01 February 2012 a post by Steve Hollinghurst

Reflections and rituals for Imbolc

Reflections and rituals for Imbolc 1st February and it’s season - The season of simplicity – Spring: the season of awakening. Also the feast of St Brigid and the festival of Candlemas

Imbolc is one of the four Celtic fire festivals that mark the passing of the seasons as the wheel of the year turns. The 1st of February marks the turn from winter into spring. It is also much like a cycle of the seasons of life; winter is the time of old age and of death but spring the time of youth and new birth.

The snowdrop if for us perhaps one of the symbols of this festival, a delicate pure white flower pushing up trough frozen ground, delicate yet amazingly strong. In recent years the snowdrops in my garden have been seen in snow, on the eve of Imbolc, this year though, there was no snow on the ground. Some hung in the air as I looked for the signs of spring in my garden and took some photos. As well as the snowdrops, a winter cherry was beginning to shed its blossom whilst crocuses also were emerging and a laurel was coming into flower. A Robin’s red breast could be seen behind the buds emerging on a currant bush as he and the blue tits sang in the late winter morning. The psalmist spoke of creation praising God and the song of the birds seems to be one of the greatest of such songs of praise, perhaps only matched by the versatility and passion of the human voice? We too made female and male in the divine image are beings of praise and wonder.

snow drops

In our modern lives our world still depends, as our ancestors knew, on the sun. Its warmth and the seasons still affect our economies and lives in spite of central heating and greenhouse food. Spring is coming with new life and vigour.

If you have not yet done so find time in the next few days to go and look for the signs of spring in a garden or park and take time to wonder at the marvel of the seasons, that bulbs buried deep bring forth new life and trees with bare branches come into bud. We get too used to the seasons and perhaps too remote from them in our age and in doing so lose the childhood wonder at the discovery of the world around us. Brian Mclaren calls this spring season the season of simplicity because it is so much about allowing that childhood wonder to be re-kindled. The world is amazing, life is amazing, you are amazing. It is time to celebrate that

Fire and light are also symbols of this season, reminding us of the suns growth as we head towards the spring equinox when the days become longer than the nights at mid-spring. If days can be enjoyed looking at the signs of spring nights remain cold and darkness still comes early in the northern hemisphere. Below are some quotations, prayers and reflections for dark evenings before the fire and with a candle lit.

A candle lighting ritual for the season of Imbolc and candlemas

If you have a real fire you may wish to light and use it to light the candle – St Brigid carried on a pre-Christian tradition of lighting a sacred fire which burned continually in her monastery. Foolishly a Norman bishop once put it out, scared of its Pagan connotations only to find the locals re-lit it. Sadly the protestant reformers succeeded where that bishop failed, they too fearing ritual and mysticism and put its light out permanently. May the lighting of fires and candles during this season be about turning not only from the darkness of winter to the light of spring, but also from the darkness of ignorance to the light of understanding and the darkness of fear to the light of trust and love.

The directions are in italics and words for the ritual are in normal text

With your back to the candle face the north
God of the north and the winter months
We thank you for keeping us safe and fed
and giving us wisdom

Facing west
God of the west, sun-setting and autumn
We thank you for your presence with us this night
And for giving us the fruits of the earth

Facing south
God of the south and the summer months
We thank you for the gift of the sun and its life
And for all who have loved us like mothers and fathers

Facing east
God of the east sun-rising and springtime
We thank for the gift of new life
And for the hope and joy of your spirit within us

Turn and light the candle
Bless this light that it may banish the darkness
Light a fire in our hearts that eternally may burn
Let Brigid’s light burn in us and give us compassion
Let Christ’s light guide us and show us your path
Let us reject ignorance for understanding
Fear for trust and love
And seek always justice and peace for all creation
May all be one in your light, now and forever.

With the candle lit spend some time in reflection and prayer. You may wish to use some of the thoughts below

Some further reflections for the season


The Spring quarter of Imbolc brings the gift of insight and inspiration and is a time of beginnings and essential truthfulness.  Begun in the dark and often icy days of early spring it is traditionally the time to appreciate innocence, truth and justice, to make resolutions and plans and to prepare for the enfolding year. In the human growth cycle Imbolc corresponds to the period of childhood when all things are questioned or enjoyed for their own sake. Imbolc is a good time to celebrate the lives of all ‘soul-midwives’ who have taught and prepared us, all who have been upholders of justice and truth, all holy ones who have gone to the heart fo the matter with great clarity and insight.
Caitlin Matthews, A Celtic Devotional p45


Many of us have memories of when our spiritual lives first came alive – the season of our ‘first love’. For example, in those initial months after my expereince under the stars, I felt the bible speak to me as never before. The simplest word or phrase would stir my soul…..

