The Sabbat of Imbolg

IMBOLG (FEB 2)

A. HISTORY
Imbolg is the Celtic name for the first Sabbat of the Wiccan faith, as well as some others who fall under the generic name of "witches". Imbolg is often known by other names, such as Candlemas, Brigid's Day, and a host of others. "Imbolg (pronounced `immol'g', with a slight un-stressed vowel between the `l' and the `g') which means `in the belly'. It is the quickening of the year, the first fetal stirrings of Spring in the womb of Mother Earth. Like all the Celtic Greater Sabbats, it is a fire festival-but here the emphasis is on light rather than heat, the strengthening spark of light beginning to pierce the gloom of Winter." (The Witches Bible Complete, hereafter abbreviated to WBC, pg.61-62)

Brigid is a classic example of a pagan deity Christianized with little attempt to hide the fact- or, as Frazer put in the Golden Bough (p.177, approx.), she is "an old heathen goddess of fertility, disguised in a threadbare Christian cloak". The historical St. Brigid lived from about AD 453-523; but her legends, characteristics, and holy places are those of the Goddess Bride, and many folk customs surrounding her Day are decidedly pre-Christian. Most are definitely fertility rituals, including the Brigid's (pronounced Breed's) Bed. This ritual includes dressing up grain, usually three ears of corn (symbolizing the three aspects of the Goddess) or the last harvested sheaf of wheat (supposed to contain the spirit of the grain Goddess) as a bride and putting her in a basket representing a bed with some symbol of the God, in hopes of promoting fertility.

In ancient Rome, February was cleansing time- Februarius mensis, the month of ritual purification. At its beginning came the Lupercalia, when the Luperci (the priests of Pan, who was a fertility god) ran through the streets of Rome naked except for a goatskin girdle and carrying goatskin thongs. With these, they struck everybody who passed, and in particular married women, in hopes of making them fertile. This holiday survived until about 600 AD.

The tradition of February cleansing is still strong even today. Who has not heard of the concept of spring-cleaning? There are even traditions still present that it must be completed by the Spring Equinox or bad luck will follow. The evergreens of the Yuletide season {which traditionally must not be removed before Candlemas or hobgoblins/witches/bad luck -pick your tradition- will haunt you} are burned at this time. This is symbolic of getting rid of the past year and preparing for the new. See "Magical Household" for notes on spring-cleaning. (My foster mother owns a cleaning service and has an extensive list of a full home spring clean. Call up any cleaning service of good repute and see if you can get them to part with a list of all they do for a Spring Clean.)

B. THE ALTAR

1. SYMBOLS OF THE SEASON, SUCH AS REPRESENTATIONS OF SNOWFLAKES, WHITE FLOWERS, OR SNOW IN A CRYSTAL CONTAINER CAN BE ON THE ALTAR. SNOW CAN BE MELTED AND USED FOR THE WATER. Solar wheel on the altar asks for the wheel of the year to continue to turn.
2. CAULDRON SHOULD BE IN THE NORTH QUADRANT OF THE CIRCLE WITH FIREWOOD LAID WITHIN. THE BESOM (WITCHES' BROOM) SHOULD BE BESIDE IT. Alternately, cauldron can be filled with earth. Unlit candles, one for each covener and guest are piled beside it. One candle stands upright at the center of the cauldron.
3. ALTAR CLOTH AND CANDLES SHOULD BE BROWN, SYMBOLIZING THE
EARTH. ALTERNATELY, THERE CAN BE AN ORANGE CANDLE, SYMBOLIZING THE RENEWING VITALITY OF THE SUN AND ANOINTED WITH MUSK, CINNAMON, FRANKINCENSE OR ROSEMARY OIL ON THE ALTAR. Alternate colors: white, green and white, or blue.

5. CROWN OF LIGHT (CROWN OF CANDLES OR LIGHTS) ON ALTAR. See
"Sabbats"by Eddain McCoy p.89 for how to make a Candle Wheel.

6. Have ready grain dollies. There are several techniques for
making them. See "Spell Crafts", "Sabbats", "Ancient Ways" p. 8.
Remember that they should be "dressed" as brides. Have a priapic wand (or the dominant male's wand suitably decorated) ready.

C. RITUALS
1. PURIFICATION OF HOMES AFTER SHUT-IN WINTER. Also, sweeping out of circle using besom. Each of the members are also invited to "sweep out" that which they do not need in their lives. The besom may be passed from covener to covener to help them fulfill this task.

2. FIRES OF ILLUMINATION, WARMTH, INSPIRATION, AND LIGHT. See "Spiral Dance" p. 174 for a fire ritual using candles and cauldron filled with earth. Each covener takes a candle and visualizes what inspiration and creativity they wish in the coming season. Then one by one, they put their candle in the cauldron. Circle power is grounded into the cauldron to fuel the visualizations into reality.

