High Winter arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 15 degrees of Aquarius, falling sometime during the first week of February. I can feel the stirrings of the Earth deep down in my own bones. Its time to awaken and prepare for the work ahead! The Grand Sabbat of Imbolc is my favorite holiday in the Witch’s Wheel of the Year, because I adore this Imbolc Ritual that we’ve been weaving for nigh on a decade. Today, I’ll share it with you!
When I was a wee witching seeker, I helped to form a “year and a day study group” called WiseCraft Circle. Imbolc 2006, we held our first group ritual together. It was open to the local pagans we knew, and held in the sanctuary of the local UU church with perhaps 10 people – I will never forget the rush of giddy excitement as we created sacred space for the first time.
None of us had ever even attended an Imbolc before, so we excavated the bones of this ritual from the daily exercises author Timothy Roderick provided in his self-training guide that we were using: Wicca: A Year and a Day. Since then, I’ve added a lot of flesh to those bones, based on a decade of experience in leading large group rituals. This year we expect almost 40 members to make dedications.
Dedicating to The Great Work of Magick
Our coven engages in the Great Work of Magick – which is a dedication to personal enlightenment, as a means of progressing society through Divine Love. As witches grow in wisdom, and experience, we see that inner light radiating outward as a ripple effect through the interconnected fabric of existence. So, Imbolc is when we all dedicate to both a personal intention, and also to a Coven-wide intention that will aid in the advancement of our society. We discover what work we are to do through divination rituals held after Yule.
Because our Coven’s primary mission is to the open and responsible training of all seekers through our mystery school, Imbolc is also when we accept new students to dedicate to their Witchcraft studies for their own “Year and a Day.”
Preparing for Imbolc: Candles and Intention Scrolls
Each celebrant is asked to prepare a glass, 7-day sanctuary candle to represent their dedication. We decorate the outside of the glass with any images, words, sigils, or symbols that are in sympathy to the work at hand. For instructions on how to use old calendar images to decorate and load this type of candle, check out these detailed instructions here.
Then, we write out a succinct statement of intention on a scroll. I’m a witch-nerd-writer so I use consecrated calligraphy quills and magickal inks, on fancy papers, sealed with wax stamps, and rolled with ribbons. But any written statement will do…just WRITE IT DOWN, because wording is important, and you will likely need to remember EXACTLY what you asked of the Gods later down the road. These journeys tend to take us to different places than we expected. <cackle>
If this is your first dedication to studying witchcraft, here is an example:
I, (your name here) call on the guidance of the Goddess and the God, to aid in my studies of Witchcraft for the coming Year and a Day. I seek the wisdom and experiences that are beneficial for me at this time. May these lessons be clear and gentle, illuminating before me the path toward initiation as a witch, if that be for the highest good of all involved, harming none. So Mote It Be!
Grand Sabbat of Imbolc for the Coven: A Ritual of High Winter
Primary altar at northeastern edge of the circle:
- White Spirit candle. Silver Goddess Candle. Gold God Candle.
- Black ancestor candle
- Consecration elements: Bowls of water and salt, red candle, Imbolc incense (in a censer with charcoal)
- Altar Tools: athame and wand. Chalice of wine, paten plate of cakes.
- Imbolc anointing oil (recipe here.)
- Large enough free space to receive everyone’s dedication candles safely.
Secondary altar in center of circle:
- Cauldron of potting soil with white taper candle lit in center.
- Bowl of loose wildflower seeds.
- Vial of milk.
- Ash from the Yule log.
- 5 inscribed chime candles:
- Blue, “Succulence”
- Yellow, “Renewal”
- Red, “Warmth”
- Green, “Growth”
- White, “Spirit.”
- Additional items to have on hand:
- Drums, rattles, singing bowl or bell.
- Hand shovel and zip-lock baggies to send home the blessed soil with the celebrants.
Celebrants all bring their prepared dedication candles and intention scrolls into circle with them.
Entering the Circle:
We set up the sacred space indoors for this High Winter celebration. All celebrants line up outside of the house along the front walk to enter the front door, which happens to be the Eastern gate.
Challenge at the Gate
Swordbearer to all assembled in the front yard: You who stand on the threshold between the pleasant world of mankind and the Terrible Domains of the Outer Spaces, do you have the courage to enter? For it would be better to rush upon my blade and perish than to make the attempt with fear in your heart.
(Leveling the sword at the heart of each celebrant in turn)
SwordBearer: How do you enter?
Celebrant’s each answer: With perfect love and perfect trust.
Swordbearer: It is good; you may pass.
All are then smudged in smoke, and anointed on the third eye before they enter circle through the eastern gate and tread deosil around 3 times, finding their place in the temple room. Maiden stands at center playing the Singing Bowl.
When all have entered, Maiden chimes the bell/bowl three times to signal the beginning of the rites.
High Priestess Leads Grounding, Centering, power flow visualization for everyone, then consecrates the Altar (Example of this rite here.)
Maiden chimes the bell/bowl three times again.
Welcome and Ritual intent:
High Priestess: Welcome Friends! The wheel turns on and we arrive at Imbolc once again, we are at the height of winter. Yet, this is a time of awakenings. The days will continue to lengthen and warm. The seeds stir and milk flows again. Tonight we plant a seed through our dedications to Spirit, to begin the Great Work of our personal evolution anew. Magickally, we will nourish that seed of potential. Let us create our Temple and step between the worlds. We begin by hallowing the circle.