…..We (a group of Christian friends) seemed to ‘live and move and have our being’ in the holy glow of God’s presence. It was spiritual springtime, and we assumed it would never end.
Spring is an amazing mixture of fragility and vitality. Each new sprout is delicate, but what can compare with the combined power of millions of leaves bursting out, drawing energy from the sun? The first season on the spiritual life similarly combines tenderness and toughness as tiny seeds sprout and display the magnificent power of life and growth….

…..So what are the important and essential lessons of simplicity…? Those questions lead us to the first three practices of naked spirituality: awakening, gratitude and awe.
Brian McLaren, Naked Spiritulaity p37-39

The ideas of Childhood and Spring resonate – it is a season of awakening, of gratitude and wonder – the issue of truth and justice may be compared to another theme that is raised in this season in Naked Spirituality the tendency to think in dualistic terms, good and bad, in and out and identify with a group who are the ‘good guys’ and to look for charismatic leadership to supply the ‘right answers’ – this is part of that childhood simplicity but also a danger to be grown out of. Dualistic thinking is strongly rejected by Pagans and often seen as a product of monotheism and to be expected of Christians – so is there a childhood tendency to this regardless of faith path? Is it perhaps seen for new Pagans in devotion to particular leaders and infighting between those of different paths? Perhaps also in negative attitudes to the monotheistic faiths? Do all of us have to face these issues to grow?  Some of the Solar questions for this season in Celtic Devotional suggest this may be so – and in seeking the good of others and all creation this may be addressed.

Saint Brigid

Brigid like many Celtic saints was also a continuation of a tradition surrounding a Pagan deity. In this way the Celtic church honoured the wisdom they found and yet also wove in the story of Christ’s transformation of life and creation. The lives of the saints are an interweaving of these stories to create an indigenous faith.

Brigit the goddess was perhaps initially a triple deity of music, healing and art but eventually became one figure associated with all three, and also with the Imbolc fire.  Brigid also embodied these and was especially associated with healing. She also was close to nature – one story tells of a boar who ran into a herd of pigs at her monastery and in its rage looked like doing great harm until Brigid spoke to it and made it calm, she then blessed the animal who stayed there happily a while before departing.

Brigit ran a co-monastery of monks and nuns at Kildare in Ireland – the site chosen under a druid sacred oak, another sign of her connection to Pagan tradition and that she did not fear it. in some accounts she was also ordained as a bishop in her capacity as leader of both communities at Kildare.

Brigid is said to have travelled to Wales on a floating piece of Irish soil – and in Wales became known as San Ffraid – in England she is known as St Bride.

Her feast on 1st February is often marked by making the Brigid cross out of reeds

This link is to a site telling you how this can be done – perhaps a practice for Imbolc eve by candle light to welcome in the spring and also to reflect on Brigid’s message of hope healing and reconciliation between men and women and people and creation. http://fisheaters.com/stbrigidscross.html

A traditional prayer for St Brigid’s day
You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those who are troubled and anxious,
and may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness in mind, body and spirit.

Three words/practices for the three months of Imbolc inspired by Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality and reflection on the season of Imbolc.

Here – February
The practice of invocation and presentation: awakening to the presence of God.

Time to acknowledge life in the present, near to home, small things new life. Time to be aware of the divine life in all things. Time to listen for the divine spark in your self and others around you. Seek to see the divine presence in those not like you also for all life springs from God. Time to be aware of the holding of all creation and it’s nurture by God

Thanks - March
The practice of gratitude and appreciation: awakening to the goodness of God

Be aware of the giftedness of life – of food, clothing, warmth, light, of other creatures and people. Seek to live simply and oppose greed and injustice, work for the good of others and creation. Be thankful for what others have taught you and given you. Give thanks to God the source of all life and the generous giver of gifts.

O! – April
The practice of worship and awe: awakening to the beauty and joy of God

Spend time stopping to reflect on things that amaze in the natural world. Reflect on how much bigger it all is that you can conceive and how small our understanding is of this world and the divine love that surrounds it. Remember that our judgements are at best only partial and practice generosity to others who may see things differently. Take time with others and alone to celebrate, dance, eat and drink and be aware of the great joy of simply being alive. Take time also in silence and wonder, be still.


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