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Imbolc (Imbolg, Oimelg)

Type of Holiday: Ancient, Religious (Neopagan)
Date of Observation: February 1
Where Celebrated: British Isles
Symbols and Customs: Brigit, Lamb
Colors: Imbolc is identified with the worship of BRIGIT , with whom the color white is associated.
Related Holidays: Beltane, Candlemas (Groundhog Day), Lughnasa, Mabon, Samhain, St. Bridget's Day, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox


Celtic peoples lived in Ireland, Scotland, England, and northern France from around 500 B . C . E . until around 100 C . E ., when the Romans conquered most of Celtic Europe. Little is definitely known about ancient Celtic religion. The Celts themselves left sparse written accounts. Julius Caesar, who led the Romans into Celtic lands, wrote of his impressions of the people, as did other ancient GrecoRoman writers.

During the 1960s the modern Neopagan and Wiccan movements emerged in Great Britain, the United States, and other English-speaking countries. They follow a nature-oriented religion loosely linked to ancient Celtic and other beliefs and inspired by old European folk practices. They celebrate eight sabbats, known as the eight spokes of the wheel of the year, which include Imbolc as well as SUMMER SOLSTICE , WINTER SOLSTICE, VERNAL EQUINOX, BELTANE, SAMHAIN, LUGHNASA, and MABON. Imbolc

Imbolc was an ancient Druidic festival dedicated to the mysteries of motherhood, which is why its ceremonies were usually carried out by Druid priestesses rather than by male members of the order. It was one of the "Greater Sabbats" of the Wiccan year ("Wicca" being the name used by believers in neopagan witchcraft to avoid the stigma attached to "witchcraft"), which were huge seasonal get-togethers for witches that involved all-night dancing, singing, and feasting. Like the other Sabbats (or Sabbaths) celebrated on April 30 (see BELTANE), July 31 (see LUGHNASA), and October 31 (see SAMHAIN), Imbolc revolved around the changing season and the breeding of animals (see LAMB ).

Imbolc was dedicated to BRIGIT , the ancient Irish goddess whose name means "the shining one" (breo in Irish is a firebrand or torch, and breoch means glowing). Primarily a goddess of fertility, Brigit was frequently depicted as three goddesses in one: the virgin, the mother, and the crone. When Ireland became Roman Catholic, Brigit was transformed into a Christian saint, St. Bridget or Brigid, whose worship dates back to very early times. ST. BRIDGET'S DAY is a festival associated with this saint.

As one of the four occasions during the year when witches gathered, often on mountaintops or at crossroads, to perform their black rites and reaffirm their obedience to the devil, Imbolc was often characterized by wild sex orgies and other activities that can be traced to its origin as a pagan fertility celebration. It took place on the eve of February 2, later known to Christians as CANDLEMAS.



Brigit was the archetypal mother-goddess, protectress of women in labor and childbirth. Because she stood as a symbol of motherhood and fertility in general, cows and their milk were dedicated to Brigit, as were ewes and their LAMBS . Although it is not certain exactly why, Brigit was also associated with brewing beer. According to a Christianized version of an old medieval tale, she presided over a brewing at EASTER in which she produced enough beer for seventeen churches from a single measure of malt.

Brigit, with whom the color white is associated, is often shown carrying a white rod similar to the hazel rods carried by the Druid priests as symbols of their authority. The white rod symbolizes both the serpent and the swan, which is a bird with a serpent-like neck and a serpent's hiss.

Brigit has much in common with the Virgin Mary, and it is no coincidence that the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem are commemorated on February 2 (see CANDLEMAS). In fact, it is traditional on Candlemas to offer prayers to both St. Brigit and the Blessed Virgin, and to honor motherhood in general.


Imbolc took place at the beginning of the lambing season, so it was closely associated with the ewes and milking. This marked a vital turning point in the winter, since the first sheep's milk and cheese would have been very important at a time when stored meats and grains were beginning to run out and no other fresh foods were available.

Representing all things newborn and innocent, the lamb is an ancient symbol. A real newborn lamb may have been paraded through the streets or worshipped during Imbolc, and there is also reason to believe that some of the ancient ceremonies held on this day involved drinking the first sheep's milk of the year. When Christianity arrived, of course, the lamb became a symbol of Christ, who was referred to as the "Lamb of God."


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Heinberg, Richard. Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1993. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Hutton, Ronald. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. King, John. The Celtic Druids' Year: Seasonal Cycles of the Ancient Celts. London: Blandford, 1995. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Imbolc
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Also known as Oimlec, Candelaria, and Lupercus, Imbolc is one of the four major sabbats of Witchcraft, falling on February Eve. It marks the halfway point through the "dark half" of the year, or the winter months. Great bonfires, or balefires, were once lit on the highest hilltops across Britain and much of Europe to lend extra energy to the God as he made his way through the dark half of the year toward Beltane (May Eve) and the coming of the Goddess. The Goddess herself was in the throes of transferring from the Crone aspect to that of Maiden, when she emerged from the Underworld in the spring.

The Christian church adopted the old Pagan Imbolc festival, as it did so many others, calling it Candlemas. By the fifth century, a procession of lighted candles became a regular part of the Roman Catholic rites, echoing the Pagan origins.

Stewart Farrar says that Imbolc, or the Irish form of i'mbolg, means "in the belly," being the "first foetal stirrings of Spring in the womb of Mother Earth." However, Graham Harvey says the word means "lactation." Regardless of meaning, it traditionally marks the beginning of lambing season and the time of the lactation of the ewes. It is also the Feast of Brighid, who is a fertility bringer. In a monastery at Kildare, in Ireland, a perpetual fire was kept burning in Brighid's honor.

The making of Corn Dollies and Sun Wheels is a popular Pagan practice, to recognize and honor the Maiden aspect of the Goddess. In many cases, the straw used to weave the Corn Dollies is that which was cut from the last bundle—known as the Corn Mother—at the previous year's harvest.

Imbolc is the time of the year when Wiccans look to make a change, to clear out that which is no longer useful in their lives to make room for the new things that need to come into their lives. Some traditions and Solitaries symbolically sweep the circle with a broomstick as part of the Imbolc rites.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

Imbolc (Imbolg)

February 1
One of the "Greater Sabbats" during the Wiccan year, Imbolc celebrates the coming of spring and the recovery of the Earth Goddess after giving birth to the Sun God at Yule. "Wicca" is the name used by many believers in modern Neopagan witchcraft because it doesn't carry the stigma that the terms "witch" or "pagan" carry.
The Greater Sabbats (or Sabbaths) take place four times a year, at the Cross-Quarter Days of February 1, May 1, August 1, and November 1. In ancient days, some of these were huge get-togethers that involved dancing, singing, and feasting which went on all night. Revolving around the changing of the seasons and the breeding of animals, they served as a way to give thanks for the bounties of the earth. Other names for Imbolc include the Feast of Pan, Feast of Torches, Feast of Waxing Lights, and Oimelc .
See also Beltane; Lammas; St. Bridget's Day; Samhain
RelHolCal-2004, p. 270
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.