The Origins of Imbolc and the keeper of the sacred flame

Imbolc: The Origins of a Celebrated Irish Festival and the Goddess of fire.

To be honest, it goes without saying that Irish culture is steeped in tradition and yep, you guessed it history. One of its most cherished celebrations is the festival of Imbolc. This lesser known and very old festival, also known as Brigid's Day, is celebrated on the first of February and marks the beginning of spring in the Celtic Lunar calendar. It is a time to welcome the returning light from the dark and dismal Irish winter and celebrate the fact that you no longer have to swallow copious amounts of Vitamin D. Living through an Irish winter is bleak, so as the days get noticeably longer why not have a festival? But what is the meaning behind this festival and where did it come from? 

Imbolc is in fact dedicated to the goddess Brigid, one of the most revered figures in Irish mythology. Lovely *Brigid was known as the goddess of healing, poetry, and smithcraft, and she was also associated with the sacred flame. Her festival was celebrated in the early days of February to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The name Imbolc is derived from the old Irish words "i mbolg" which means "in the belly." This refers to the idea that the land was "in the belly" of the goddess and that spring was about to be born.

In the past, Imbolc was a time of great celebration and excitement. The festival was celebrated by lighting fires and candles to symbolise the return of the light. This was a time to honour Brigid and to ask for her blessings for the coming year. People would also leave offerings at sacred wells or shrines in her honour, and they would perform rituals to ensure that the crops would grow and the livestock would prosper.

Imbolc was not just a religious festival; it was also a time of community gathering. People would come together to share food, dance, and sing. The festival was also a time for young people to court and find partners, and for families to reunite after a long winter. It was a time of joy and hope, and it helped to lift the spirits of the people during the darkest days of winter.

Today, Imbolc is still celebrated in Ireland, but it is more of a cultural event than a religious one. People still light candles and fires, and they still come together to celebrate the start of spring. The festival has evolved over the years, and it now includes modern elements such as parades and music, but the spirit of Imbolc remains the same. It is a time to welcome the new season, to honour the past, and to celebrate the future.

Let’s just say that Imbolc is a festival that is deeply rooted in Irish culture and history. It is a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and it is a time to honour the Goddess of the sacred flame and to ask for her blessings. It is a time of joy because the days are brighter with the promise of brighter days to come.

*The number of girls named Brigid reached its peak in 1965, when 293 children were given the name. Between 2018 and 2020, only 11 girls were called Brigid, but there were only 2 last year.