If you want to celebrate and honor Imbolc, knowing its symbols can be a great plus! With this article, I will share with you the main symbols of Imbolc and why they are so strongly connected to this specific time of the pagan year!
What do the symbols stand for?
Imbolc, Oimelc or Imbolg is a term of uncertain origin: Imbolc could derive from Imb-folc, meaning “great rain” as in many Celtic countries, this date is also called the “Rain Festival”. Oimelc means “in the milk”, while Imbolg or ‘in the sack’ refers to the womb of Mother Earth, and the term recalls the seeds germinating under the earth that will sprout as soon as the first rains arrive.
Imbolc is the festival of light that begins to manifest with the lengthening of the days even though it is still winter. While waiting for spring, nature begins to show the first symptoms of awakening.
Therefore, we take this time to celebrate this rebirth and transformation, the ideal moment to begin a new life cycle. It is time to share projects, aspirations and dreams.
A list of symbols for Imbolc
Giving birth, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, an illuminating presence. These are all idioms that remind us of how fundamental the element of light is to humans. The sun gives light and life, which is precisely its symbolic meaning: life, which can be understood literally as a flower that needs light to live, but also in a metaphorical sense, as hope or as a goal to aim for.
What has made light a metaphysical object is its ability to illuminate, therefore to show and reveal things without ever being seen. The effect that light has on our life is fundamental to our existence.
The ability of light to illuminate concrete objects while being invisible is representative of our ability to see reality and ‘see’ our inner thoughts and knowledge.
The Snowdrop is a plant belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family. Its flower appears pendulous and is a delicate white color with cream shades. Its flowering period is from the end of January to mid-March both in the natural and cultivated environments. The scientific name of the Snowdrop is Galanthus nivalis (from the Greek “gala” which means milk and “anthos” which means flower) while the adjective “nivalis” (which derives from Latin) translates to “like snow”.
The Snowdrop is also called “Morning Star” precisely because it is the first flower that appears at the end of winter when the earth is often covered with a thin layer of snow. A legend tells that when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, they wandered through a barren, dark and cold land until an angel pitied Eve’s pain and blew snowflakes that turned into flowers as soon as they hit the ground. Those flowers gave Eve hope.
From this legend, the snowdrop became a symbol of life and hope. In the language of flowers, in addition to the meaning of life and hope, it also assumes that of virtue and optimism. That’s the reason why they are often used as a wedding decoration.
One of the most common customs associated with Imbolc and the Goddess Brigid is the making of Brigid’s Cross, also known as the Star of Bride. The Bride’s cross derives from an ancient solar symbol, the four arms representing the sun’s rays radiating in the four sacred directions. Brigid is also a goddess of the sun, goddess of light that grows in the world, warming the earth and stimulating the lifeblood.
As a sacred symbol to the Goddess Brigid (or Bridge, or Bride), the cross represents the wheel of the year according to some, the four faces of the Goddess according to others: the Virgin, the Mother, The Witch and the Crone.
As we have seen, Brigid is a complex goddess, a Great Goddess whose scope encompasses all of creation. Among her various aspects, she is also the goddess of crossroads, able to see where we come from and where the different possibilities of life may lead us. The arms of the cross would thus indicate the different paths that open up before us when we find ourselves at a turning point. The four arms branch out along the four sacred directions.
Imbolc is also known as the “milk festival” since the celebration coincides with the first flowering of milk in the sheep’s udders, about a month before the lambing season. This subtle signal of the return of fertility was the first in a series of events that heralded the flourishing of life on earth and, for the tribe, signaled the urgency to begin a new cycle of activity. The name Imbolc derives from “m(b)lig” (milk) and roughly means “lactation”. The festival was also called Oimec (Oimealg in modern form), a term that derives from the ancient Celtic “Ouimelko” (sheep’s milk).
This is the most intimate festival of the entire sacred year. Inside the palisades surrounding the “caer”, closed in the snow-covered huts and gathered around the hot and crackling fire, the Celts listened to the stories of their clan, paying homage to the Goddess as they prepared for the awakening of the world.
A statue of Brigid
Brigid was the goddess honored in Celtic Europe (also known as Brighid or Brigantia). She was considered the goddess of Fire, she was the patroness of blacksmiths, poets and healers. Her name derives from “breo” (fire): the fire of the forge that combined with artistic inspiration and healing energy. She was the daughter of the great god Dagda (counterpart of Athena). For the Celtic people, poetry was sacred, and magic and rituals grew from a simple composition of verses. Even the ability to work metals was considered a magical craft.
There are also many mysteries surrounding healing in Celtic mythology, including hanging cloth or ribbons from trees. This practice is done primarily by farmers to protect their cattle and in some instances, their family from particular diseases. These ribbons are hung near Brigid springs scattered all across the British Isles.
This goddess had several sacred tools that included the spinning wheel, representing the rotating center of the Cosmos the wheel of the year and the wheel that spins our destinies. There is also the cup, which is a symbol of the womb of the goddess from which all things originate, and a mirror, a classic instrument of divination that symbolizes the “other world” that goddesses like Brigid had access to.
How to use these symbols?
- To decorate your altar to celebrate Imbolc
- To meditate on your intentions for this pagan festivity
- To create a stronger connection with the elements associated with this holiday
- To chant a prayer for this holiday
- To customize your witchy practice using the energy of the symbols
- To attract specific blessings coming from the Imbolc energy