saint Brigid

Brigid’s Cross

The Brigid’s Cross is a popular Celtic symbol. It is also known as the Saint Brigid’s Cross. The cross usually consists of three or four interlocking circles that are used to represent the Trinity.

It is said that Saint Brigid, created the original Cross using rushes or reeds from her home. The crosses are made by weaving one reed or rush through another. The number of intertwined rushes in the pattern represent the number of original convents that Brigid founded Saint Brigid’s Cross was also a pagan sign for Brighid and it is said that every woman should have one to protect her during childbirth and while breastfeeding. The cross can be used in magic to bring about changes and to protect against misfortune and can be used as a talisman for travelers, sailors and those who travel long distances by land or sea. The cross should be hung in the home to bring protection and security there. It can also be worn as a pendant.

Easy Ways to Celebrate Imbolc

Mark this critical time of year by planting your garden. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of space – even a small windowsill herb garden will work. Because Imbolc is a fire festival that marks the lengthening of the days as light returns, light candles to honor this time. Consider using red or white candles. Red symbolizes blood, which is life. White symbolizes the milk that nourishes life. Cinnamon, a herb with fiery associations, is a great herb to use in your Imbolc celebrations. You can add it to your celebratory foods, or you can burn cinnamon incense to fill your space with the exciting energy of this holiday. Don’t forget to honor the goddess Brigid! A traditional way to honor her is to make a corn husk dolly representing her. Women in the Scottish Highlands made Brigid corn husk dolls and placed them in baskets (representing a bed or baby crib). This evoked symbolism of the mother and daughter archetypes bringing forth life.  

Imbolc Foods

Food was, and is, a popular way to celebrate Imbolc. In homage to the farming roots of Imbolc, indulge (and share, of course) in dairy products, lamb dishes, and mutton. Sheep’s milk cheese is especially appropriate, seeing as it reminds us of how Imbolc marks the time when ewes bore their lambs. Baking bannock bread in honor of Bridget is another tradition. What is bannock bread? Bannock is a type of flat bread, usually round and cooked from grains or oats. A bannock is usually cut into sections before serving. Special bannocks were cooked in the names of rituals and festivals. For Brigid, it was known as “Saint Bride’s bannock.” Today we often jazz up this bannock with dried fruits like figs or raisins.

Simple Bannock Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Measure flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir to mix. Pour melted butter and water over flour mixture. Stir with fork to make a ball.
  • Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times. Pat into a flat circle 3/4 to 1 inch thick.
  • Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 15 minutes for each side. Use two lifters for easy turning. May also be baked on a greased baking sheet at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
    Rosemary bannock bread

    This picture is of rosemary bannock bread by Gather Victoria where they discuss ancestral food and magical cooking. Click picture to visit their site for this recipe.

The Green Man

The Green Man – Celebrating and Honoring the Greenman

The Green Man – Celebrating and Honoring the Greenman

Who is the Green Man?

The Green Man is a powerful nature deity. Worshipers have been paying homage to him for centuries, even millennia. He seems to have been around from when the first plants grew on Earth, and he was there when life began crawling out of the seas four billion years ago. It is unclear exactly how long humans have worshiped this deity, but we know that offerings were made to him in Britain during Roman times. He is a symbol often seen in architecture and design.

The Symbol of the Greenman

green man painting

Painting titled, “Dan the Green Man” by artist Ruby Shepard

The Green Man symbolizes seasonal renewal and ecological awareness for many modern Pagans. He can take many forms, such as naturalistic or decorative carvings, with the simplest depicting a man’s face peeking out from amongst foliage-adorned branches onto which he has grown a beard made up mostly of leaves. Some examples show him wearing clothes made entirely of vines. In Europe, there is a long tradition of carving green men onto Christian churches. One example can be found in Cyprus where seven men are carved on the facade of St Nicholas Church during thirteenth-century renovations to create an emotional link between Saint Nicodemus and his flock through this fertility symbol. In Wicca, he’s often used to represent the Horned God – which incorporates aspects from Celtic Cernunnos or Greek Pan, among others.

Celebrating the Green Man

Green man diety soap

Green Man specialty soap crafted by aromaG’s Botanica

There is an old English folk custom called Jack in the Green, which was a part of May Day celebrations. Developed during the 18th century, a wicker or wooden cage-like frame was created to be worn then covered in greenery so that the wearer could dance about at the front of the parade to celebrate the day. It would have appeared more like a bush or tree than what we might think of as a Green man costume. It was a development from an earlier custom where milkmaids would adorn their buckets with flowers and greenery for the time of Beltane (May Day.) Later, this greenery was worn as masks until finally the Jack o’ the Green tradition emerged. In a 1939 article by Julie Somerset (aka Lady Raglan), it was proposed that the Jack in the Green was associated with the depictions of the green man found on medieval churches. Founded in 2003, There is an annual Green Man Festival that celebrates science, music, and the arts, and is held every August in Brecon Beacon, Wales.

One may debate whether or not this deity is truly one entity or if it’s actually many different beings who share a common bond through their ties to plant life. However, we can agree that anyone who pays homage to the Greenman strongly attaches to nature. Today the world over, people still celebrate their respect for his power by building monuments in his image and making offerings to him.

