Imbolc - Candlemas

"Early on Bride's morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me."
(Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael, Lindisfarne Press pg.583)


The ancient Lunar fire festival Brigid occurs on February 2nd, it is also called Imbolg which means "around the belly" in ancient Irish. This title refers to the womb of the mother earth as the land or soil. It is a festival of waxing light and purification, heralding the potential of spring. Brigid (also called Brid (pronounced 'breed') Bride, Bridhe or Bridget) was such a beloved goddess that a festival was held in her honor. Brigid was embraced most by the Celtic Irish, and is one of the few ancient deities to survive well in modern times as St. Brigid. In Ireland, her popularity rivals that of St. Patrick.

Brigid was seen as a maiden goddess, and in some Scottish stories, she is rescued from the Cailleach (Hag) of winter by her lover Angus. This symbolic story recognizes the first hints of spring and the new quickening of nature's energy's after the winter's sleep.

Even though Imbolc occurs at the coldest time of the year, it marks the time at which days become noticeably longer. Oimelc, an alternative name for this festival, means "sheep milk", as this is the lambing season.

Rituals included re-lighting the Brigid fire which was the sacred fire at Cill Dara (Kildare), the Church of the Oak. At one time the fire was tended by nineteen priestesses and later a group of Catholic nuns.

The celebration signals the middle of the season of long nights and anticipates the upcoming season of light. Celebrants would make Corn Maidens from corn and wheat. The Maidens are dressed up and placed in a cradle known as a "Bride's Bed," as Bride or Brid was another name for Brigid. A wand, usually tipped with an acorn or other large seed, is placed in the bed with the Maiden. The Maidens are generally kept year round as a symbol of fertility.

Imbolc traditions center around light and purification. Candles may be lit in each room of a house to honor the returning sun, or in each window from sundown on Candlemas Eve (February 1st) until dawn. This is an appropriate time to cleanse or bless your house, to seek inspiration, and to purify yourself of limiting thoughts and negative attitudes. Dairy foods are particular appropriate to eat on this festival of calving and lambing.

The Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. In which candles are lit at midnight as a symbol of purification (hence the common name for this day, Candlemas). It celebrates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Modern parallels of Imbolg occur in many cultures; these parallels include, Ground Hog's Day (USA), Aztec New Year, Chinese New Year, Roman Lupercalia, Valentine's Day (USA), and Armenian Candlemas.

Valentine's Day

The history of Valentine's Day and its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

Today's celebration of Valentine's Day grew out of a tradition that began many years ago in ancient Rome. A Roman feast of Lupercalia was celebrated on February 15. This ancient festival involved the celebration of fertility and honored two Roman gods, Juno and Pan. One of the conventions of this occasion called for young maidens to write love messages. The messages were placed in a large urn and then drawn out by unmarried men who courted the fair maidens whose messages they had chosen.

Although the truth behind the legend of St. Valentine is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure.

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine's death or burial, which probably occurred around 270 A.D, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to christianize celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young, single men in his crop of potential soldiers.
Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Another legend states that Valentine actually sent the first valentine's greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who may have been his jailor's daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'from your Valentine' an expression that is still in use today.

Pope Celasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman lottery system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed.

Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season. Taking a cue from the birds it became customary for lovers to exchange greetings and gifts on that special day in early springtime.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women.

In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

© Gabrielle Diana Laney