Imbolc – A Solitary Ritual

Brighid pendantHolidays and holy days are better with friends and family.  But many Pagans maintain solitary practices.  Even if you work with a group, sometimes you can’t be with them for one reason or another.  And sometimes your group meets on a convenient day but you feel the need to celebrate on the exact day.  Whatever the reason, many Pagans will be celebrating Imbolc by themselves.

Imbolc is celebrated as Candlemas and Groundhog Day.  It is the first of the Spring festivals, although since we in the Northern Hemisphere are still in the depths of Winter it is the promise of Spring we celebrate, not its appearance.

February 1 is also St. Brigid’s Day in the Catholic Church.  The extent to which the Christian St. Brigid has been conflated with the Irish Goddess Brighid is uncertain and need not concern us here.  In modern Pagan circles this has become a time to honor Brighid – this solitary ritual is a communion with Her.

If you aren’t familiar with Brighid, start with this overview by Jason Mankey.  Then to get yourself in the proper frame of mind, listen to “Brighid” by Damh the Bard.

Setup

This ritual can be done anywhere or at any time, but its main working is a guided meditation – it is best done some place dark and quiet, where you won’t be disturbed.  If background noise is a problem, play music just loud enough to cover it. I prefer classical music for this purpose, but any instrumental music will do.

Set a main altar in the center of your space with three candles.  You will need matches or a lighter, a bell, a wand or athame, bread, milk, and an offering bowl.  Set candles in the four directions.

Milk is a traditional drink for Imbolc.  If you can’t drink cow’s milk, use whatever substitute you prefer.  If you can’t drink any milk, use water.  There are numerous wells named for Brighid – water is a perfectly acceptable offering.

You’ll be sitting quietly for part of the ritual – if you can’t sit comfortably on the floor or ground, place a chair in front of and facing the altar.

Preparation

Imbolc is traditionally a time of purification, so consider taking a long ritual bath, washing your hands, or just changing your clothes. I rarely “robe up” for solitary ritual, but I do like to wear some of my Pagan jewelry.  Do whatever puts you in a ritual frame of mind.

Opening

Approach the altar and pause for a moment of silent meditation. Ground and center using whatever method you find most effective. Then ring the bell three times.

Say “I come to this place and this time to celebrate the holy day of Imbolc, and to commune with the Lady Brighid.”

Pick up the wand or athame, or if you prefer, just use your index finger.  Move to the East, pause, then slowly walk the circle clockwise, drawing the circle as you go.  See the circle rising in deep blue light.  Make a complete circle, and see the ends joining together.

When you return to the East, set down the wand or athame and light the quarter candle.  Say “Spirits of the East, Spirits of Air, I call to you.  Come into this circle, I ask, and share your wisdom. On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Air!

Move clockwise to the South.  Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the South, Spirits of Fire, I call to you.  Come into this circle, I ask, and share your inspiration.  On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Fire!

Move clockwise to the West.  Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the West, Spirits of Water, I call to you.  Come into this circle, I ask, and share your love.  On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Water!

Move clockwise to the North.  Light the quarter candle and say “Spirits of the North, Spirits of Earth, I call to you.  Come into this circle, I ask, and share your stability.  On this sacred night of Imbolc, welcome Earth!

Move clockwise back to the East, then return to the main altar.

Invocations

Light the first candle on the altar and say “Spirits of the land, spirits of this place, you who were here long before me, I invite you to join this celebration of Imbolc.  Accept this offering of food and drink, I ask, given in hospitality and in love.”

Raise the bread and milk in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the milk into the offering bowl.

Land spirits – hail and welcome!

Light the second candle on the altar and say “Ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, you whose child I am and on whose foundations I build, because of you I have life. You who marked this night as the promise of Spring and the renewal it brings, join me in this celebration of Imbolc.  Accept this offering of food and drink, I ask, given in hospitality and in love.”

Raise the bread and milk in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the milk into the offering bowl.

Blessed ancestors – hail and welcome!

Light the third candle on the altar and say “Brighid, Inspirer of Poets, I ask You to join this celebration and bless me with Your presence.  Mistress of Smiths and of the Forge, be welcome here.  As I look forward to the coming Spring, I would honor You and I would listen for Your holy wisdom.  Lady of Healing, please join me in this celebration of Imbolc.  Accept this offering of food and drink, I ask, given in hospitality and in love.”

Raise the bread and milk in offering, then crumble the bread and pour the milk into the offering bowl.

Brighid – hail and welcome!

Main Working

Much of the main working is a guided meditation.  You can memorize it or read it if you prefer, but I have recorded it so you can simply listen.  You can play the video below, or you can right click this link and download the audio file and play it on your device of choice.

Get comfortable, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.

Take a second.

And a third.

In your mind’s eye, see mists beginning to rise from the floor.  See them rolling and growing, higher and higher, filling your circle.  The mists are dense – you can’t see anything around you any more.  But you can feel your surroundings, and the mists are warm and comforting.

