This week we celebrate one of the Greater Sabbats of the Wiccan faith known as Imbolc. It's a time to prepare for new beginnings and letting go of the past. As the saying goes, February is the real New Year; January was just a trial period.

Taking place on either February 1st or February 2nd depending on your tradition, Imbolc is translated from Old Irish to mean "in the belly", though it is thought to derive from Oimelc which actually means "ewe's milk". Either way, it's a celebration of the quickening of the Earth and the first stirrings of Spring, such as lambing season and the first flowers such as snowdrops and crocuses.

In Christian tradition this festival is known as Candlemas, and celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary following the birth of Christ. Indeed, candles are also an important part of Imbolc, representing the new light and the lengthening of days. Purification is keyword for Imbolc too, as many take this time to perform cleansing rituals, religious initiations and even Spring cleaning to set ourselves up for a prosperous year.

Imbolc is also known as Brigid's Day, or St. Brigid's Day. Interestingly, the Celtic goddess of fertility, healing, poetry and metalworking shares the name of the 5th Century Irish saint who was revered as a nun and midwife and shares many of the same attributes as the goddess. To honour Brigid, many Pagans create corn dolls in her image and lay them in decorated baskets or cradles and offer up gifts to her. It's a way of inviting the goddess into one's home to receive her blessings. Brigid's crosses are also crafted out of reeds or rushes, and ribbons are often left outside to gather the morning dew on Brigid's Day which is thought to have healing properties.

As usual, celebratory feasts are a big part of this event, which is indentified as one of the four fire festivals in Wicca. Food would have been scarce at one point during this time, so the main food types would be things like nuts, seeds, root vegetables, seeded bread and, perhaps most importantly, dairy produce.

The key thing to remember about Imbolc is that it's a time to get rid of the things that no longer serve us; be they possessions, memories, so-called friends or bad habits; and allow new and healthier ways of life to enter in their place.

by for