The Light Returns…Imbolc.

In Garden, Ireland on February 1, 2012 at 12:09 am

Spring is here!  Imbolc, one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar, marks the start of the farming year. Imbolc is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly”, this indicates the readiness of the Earth “to give birth”. to life again in the Springtime. We are enlivened by the lenghtening days and the stirrings in the land. The welcome return of the life giving forces. It is a time to come out of our Winter hibernation. Leave behind the darkness and our Winter contemplations. The light returns!

The abundance of Summer is not far off. Gardeners are powerless to resist the urge to till the land and plant seeds. These are rituals which are rooted in the ancient ways. Revel in them.

To the Romans this time of year, halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox was known as Lupercalia. It was a celebration of Spring and also partly in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romolus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The focal point of the festival was the Lupercal, the cave in which this nurturing took place. William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caeser begins during Lupercalia.

Here in Ireland February 1st is also the feast of St. Brigid. Brigid was the daughter of a pagan chieftain and the patron saint of cattle and dairy. Cows in her care were said to produce more milk than all others. Brigid had a very generous nature and much to her Father’s displeasure she gave most of the produce away. She is also reputed to have been the best mead and ale maker in Ireland. She is thought to have converted to Christianity and used rushes to make small crosses which carry her name to this day. St. Brigid’s crosses are thought to protect the house from fire. A new one is usually made each year. The tradition of making the crosses is still very much alive and most children in primary schools will make them at this time.

Brigid was also known as the Keeper of the Sacred Flame, signifying once again the return of light, the return of the sun,  hence the practice of lighting candles around this time. Of course when Christianity came the old Pagans festivals were outlawed and given new focus in Church activities. Imbolc became Candlemas. However in recent years people are once again returning to their roots and giving new life to these ancient festival times. Long may it continue!

Happy Imbolc, St. Bridgid’s Day or Candlemas. The light returns!

  1. Love the inspiration this blog brings! My husband and I live in Los Angeles and daydream about living a more natural, balanced life….

  2. Hello Bridget;

    I am able to visit my great-grandmother’s surroundings whenever I read your writing. Hopefully I will someday be fortunate enough to visit Ireland and stay long enough to discover its many splendors personally.

    I love your blog and wanted you to know that I have added you to my suggested reading list on the Gardens Inspired sidebar.

  3. my grandmother emigrated to the US from Gort in 1919. when she was 19…(how about all those 19s!) Whenever I read your blog, I remember her brogue and stories she told of life in the old country. She would have loved this post. Thank you for sharing the Irish traditions and history. She would have loved this post.

  4. I had never heard of St Brigid’s story– I enjoyed it so much! But I will choose to remember her as pagan. Very nice snowdrops.

  5. Thanks for the many information you gave us. This is the first time i heard or read this, i only know about Romulus and Remus but not Lupa or Lupercal. Thank you so much. And i love the shape of that bottle for bulb flowering. Flower forcing is not a common practice here because we don’t have winter, we just allow the plants on their own during their dormancy.

  6. Oh! And congrats on being awarded the Versatile Blogger award! You deserve it. 🙂

  7. What a lovely post! 🙂 I’ve read elsewhere Brigid is also associated with the healing of eyes (via water from her wells), and with blacksmiths and wordsmiths. She is one of my favorites, combining strength and compassion. 🙂 Happy Imbolc!

  8. I have read a lot about Celtic culture, and I very much appreciate your post here. St. Brigid is a fave of mine…I like the song, Gabhain Molta Bhride…so hauntingly beautiful.

  9. I can see the sun starting to creep further into my back garden but it is so bitterly cold here today it is hard to think about Spring. I’m hoping this cold spell doesn’t last too long. I do like hearing about these ancient traditions and celebrations, we’ve become so out of step with nature.

    I just wanted to thank you for your previous post on Fracking. Wellyman is studying an OU degree and needs to do a project this year and he’s chosen Fracking as the subject. I forwarded on the link you posted and it has been really useful for him.

  10. I love this post. I actually still celebrate Candlemas day as the day to take down the greens in the house. One of the old traditions (superstitions) is that greens can’t be cut and brought in before Christmas Eve (although of course I do so with my Christmas tree but never with my holly, which has the most supstitions associated with it) and then they must be left up until Candlemas day. I still have pieces of my cut tree in a vase–they’ve held up amazingly well–and they’ll come down tomorrow which is when we celebrate Candlemas day here.

    It’s gotten all muddled up with Groundhog day, although I’ve noticed no one seems to care this year because it’s been so mild and snowless.

    And in the church, it’s also the feast of St. Blase, or the blessing of the throats. Because no one goes to daily Mass anymore (or so few do) the blessing was held last weekend for convenience. Poor St. Brigid is hardly mentioned, although she is the patron of the school and church where I work!


    • Nice one! I love hearing about the different traditions too. I think people are becoming reconnected to the old knowledge and ways again.

  11. I can sense Spring in the air these latest days and I am very pleased to read that ancient people (romans, celtics or whatever) felt the same at the same moment of the year. This celebration is a kind of ‘keep going folks’! 🙂

  12. An interesting post Bridget it is good to remember these ancient festivals

  13. Love those big fat clumps of snowdrops—that’s spring to me.

  14. Oh, how fabulous to know the old ways.
    Here in Canada we have Groundhog Day…if the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow…or doesn’t …either way Spring will be in six weeks!!
    Jane x

  15. Hi Arignagardener,
    I have awarded you the Versatile Blog Award. Please visit to accept it and see the rules. I hope you will do so. Thank You, KL

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I love learning about the “old ways”. I’ve just lit a beautiful tulip candle in celebration. walk in beauty.

  17. Yes…Officially Spring is here NOW!
    La Le Brid! We put a white piece of cloth hanging outside the window and it is suppose to have healing properties!
    Thank you for confirming that it IS SPRING, ArignaGardener 🙂

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