Imbolc, pronounced IMM-molk, means “from the belly of the mother” due to its proximity to lambing season, when livestock animals produce abundant milk and birth many new babies.
Imbolc marks the beginning of Spring. It is the first of four fire festivals during the Wheel of the Year, celebrated by Pagans, Wiccans, and non-religious or spiritual collectives alike. Dating as far back as the 10th century, Imbolc is celebrated on 2 February, though the date may sometimes vary depending on weather and geographic location.
Imbolc is a time for anticipating new life, making way for new beginnings, and welcoming the Sun’s return. With Spring coming soon, most of us are planting seeds and getting our gardens tilled for new harvests.
It is also time to honour St. Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Light and Illumination, of Home and Hearth, of Fire and Protection. Brigid was also a poet, clairvoyant, weaponsmith, midwife, a celebrated herbal healer, and teacher of herbcraft/ wildcraft. As a certified (yet still new) Herbalist myself, I am intrigued by her legend.
My song for this entry is “T” by iamamiwhoami because this video is full of Imbolc imagery and symbolism for Brigid’s light bearing season. “Brigid” emerges from the darkness and slowly begins to spread light while her body seeps some sort of milk or pollen (new life/midwifery).
She finds and filters pollutants (healer) in the environment and turns it into a (goddess) crown and armor (weapons), gaining momentum until it turns her body black. Then she returns to the depths from where she started this light-bringing cycle. Wiccans/Pagans will likely make this easy connection to the Sun God cycle.
Foods of the Season
Shortly before Yule last year, my friend in Georgia brought me several branches of Georgia Pine (aka Pinus palustris) from her home. I used the fresh needles to make infused salt and a pine vinegar that can be used in place of balsamic vinaigrette.
Both were easy to make. For the vinegar, just fill a mason jar with clean pine needles, add any herbs you like, pour organic apple cider vinegar to the top, and seal the jar. Shake every day for six weeks and keep it in a cool pantry or cabinet.
For the salt, start by filling a small organza bag with clean pine needles that have either been cut, ground lightly, or snapped in half. Tie the bag together completely so the needles do not fall out.
Fill a large mason jar about 1/3 full of organic Himalayan pink sea salt and add a teaspoon of red chili flakes. Grate the peel from two oranges and broadly slice five cloves of garlic. Drop the orange peelings and garlic slices in the salt, then add the tied bag of pine needles.
Keep this jar sealed and shake the hell out of it for a couple minutes twice a day to keep any damp bits coated in salt. In my experience, any moisture is quickly dried out by the salt, so you should not have to worry about mold unless your jar is not sealed properly.
For this year’s Imbolc Sabbat, my ladies convened once again for dinner and quality time. We were a little early for this one due to some heavy schedules coming up. When preparing the meal, I used balsamic and pine vinegar to marinate chicken before grilling it.
To symbolically anticipate and welcome the sun, it is common to make bright yellow, orange, or red foods and to set your table with lots of bright “sunny” light.
I made Moroccan-style barley with curry, cumin, paprika, and other spices then dressed it with chopped Medjool dates and sliced almonds in a loose Sun God pattern.
Winter months typically mean relying on previous seasons’ canned goods, and foods for Imbolc include seeds, and dried vegetables and fruits.
Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, radishes, parsnips, beets, onions, garlic, carrots, and rutabaga are more durable than spring and summer crops, and are absolutely perfect for fresh choices in colder months.
I cut up a variety of root vegetables and coated them in some herbed EVO oil my mother made for me as a gift, plus lots of marjoram, oregano, black pepper, and minced garlic. Lightly cover the pan of veggies with aluminum foil so they can roast longer without scorching.
I used bacon fat to sauté freshly-snapped green beans then squeezed lemon juice over them when they were finished.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is always my go-to cake for Imbolc because it combines fresh, crisp lemon and dried poppy seeds with dairy staples like butter, eggs, and cream.
I always use coconut oil or butter in my cakes, and I use fresh-squeezed lemonade in place of water for the batter. If you are using a boxed mix (no shame) you will want to use a bit more lemonade than pure water when measuring ingredients.
For my vanilla buttercream I whip a stick of butter in the mixer, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for one minute. Stop the mixer, add three tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 more cup of powdered sugar, cover the mixer with a towel, and mix slowly for another 3-5 minutes.
From there I experiment with some secret ingredients and different flavour combinations, but the important part is to add the powdered sugar SLOWLY and mix it slowly. You may mix longer or add more cream to your preference.
Covering your mixer with a towel is optional, but wise. In my past bakery experience, I quickly learned that this will prevent the blades from throwing out all over you and your kitchen, but live on the edge if you like.
Tradition says that you should throw a piece of cake (or Bannock) over your shoulder to honour Brigid and return a little to the land, and that another small piece should be kept in the cupboard or pantry until the next Sabbat to symbolize abundance and never being empty.
Best I could do was accidentally fling some off my plate in a moment of excited conversation, and I tried to save a slice for my boyfriend but ended up eating most of it because it is just THAT good.
Recently I learned that Colcannon, an Irish dish I make often and can not get enough of, has been a traditional meal served during Imbolc since the 1700s. You can check out my recipe here.
Another one of my favourite Imbolc-appropriate treats are my mother’s iced lemon cookies. She created her own recipe that includes cornbread in the batter instead of basic flour, and she uses fresh lemon juice for both the cookies and the icing.
Maybe some day she will give me her recipe, but until then I wait in anticipation of the next batch.
On the eve of, or the day after Imbolc, I like to make a soup of chicken, parsnips, rosemary, lemon, and other vegetables on hand. This works especially well for using up leftovers from the Sabbat dinner.
After dinner, we played a delightful board game called WildCraft. The premise of the game is that you are visiting your grandparents, who have been teaching you about medicinal herbs you can find in the woods.
Grandma sends you up the mountain one morning to gather bushels of huckleberries and promises to make you a pie if you all get home before dark. The game is witchy, Pagan-friendly, teaches basic Herbalism, and focuses on values like helping others and teamwork.
We had so many factors against us. For example, every time you land on an X, you must suffer some type of injury or affliction, then collect the proper herb needed to heal. It gets dark really fast, and you can get washed away by surprise waterfalls like it’s nothing.
Some really crazy shit happened in those woods, but we managed to regroup and get back to grandma’s house in the nick of time, between bouts of embarrassingly loud heehaw laughter interlaced with adult humour. This game was hilarious in ways it probably does not intend to be, and I can not wait to play it again.
If you prefer to celebrate on your own or to do so after a social gathering, take a milk bath with fresh lemons and rosemary.
Ask yourself what it is that you need to hear or find, and ask the Universe to put these aspects in place to cross your path. Blessed Imbolc!
Coming up next on the Wheel of the Year is Ostara, also known as Eostre.