3. CROWNS OF LIT CANDLES ON FEMALE WICCANS
4. TRADITIONAL TIME OF INITITATION
5. IT IS TRADITIONAL AT SUNSET OR AFTER RITUAL, TO LIGHT EVERY
LAMP IN THE HOUSE IF ONLY FOR A FEW MINUTES. ALTERNATELY, LIGHT A KEROSENE LAMP OR OIL LAMP WITH A RED CHIMNEY AND PLACE THIS IN A PROMINENT PART OF THE HOME OR IN A WINDOW. We have a fun thing we do with the kids. We darken the house entirely for a few minutes, then have every child running about turning on all the lights. This allows them to dissipate all the energy they built up during ritual.

6. IF SNOW LIES ON THE GROUND OUTSIDE, WALK IN IT FOR A MOMENT,
RECALLING THE WARMTH OF SUMMER. WITH YOUR PROJECTIVE HAND, TRACE AN IMAGE OF THE SUN IN THE SNOW.

7. FOODS- DAIRY PRODUCTS SUCH AS SOUR CREAM SHOULD BE PROMINENT SINCE THIS IS THE FESTIVAL OF CALVING. SPICY AND FULL-BODIED FOODS IN HONOR OF THE GOD. CURRIES AND ALL DISHES MADE WITH PEPPERS, ONIONS, LEEKS, SHALLOTS, GARLIC, CHIVES, RAISINS

8. DRINKS- SPICED WINES, spiced dessert coffees especially Irish coffee

9. BURN ALL EVERGREENS WHICH HAVE ADORNED THE HOUSE, INCLUDING A BRANCH OF THE FIR TREE (IF YOU USED A REAL TREE). BE CAREFUL, THEY ARE VERY DRY. If you are lucky enough to have a place where you can burn the whole thing, feel free. I gather all my evergreen decorations in a large laundry tub and feed the fire slowly. Resinous trees like pine burn very hot.

10. MAKE A BRIDE'S BED WITH ONE OF THE CORN DOLLIES YOU MADE LAST FALL. DRESS THE DOLL IN BRIDAL ATTIRE, THEN PLACE HER IN A BASKET OR ON A SQUARE OF WHITE LINEN. LAY THE PRIAPIC WAND ACOSS HER TO FORM AN "X". LIGHT CANDLES, ONE ON EACH SIDE OF THE BRIDE'S BED. AFTER RITUAL, EXTINGUISH THE CANDLES. LEAVE ALL THIS SET UP OVERNIGHT. IN THE MORNING, HANG THE BRIDE UP ON or near THE FRONT DOOR, WHERE IT MAY REMAIN UNTIL SAMHIAN. RETURN THE DOLL TO THE EARTH AT THAT TIME.

D. SYMBOLISM
1. MARKS THE RECOVERY OF THE GODDESS AFTER GIVING BIRTH TO THE GOD. THE SUN (THE GOD) WARMS THE EARTH (THE GODDESS) AND THE LENGTHENING PERIODS OF LIGHT AWAKEN HER AND SEEDS BEGIN TO SPROUT. See story of "Snow White" and "Rapunzel" told in "Ancient
Ways" p.12
2. SABBAT OF PURIFICATION AFTER THE SHUT-IN LIFE OF WINTER
3. FESTIVAL OF LIGHT AND FERTILITY

RECIPES
1. See recipes p.97 in "Sabbats". Leek Soup, or Chili is best choice to feed a crowd. I have found a Mexican festival works really well here.

Notes:
1. for February 14, see "Magical Household" p.138. Good stuff!
Especially note it is time to plant lettuce and peas in many areas of the country. .

I also garden, and this is also the time of year for certain projects for the garden, if they have not been done last fall, and the blessing of the seeds, which I place under the altar immediately after Imbolg to gather energy until the seed blessing ritual done at Eostar. (This also gives the little buggers time to warm after storage in my refrigerator to protect them since last spring.) I buy a box of Dixie cups and the seed starting medium too, and place them under the altar too, BTW.) I *do* take the time to count back from our last frost date to make sure that Eostar is really a good time to plant some of the seeds, honest!

Next is an article written by a former professional chef on the foods and food magick of Imbolg. It is one of my favorite works. Take a bow, Grrizz!!

FOOD MAGIC # 7

For months before Yule, the sounds of talk of the coming holiday is a constant buzz. Recipes are dusted off and swapped regularly and the results of them joyfully anticipated. Before Samhain, parties, costumes and festive sweets are planned and lots of drink is stockpiled. And prior to Beltane, a smile is visible on the faces of many folk, as the eagerly awaited sweet, warm spring treats of many kinds are looked forward to, not only the culinary! Aaaaah -- the holidays!!! We do love them! As pagans, we pride ourselves in knowing how to celebrate them fully! Yes, we take every occasion to celebrate...and NEVER miss a chance to do so. Or do we?