Now the mists begin to fade, and you find yourself at the edge of a large open meadow.

It’s a February day, but the Sun is bright and warm, and it’s higher in the sky than it was a few weeks ago.  Breathe the clean air, and feel the new life beginning to stir just below the surface.

A path leads across the meadow, and you begin to move forward.  Have you been here before?  Look around – what do you see?  Listen – what do you hear?  Keep walking.

The path leads up a hill, and at the top of the hill is a single evergreen tree, reaching high into the sky.  Greet the tree.  Smell its fragrance, touch its rough bark, feel its solidity.

You notice movement, and you turn and see a woman walking up the other side of the hill.  She has thick red hair, she’s dressed in a majestic green gown, and she carries a small harp, which she plays both effortlessly and beautifully.

As you listen to the music, thoughts and feelings begin to swirl inside you.  What is it you’re called to create?  What song must you sing, what poem must you write, what thing of beauty must you make?  What is your great art?

Yes, that’s it!

Thank the Lady Brighid for her inspiration.

Now the mists begin to rise again.  The woman and the tree fade from view, and the sound of the harp grows ever more faint.

You feel yourself moving through space and time, and when the mists begin to fade, you find yourself in a small village.

It is night, and the sky is dark.  It is cold, and though the wind is low you feel it pulling the heat from your body.  Winter is still very much with us.

At the end of the street you see light flooding out from an open door.  Begin walking toward this light.

You walk through the door into brightness and warmth.  A hot fire burns in the hearth, and the tools of metalworking are neatly arranged.  This is the forge of Brighid.

A woman stands in front of the fire, the same woman you saw on the hill.  She is still dressed in green, but her fine gown has been traded for the rough clothes of a smith.  Her thick red hair has been pulled back, and her sleeves are rolled up revealing strong arms.  She swings a hammer, shaping a piece of bronze against a heavy iron anvil.

The woman looks at you and smiles. You have a part to play here.  Are you the hammer, the instrument of the will of this great Goddess?  Are you the anvil, supporting the work of others?  Or are you the metal, going into the forge to be refined and shaped and tested, transformed into something more?

Thank the Lady Brighid for her smithcraft.

Now the mists begin to rise again.  The woman and her work fade from view, and the heat of the forge is lost in the cool of the mists.

Again you feel yourself moving through space and time, and when the mists begin to fade, you find yourself in a forest of mighty oaks.

It is twilight, just before dawn.  Through the trees you can see an orange glow on the horizon.  Morning is coming, but the night has been long.

A short ways into the forest is a well, and you realize you’re thirsty.  Begin walking toward the well.

As you approach, you see a woman standing beside the well.  This is the sacred well of Brighid, one of many.

Once again she wears green, but this time it is the simple robe of a healer.  The soot and sweat of the forge are gone and she is spotlessly clean.

The woman draws water from the well, then dips a cup into the bucket and hands it to you.  You drink, and the water is cool and clear.

The water does more than quench your thirst.  It refreshes your body.  It restores your will.  It renews your soul.

Thank the Lady Brighid for her healing.

Yet again the mists begin to rise.  The woman and the well fade from view, and again you feel yourself moving through space and time.  The mists fade a final time, and you find yourself back in this place and this time.

When you’re ready, open your eyes, and be here now.

Now rise from your seat and stand in front of the altar.  Pick up the milk and pour some in the offering bowl, then drink the rest.  In making the offering you sacrifice – you make it sacred – and in consuming the remainder you take the sacred blessings of Brighid into you.

As you pour, and as you drink, remember your visions.  Take whatever time you need.

Farewells

Say “Brighid, Goddess of Healing, Goddess of Smithcraft, Goddess of Inspiration, I thank You for Your presence and Your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”

Say “Ancestors of blood and ancestors of spirit, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”

Say “Spirits of the land, spirits of this place, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”

Closing

Say “Spirits of the North, West, South, and East, Spirits of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, I thank you for your presence and your blessings. May there be peace and honor between us now and forever. Hail and farewell.”

Ring the bell three times.

Say “This celebration of Imbolc is complete. Hail and farewell.”

Afterward

Take a breath. Turn on some music, or if you were playing background music, change to something lively and vocal. Drink some water. Turn on the lights. Do something to reorient yourself in the ordinary world.

Extinguish the candles, then begin to pick up and put away.

Dispose of the offerings in an appropriate manner. I prefer to deposit them outdoors in an inconspicuous place where they’ll be eaten by wild creatures. Depending on where you are, you may need to do something else.

You may wish to write about your experience in your journal, particularly if your experience was strong. Focus on recording the experience, not on your interpretation of the experience. You have the rest of your life to figure out what it all means, but you have only a short time before your recollection of the events begins to fade.

* * * * * * * * *

May your Imbolc be warm and clean and may the blessings of Brighid be with you and yours as we draw nearer to Spring!

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.