How to Worship and Make Offerings to the Greenman

greenman wall plaque

A Green Man wall plaque

Worship of The Green Man is easy and practical for today’s busy world. Anyone can take time out of their routine to show their love and respect for this deity. They need only meditate on images of him or images with symbols representing his powers and offer thanks and praise where thanks and praise are due. Here we shall discuss just how one might go about paying homage to the Green Man, beginning with offerings:

One very simple way to honor The Green Man would be to place an offering close by while you take a walk outside (or at least away from your home). While walking, pick up anything green such as a leaf, blade of grass, weed, etc. Place this in a pocket or bag with an apple or some other food item that is living and green. When you return home from your walk, take the offerings out of your pocket or bag and place them in a bowl or basket on your altar, where you pay homage to The Green Man. Burn incense over the offerings while thanking him for the revelry he provides us by allowing us access to his wisdom through nature. Afterward, simply eat what is left over of the offerings as they are now blessed offerings to The Green Man. You can use essential oils or incense as offerings to the Green Man. Essential oils & incense associated with the Green Man are vetiver, cinnamon, sweet birch, oakmoss, and patchouli.

Another way one might make offerings is by going into their backyard alone at night after everyone else has gone to bed, turning off all artificial lighting (save for your offerings), and placing offerings in the grass or on a shrub. One might place offerings of flowers, leaves, fruit, fresh herbs, etc., anywhere they please, but a common space to do this would be an outdoor altar one might construct for this specific purpose (and decorate it with all things green).

greenman soap

another Green Man hand-painted speciality soap by aromaG’s

You may also wish to pick a large tree that seems strong and sturdy and climb up into it enough to find yourself surrounded by vines and branches. Place offerings here while seeking The Green Man’s wisdom regarding any worries you have been having lately. Afterward, give thanks to him for his time and inspiration through nature before coming down from the tree or taking offerings back home with you. Some people honor him by planting a tree.

Another common practice is to make offerings to The Green Man, starting with the new moon each month. Fill up a vase or jar with spring water and add several drops of wine (or liquid representations of blood such as red juices). Add offerings such as fresh fruit, seasonal herbs, flowers, etc. Pull back the curtains in your home so that there is no darkness for at least four feet all around you. Stand in front of this open area with offerings in hand while naming things you are grateful for. Afterward, thank The Green Man for his time and pay homage to him before placing offerings outside under a tree or shrub where animals and insects can properly enjoy them.

The Green Man

original artwork of the Greenman by Nashville artist.

An easy, readymade way to honor the Green Man is to light up one of our Green Man candles. It’s a perfect way to pay respect to his power and influence. Or, consider anointing your body (i.e. wrists, forehead, neck) with our Green Man oil.

There is an interesting article from the New Yorker titled, The Remarkable Persistence of the Green Man.

Yule – History & Celebrations

Today Yule is used to a lesser extent in the English-speaking world as a primary synonym for Christmas. Present-day Christmas customs and also practices such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others come from pagan Yule. Today the event is commemorated in Heathenry as well as a few other types of Modern Paganism.

Celebrating Yule

The Pagan holiday known as Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice, around December 21 when the planet’s axis turns away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere.

Many cultures all over the world have winter events that are, in reality, parties of light. Along with Christmas, there’s Hanukkah with its brightly lit menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and so on. As a festival of the Sunlight, one of the most vital parts of any Yule event is light with candles and bonfires.

In the Northern hemisphere, the wintertime solstice has been commemorated for centuries. The Norse peoples that called it Jul saw it as a time for much feasting and merriment. Icelandic legends consider it a time of sacrifice. Other, traditional customs such as the Yule log, the decorated tree, and wassailing have Norse origins.

In the British Isles, the Celts also celebrated midwinter. Although little is understood today about the specifics of what they did, many customs continue. According to the writings of Pliny the Senior, this is the time of year in which Druid clergymen sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe for their yearly celebration

Winter festivals were also typical in Greece and Rome, along with the British Isles. When a new religious movement called Christianity turned up, the new pecking order had problem transforming the Pagans, who didn’t want to give up their holidays. Many Christian traditions were built on old Pagan rituals and worship, causing many Pagan symbols to be integrated right into the meaning of Christianity. Within a couple of centuries, the Christians had every person venerating a new holiday celebrated on December 25th.

In some traditions of Wicca as well as Paganism, the Yule event begins with a Celtic legend where the Oak King and the Holly King go to battle. The Oak King, (the light of the new year), fights each year to take over the Holly King, (the symbol of darkness.) Re-enactment of the battle is performed in some Wiccan rituals.

So, this year will you agree to battle the old Holly King? What elements of light do you plan to shine on your life and goals? After all, it is a time of celebration and renewal. As the sun comes around again, it is the perfect season to welcome new beginnings, new attitudes, and embrace loving energies that will help you build a brighter future.

As the days get darker and the nights get longer, it’s nice to curl up inside, where its warm, with a nice cup of tea and a good book. For even more reading about Yule, check out this article dedicated to the holiday.

May your light overcome all your darkness. Happy Yule!

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