For years now, I have been developing a place in my heart for that time of year that I think of as the "Rodney Dangerfield" of Pagan holidays. But maybe that is only fitting, as it occurs when time seems to have slowed to a creep, as if moving through air thickened by the cold and wet. This unpretentious holiday arrives and fulfills its role, caring not if we notice. It knows we will, eventually!

Imbolc - the holiday that comes deep in winter, when human minds are dulled by chilly, wet winds and the Mother is wrapped in her blanket. Few notice the first stirrings of life deep within the womb; the first signs of life from the king, the first rays of dim light from the returning Sun. Few, but not all. The kitchen witches notice as they smile and set seed plants that will one day stretch in the warm summer sun, as they discover the first few buds swelling in their yards and maybe a crocus or two that peek out above the snow. Shepherds notice, alone with flocks that most don't see. Ewes, early harbingers, deliver lambs and their breasts swell and once again, the "mother" nurtures her children through the cold.

Its the sheep that I think of, and their lambs (new and weak now) and the milk that strengthens the flock till the sun returns. Rich green grasses and herbs return. I think of the people that tended them, my ancestors - shepherds in the north of what is now called Italy - and the foods they made and depended on in this still cold season. I am grateful for those sheep -- whose wool kept my ancestors through the chill of winter and whose milk (made into rich, full cheeses) and flesh of male offspring that sustained them.

As I prepare my Imbolc meal, I think of the sheep and my ancestors. In doing so, I honor them, remembering them with respect. I look through my recipes, and recognize the history lessons they contain. I give respect by striving to learn from them, so that I may know my roots and live up to my heritage.

I attempt to do the best I can with this meal, whether feast or simple repast, to show respect and appreciation for even the most simple and unnoticed web of the world around me. I make do with what I have in this slim and humble season, that I may walk in respect and SELF-respect, knowing my place in the world and taking pride in fulfilling my dharma.

These thoughts go through my head as I plan this Imbolc meal - family, humility, respect, appreciation. Imbolc brings a thankfulness for the little things that get us through life's coldest, toughest times - a warm hearth, a full belly and loved ones to share them!

Imbolc, for us here in my little Chico, CA home, is a "quiet" celebration - not brassy and large. It's a "family" affair - of course, at this house, your never know exactly how many "family" members may show up. Katsii is one of those folks that think its "mean" to eat those poor baby lambs, so we have to modify the recipes just a bit. In honor of my Italian grandfather's shepherd heritage (Italian men are great knitters, btw), the main course and a favorite of my wife's, is Shepherds' Pie. Simple and unpretentious; rich, warm and fulfilling!

Basically, Shepherds' Pie is a thick, rich stew of meat (originally lamb or mutton leftovers) in a rich, browned gravy with the addition of root vegetables, and covered with a topping of whipped or mashed potatoes and baked to brown the top. These vegetables kept over the winter season in "older" days, so our ancestors ate a lot of them.

I start by browning the meat with plenty of onions in butter slowly, so as not to burn it. (Northern Italians didn't use olive oil, by the way) I add flour slowly to make a roux which is then thinned to a rich gravy. I use "half & half" and a little yogurt (sheeps, if I can get it!!). To this I add diced small root veggies; i.e. carrot, celery root is good, a piece of winter squash of some kind, and mushrooms. Wild ones are best - porcini, morels, whatever. This is all slowly simmered in a nice, deep, cast-iron pot, and you now cover it with a crust of mashed potatoes. To bring in a little more of my heritage, I am adding some sheep cheese to the potatoes; probably Assiago, although Feta, Kasseri or Roquefort is fine.


Serve when the "crust" is golden brown, with a hearty poppyseed wheat bread. We break the bread and give thanks to Ceres to open the meal (poppyseed and wheat both being sacred foods of Ceres). The traditional drink of the day is Port, rich and warm.

End the meal with a simple dessert of pears or apples and sheep cheeses, along with good liquor to toast the first "kicks" of the yet unborn "new King".

This holiday, for many, became the christianized "Candlemas" due to the tradition of lighting candles in each window to light the way home for the Sun King. We will be dining after sundown, using only candlelight. For you "celtic" freaks, this is a great time for a good Irish Stew. I would love to have roast leg of lamb, one of my favorites, but as I said, Katsii won't eat it. *sigh* If you do -- please--please -- no mint jelly!! If you like mint, use fresh. Mint jelly may help with a piece of sad old tough and foul mutton, but spring lamb is much too subtle and rich to hide with jelly!

After dinner promises a perfect time for looking through veggie and flower catalogs in preparation for the spring...or even the consecration of seeds for next year's garden!!
Let's show this "Rodney Dangerfield" of holidays a Little Respect! Enjoy!
Blessings on you all. May the Earth rise to your feet and the Sun brighten your path!

Grrizz and Lena

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