Radiant Tree © Viktoria Heard
Imbolc – the coming of the light. Photo: Radiant Tree © Viktoria H
February 1st marks Imbolc. A time to celebrate the coming of the light.

Falling between the winter solstice, when the days are at their shortest, and the spring equinox, when day and night are of equal length, the festival of Imbolc marks the halfway point to spring and the return of the light in the northern hemisphere.

Probably deriving from the Old Irish I molg, “in the belly,” Imbolc is generally thought to be connected with the start of the lambing season. Cows’ milk would not have been available until late spring, so sheep milk provided people with important nutrients at a time of year when food supplies were often scarce. Therefore the beginning of the season of the lactation of ewes was a cause for much celebration.

The festival has long been connected with the fire goddess Brigit, pagan goddess of poetry and smithcraft, possessed of the powers of divination and healing. She later became known as the Christian St Brigid in Ireland and St Bride in Scotland. St Brigid was the patroness of sheep and was associated with holy wells. In parts of Ireland and the British Isles February 1st is still celebrated as St Brigid’s day.

In Scottish folklore, Imbolc is the time of year when Cailleach, the old woman of winter, drinks from the Well of Youth and metamorphoses into Bride, who, with her white wand, heralds the growth and regeneration of spring. A “bridie doll” of corn is left by the hearthside with offerings of bread and milk to ask for protection and abundance, and candles are lit to celebrate the return of the light and lengthening of the days.

This is an excerpt from The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies.