Stumbling Past Imbolc, or Not All Sabbats Are Created Equal

I have already broken one of my New Year’s resolutions. I intended to celebrate every Sabbat equally in 2012. Yet Imbolc has come and gone, and I honestly did very little to celebrate it. I don’t even really feel regret at skipping past the holiday uncelebrated. As I sit here and consider Imbolc, I have to admit that I don’t really care about it.

I want to care about Imbolc. I’ve put a lot of effort into psyching myself up and getting excited about Imbolc. I’ve tried to plumb it’s meaning. I’ve tried to seek it’s wisdom. But I just don’t care.

It seems to me that if the eight spokes of the Wheel of the Year are equal, they should be celebrated equally. Imbolc shouldn’t pass with a murmur and Yule with fanfare. All things should be equal. Many Wiccans have argued that all Sabbats are equal and that they are all celebrated equally, even when this is obviously not the case. I like the ideal that all the Sabbats are equal, even when my soul tells me different.

As I sit here and look over the moon Goddesses and solar Gods adorning my shelves, the fact that I could care less about Imbolc doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. This morning I’m sitting here thinking about how much more useful it would be to put my energy into things that matter to me, and Imbolc clearly doesn’t.

What does matter to me right now? Spring cleaning. Getting organized. Planning my garden. Working to make my living space comfortable. Setting my priorities. Settling down to focus on major projects.

My focus is more on my life, than on the greater changes in nature around me. My relationship to nature is how it affects me. Lactating ewes and tree sap don’t affect my life. Maybe that may seem selfish, but right now, in this time and place, it feels right.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Laura M. LaVoie

    I use any and all holidays as an excuse to Celebrate ™.  Celebration if the seasons is my primary motivation.  I have to to say that enjoying the company of like-minded people while enjoying a 1554 Enlightened Black Ale yesterday seems to fall into the “Celebrating Imbolc” catetory to me.  Beer belongs to Brigid. 

    By the way – does that count as getting together for a beer? 

  • Mary Mueller

    Um, I would say that planning a garden is very Imbolc appropriate.  How many of us pagans in the modern world have ewes hanging around? I celebrate the sabbats in my own way, tuning into what is happening in the season in my own life. I’ve never been a Wiccan, just a mystic who can see the archetype of the wheel spinning in my own life on it’s own with or without my recognition and celebration.

  • sunfell

    Imbolc is one of those oddball ones that I never quite grasped, either. St. Brigids Day is the Catholic holiday that was placed on top of it, along with Candlemas. (Oddly enough Brigid is also an ancient Celtic Goddess, who was canonized by the Church in order to being in more people.) But when the church parks its own feast on top of an old Pagan one, it never hurts to dig past it and unearth why they did so.

    The word comes from a Gaelic word meaning (depending on your etymological source) ‘in the belly’ or  ‘ewes’ milk’, and it is fitting, because February is when lambs are born. While stationed in the UK, I remember taking a trip with some friends to see some little lambs out in the boonies in the chill of February. So, the holiday celebrates the first milk- which people drank too, and the first bloom of life and light for the coming Spring. That far north, the light is returning and the days are noticeably longer. It is also the beginning of meterological spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Being a thoroughly 21st Century American TechMage, I consider different things this time of year. Planning my garden. Getting my tax refund. Trimming the hollies and the rose and quince bushes. Pulling up the darn privet that is trying to take over my yard. Avoiding all the Valentines Day hype and spam. (I love hearts and chocolate, but hate the hype.)

  • wayneluke11

    Spring Cleaning, Getting Organized, and Planning my Garden is how I celebrate Imbolc. It is a means of spiritually cleaning out the old and more negative energies accumulated over Fall and Winter and making way for new things and more positive energies brought by Spring and Summer.

  • sindarintech

    The Sabbats might have more relevance if I was part of a pastoral culture. But I don’t.
    I think of Beltaine and Samhain in significantly different ways than the rest of the Sabbats… primarily because the veils between the worlds are clearly thinner at that time.
    I think it’s more important for witches to maintain an awareness of the moon cycles because it remphasizes connection to the ‘Great Mother’.

  • Vivianna

    I agree with Mary.  I think it’s our job to keep our spiritual path ALIVE; not in musty old tombs, sad looking lead glass, statuary or matching bunnies with eggs without any real knowledge of why but by connecting to the meanings of this time of year in ways that matter to us NOW. 

    My tongue in cheek comments about lead glass, statues and “bunny eggs” (Gosh I HATE Cadburry eggs!  It’s not about imagery, so much as its about taste.  Don’t even get me started on Peeps!) were a way of illustrating how, in my opinion, people reimagine the days of Christ and in some instances interpret the Bible without thought to how it applies to one’s life TODAY; a lot of focus is on visual form, not a lot on content some times.  (This is not true of all Christians!)

    As anyone who celebrates the Wheel of the Year, regardless of which box you check (pagan, reclaimer, spiritual, wicca, etc.) I think our call is harder.  There is some focus on form (imagery) but a whole lot more focus on content.  It’s the price of having freedom of thought; the price of valuing each on of us as an aspect of God-Goddess and valuing free will over valuing dogma. 

    If you are part of a LIVING tradition, where time did not stop/restart again 2,012 years ago, it makes perfect sense that what any particular spoke on the wheel means will differ from person to person.  There may be some overlap but such a path/tradition invites you to join it where you are and add to it from your current perspective. 

    I also agree that Imbolc can be a tough one to connect with. Maybe as I age it won’t be.  I cannot connect very well to the mythological imagery but I can connect to other aspects of the sabbat.  Cut yourself some slack!  Just my 2 cents.

  • Robert

    The reason that lactating sheep are important is because it was an obvious and physical indication that it would soon be time for planting.  Farmers spent this time looking over their tools, fixing the ones that were broken and replacing the ones that couldn’t be fixed, sharpening their plow, planning what to plant and when, etc etc.  In other words, preparing themselves for the year’s work to come. 

    Exactly what you’re doing now. 

    Bride’s fire inspires and uplifts, and energizes the work you are going to begin.  Imbolc is a fire festival, but of candles and sparks; the small flame that must be fed to grow into the flame that transforms and creates.  The lighting of that flame is what we celebrate at Imbolc, not sheep’s milk.  That’s just a timer. 


  • Sunweaver

    When the members of my worship group began moving away from a Wiccan model of practice, Imbolc was the first thing to go. None of us cared, not one.

    But there is a thing that happens at this time of year. It’s a discernible shift, not only in the length of the day and whatever is going on with the vegetation, but in our spiritual lives as well. For me, the return of Apollo from Hyperborea comes about this time as well as Tu B’Shvat. The latter is the Jewish New Year of the Trees, essentially the beginning of the fiscal year, and it’s celebrated with a feast of fruit and wine.

    I do feel ya on being “meh” about Imbolc, though.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    “Spring cleaning. Getting organized. Planning my garden. Working to make
    my living space comfortable. Setting my priorities. Settling down to
    focus on major projects…”

    Seems to me that you ARE observing the holiday.  Maybe not with a ritual circle, but with practical activities and creating a happy, comfortable space.

    Our family DOES live in a pastoral setting.  This year we’ve only had three or four significant snowfalls, very odd for Michigan.  We made the judgment call to not do our usual rite of calling back the springtime Goddess, since, well, we’ve not really had much of a winter.  In this location, a few hard freezes are important to knock back the population of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks, for the maple sugar farmers to make the sap rise, and for the orchard trees to set fruit (this is one of the largest fruit growing areas in the nation).  Instead of doing the usual Calan Fair / Imbolc rites, we’re asking for a few weeks of cold.  And we’re realizing that we might need to reset our natural calendar to reflect the new climate changes.

  • Nara

    I think it varies from year to year. This year, I had a great Imbolc, but last year I was just sorta “meh..” I think some years, depending on what’s going on in your life, some sabbats are really going to resonate with you that year and others aren’t. Some years a full-out ritual celebration is appropriate, and other years just getting some cleaning, planning, and organizing done is celebration enough.

  • Nicole Youngman

    Yup, all of y’all who made this point beat me to it. Spring really does begin down here at Imbolc (hell, we haven’t really even had winter this year), and that’s exactly what I’m doing too!! Well, I did light some candles that smell pretty too. :)

  • kenneth

    I always find Imbolc a very welcome little festival at this time of year. It’s tempting to blow it off because it’s such a “minor” thing, but in the end I always find it well worth it. A big part of that is keeping it simple. It need not be a big blowout or elaborate ritual like Beltane or Samhain, or a big social to-do like Yule. A little bit of work with Brigid, lots of candles, some dairy related stuff for cakes and ale and some gratitude for the first stirrings of spring after a deep dark winter. 

  • Lady GreenFlame

    That sense of energy flowing and goal setting you’ve got is exactly Imbolc. One of the things that annoys me about modern Wiccan-style Pagans is that we have a tendency to overly focus on ancestral traditions — I’m all about the ancestors and love the “old ways,” but  ewes lactating are not part of my life and never have been. 

    What *has* been a part of my life, however, is renewed physical energy and getting excited and going into a state of “flow.” And that is very Imbolc. Taking it beyond Celtic origins, we celebrate Imbolc during the month of Aquarius. Those wavy lines that are the Aquarian glyph represent flow and waveform; not just water/H2O, but electricity, air, chi, artistic or craft or writer’s creativity, and anything else that can be expressed literally or metaphorically as “flow.” 

  • Rob Henderson

    House cleaning was absolutely an integral part of a traditional Irish household Imbolc.

  • Capaky

    Celebrating the sabbats help me deal with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It keeps things in perspective for me and I think of them as signposts for the year. I live in Maine, and the issues isn’t a warm or cold winter, but the lack of sunlight. The weather is variable- 10 ft of snow or 50 degrees in January. But the amount of light each day is a slow, regular predictable pattern that endures.  Imbolc lets me know my struggles will get easier as the sun stays out longer. The other holidays help me see everything has it’s place and it’s not forever. It keeps me from waking up in November and discovering winter one day out of nowhere. I see it coming and I can plan for it. Every Samhain, I mourn for the sun that is slipping away. Every Yule, I welcome back the tiniest increase in light , knowing it will be significantly lighter in 6 weeks at Imbolc.
    History and tradition tell us to watch ewes, culture tells us to watch groundhogs. As pagans, part of our practice is to mold the old traditions to our modern life. I say, if you want to see Imbolc in action, look up. Many trees begin to bud by February, even in Maine, even when we are burried in snow. Every year.

  • val bobincheck

    I can certainly agree with the comment on Imbolc, this year.   Work has been so highly stressful that it is increasingly difficult to “clock out”, when the day is over.  Involuntary transfers, lay-offs and time cuts….I am now on “playground” duty every morning for a half-hour before school starts.  It has given me some unexpected wiggle room to put nature back into my day.  When I’m not freezing my butt off, I can sometimes greet the moon before she takes her daily nap and am much more aware of the increasing daylight….

  • veracityweatherwax

    last night a few of my covenmates and i did a little brigit ritual. the spell was: “brigit of the forge fire, brigit of the healing well, brigit of the rhyming word, come weave your spell.” we scryed in water for the healing well, read poetry for the rhyming word, and did a little arts-and-crafts for the forge fire (needless to say, brigit’s crosses made of construction paper don’t quite make it ;P). 

    anyway, while we were doing the scrying meditation, it occurred to me that the reason brigit is a triple goddess is because who represents three of the four classical elements: fire (the forge), water (the well), and air (the rhyming word). when you add the celebrants to stand for earth, you have the whole package. and if that isn’t important, i don’t know what is.

  • Thefirstdark

    i agree with you, Star.  i didn’t actually do any sort of written or prescribed ritual.  i did spend a bit of time in meditation at my own altar, after making offerings to my patron Goddess (Aset, not Brighid) but in the spirit of what Imbolc is.  what’s that, you say?  RENEWAL, REVAMPING, RECHARGING those batteries after the start of the winter season.  I’m feeling more inspired than I have in some time-to say the very least, I believe that feeling of inspiration goes along with the general theme and purpose of the Sabbat itself, and that’s ok.   ;-)

  • Cass

    I like Imbolc because, by this time of year, I’m just desperate for anything at all to mark spring getting closer. I hate winter, so despite having no immediate proximity to lactating sheep, I embrace the idea of “burning away the darkness”. I clean, I light candles, there’s not a lot of ritual involve, but it just makes me feel good to mark the turning of the year at that point in some way. For me, Lughnasadh is the one that gets totally overlooked. It’ll be three-quarters of the way to September and I’ll suddenly remember, “Oh… yeah… that one… oops.”

  • Bookhousegal

    Hrm.   Though I seem to have noticed some lack of enthusiasm out there,  even people ‘not getting it,’  …but it’s actually one of my very favorites.  

      I’ve much thought that some of the very reasons it’s needed most are part of why there’s this lack of enthusiasm for many,  being among the ‘winter doldrums’   for many,   (And also following rather close on what’s a rather extended ‘holiday season’  in the wider society that practically goes from Thanksgiving to New Year’s,  then suddenly sort of ends,  and the pattern is for most to consider it rather just a slog toward Spring.   Psychologically,  I think we do have a need for that.)

    Also,  if you’ve been a poet or crafter or otherwise,  I think one can much appreciate sort of a rekindling of the fires of inspiration and all.   Not to mention of our own health and vigor. 

  • Ian Phanes


    There is absolutely no reason why the sabbats must be equal.  After all, Imbolc is clearly the most important!  Ooops…personal bias there.  My point is that different individuals will respond to different sabbats, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.  As a solitary, it is your responsibility to discern what *your* practice is supposed to be–including your ritual calendar.

  • Kat Emralde

    “What does matter to me right now? Spring cleaning. Getting organized.
    Planning my garden. Working to make my living space comfortable. Setting
    my priorities. Settling down to focus on major projects.”

    Interestingly enough, these things are exactly what my Imbolc celebrations are all about, every year.