Imbolg is a holiday close to my heart. Most of my practice does not involve deity, but to me this time of year is inextricably linked to the myth of Brigid and the Cailleach. Though I do not often engage in worship or prayer, Brigid has a special place in my heart and home. Her icons and myths resonate with me, and I take time to honor her and set a place on the altar for her.
I will not go into detail about the lore and tales of Brigid and Imbolg. There are many interpretations on this theme, and I have included some of them at the end of this post. I encourage those interested to explore these stories, read primary sources, and find their own conclusions.
Living in Wisconsin, the reminder that spring is slowly approaching is very welcome. This time of year is usually cold and dry. We get the worst storms in early spring, with our record snowfalls often being in March. It is similar to ocean squalls that herald summer in many maritime locations. The shifting axis and warming winds bring lots of fluffy precipitation with them, but that just means that we are getting closer to planting season!
In some places in the Gaelic world one might begin planting at Imbolg, but that is nigh impossible in Wisconsin — the Atlantic’s tempering presence is far from us, and a continental climate means much more dramatic winters and later frosts. What you will see, though, is plenty of gardeners ordering seeds, prepping greenhouses, and perhaps starting seed indoors for later transplanting. About January everyone gets their seed catalogs out and starts charting and fussing like broody hens. It’s quite amusing, and gives a bit of respite from the long winter.
In my house, Imblog invariably means lots of bread, beer, and cheese. Wisconsin is a lovely place for these delicacies. The Swiss and Irish immigrants have come together to create some truly unique cheeses, and our lovely German neighbors (and lots of Irish folks too) created beer empires that keep half of Milwaukee employed today. In Wisconsin one is exposed to largest factor in Imbolg — dairy. Our huge dairy industry means many folks are involved in or witness to calving season. Though modern agriculture has extended milking cycles and calving is often rotated or staggered throughout the year, many farms still have a swell of new babies and a spike in milk production around this time. In some ways, celebrating Imbolg here makes more sense than it did in Tennessee, though adding mountains would be a nice touch (I just need to move to Viroqua, honestly). Tennessee’s winters, however, are much more akin to those in the Isles, and the Scots-Irish culture there can be seen more plainly among the old folks.
My personal practices at this time are simple, but I find this appropriate for a festival so centered on the hearth and home. Though I do not have a hearth fire to re-ignite, I will light a small fire in my cauldron. After it has burnt out, the ashes are spread smoothly, and in the morning one may see marks left if Brigid has visited — traditionally this was a footprint by the fireplace. I often leave out a small cloth or ribbon (in the tradition of the brat bhríde), which is then used for blessing and protection of our home throughout the year. In the past I’ve also collected the morning dew on this cloth or wrung it into a bottle to keep.
The Brigid doll is replaced on my altar with a small ceramic figure. She is surrounded by a wreath of 6 candles, to which I add a candle each week approaching Imbolg. Joining her are some of my metalwork creations from college, during the making of which I may or may not have been praying fervently. Cutting torches are scary, folks.
Among the offerings at this time are honey, milk, beer (sometimes of multiple varieties), and homemade bread. I enjoy making a braided loaf, and this year I may even attempt to create a Brigid’s Cross out of my dough. In the past we have made bannocks, potato cakes, cornbread, and other stove-baked goods in the tradition of Scottish and Appalachian ancestors. The day is spent with my husband, feasting on bread, butter, honey, cheese, and beers, and sharing some contemplation of the time. Often I will sain and bless the house and ourselves, or create small charms of protection for the upcoming year.
What are your Imbolg traditions? Will you try anything new this year?
Resources for Imbolg
La Fheill Brighde — Tairis — Tairis is an amazing resource for Gaelic Recon, do take time to explore the other articles and projects for Imbolg posted here.