Erecting the Temple
We hallow the space by the four elements to clear it of all previous energies. Then we cast the circle in our usual way.
The Gatekeepers open the elemental gateways with quarter calls and invoking pentagrams.
The High Priest and Priestess evoke the Maiden Goddess as Brigid, and the Lord of Light.
Summoner calls the ancestors of land, blood and Spirit to be be present among us.
For an example of The Sojourner Tradition’s method of Temple-making in excruciating detail, check out this ostara ritual for the large coven.
Ritual Body: Outer Circle Work
Presenting the Seeds
High Priest: (holding up the bowl of wildflower seeds, presenting to all assembled.) Seeds are scattered after the death of a flower. Yet each seed itself is a point of potential. The seeds remind us that death is an illusion. It is not an end of life, but another step in life’s cycle. Just as the God dies and is reborn, life always continues, even if we cannot see its form. Though the earth slumbers through winter, the seeds of last year’s bounty are already planted…at Imbolc they awaken…(scatters seeds over soil in the cauldron)
Presenting the Milk
High Priestess: (Holding up the bottle of milk) Milk is the nourishment provided by our mothers, that aids in our growth. We need both the physical nourishment to sustain our bodies, and spiritual nourishment to sustain our souls. (walking around the central altar, presenting milk to the quarters…)
HPs: From the East, we call for Renewal!
ALL: Renewal! Renewal! Renewal!
HPs: From the South we call for Warmth!
ALL: Warmth! Warmth! Warmth!
HPs: From the West we call for Succulence!
ALL: Succulence! Succulence! Succulence!
HPs: From the North we call for Growth!
ALL: Growth! Growth! Growth!
HPs: We offer this Milk as a blessing to the earth, that it may awaken and grow. (pour over earth in cauldron)
Presenting the Ashes
High Priest: (Holding up the bowl of ashes from last year’s Yule Log) May the ashes of last year’s work, and all that we’ve released at Yule, serve to nourish our growth in the coming year. (Scatter the ash from the Yule Log onto the soil.)
Candle Lighting to Charge the Soil
High Priestess: Holding the four elemental candles together in one hand, stirs the pot of soil clockwise. Then, presents it to its quarter:
Presenting the Yellow candle
Presents it to the east, saying in a pulsing cadence: In knowing we change with the growth of the light!
All: In knowing we change with the growth of the light!
High Priestess: In wonder we change with the growth of the light!
All: In wonder we change with the growth of the light!
(Hands yellow candle to maiden, who lights it from the spirit candle at center and sets in the cauldron soil)
Presenting the Red Candle:
High Priestess: In willing we change with the grown of the light.
All: In willing we change with the grown of the light.
High Priestess: In surrender we change with the growth of the light!
All: In surrender we change with the growth of the light!
(Hands candle to maiden, who lights and sets in the cauldron Soil)
Presenting the Blue Candle:
High Priestess: In daring we change with the growth of the light!
All: In daring we change with the growth of the light!
High Priestess: In acceptance we change with the growth of the light!
All: In acceptance we change with the growth of the light!
(Hands candle to maiden, who lights and sets in the cauldron Soil)
Lighting the Green Candle:
High Priestess: In silence, we change with the growth of the light.
All: In silence, we change with the growth of the light.
High Priestess:In resonance we change with the growth of the light!
All: In resonance, we change with the growth of the light.
(Hands candle to maiden, who lights and sets in the cauldron soil)
High Priestess: In Spirit we change with the growth of the light!
All: In Spirit we change with the growth of the light! In Spirit we change with the growth of the light! In Spirit we change with the growth of the light!
High Priestess: The earth is blessed. Now we turn to our own seeds of potential, planted this night, so that our spirits will flourish throughout this solar cycle and as the wheel turns we will nourish, cultivate and harvest these goals.
Inner Personal Work:
High Priestess invites all celebrants to get into a comfortable seated meditation position, and leads everyone on a journey that seeks an audience with the Goddess Brigid at her forge. We each return with a vision of some weapon or tool she offers us, that we will utilize in the “harvesting” of our personal goals over the coming year. Or she sometimes offers advice or guidance on that personal development work. We bring back that wisdom like a torch from her sacred flame, from which we will ignite our dedication candles for the year.
Outer Personal Work:
We each in turn approach the altar and read aloud our dedication. Our newest seekers make their “Year and a Day” dedication to continue their studies of the Craft, and become a “Dedicant” within our coven. Initiates commit to further their skills or knowledge in a particular area of the Craft they feel drawn to. Sometimes that is seeking the lessons toward second degree initiation to the priesthood. Sometimes we pledge to work with a particular Deity, or one of the elemental energies. Some years I simply ask a thealogical question, and all year long I seek the answer.
Whatever the goal, we’ve prepared an intention scroll in advance, and we read it aloud with our supporters bearing witness. Then we light the glass-jarred candle we’ve dressed, place it upon the altar, and return to our places.
Power raising Dance and Chant:
When all have finished making their dedication, the High Priestess stands in center and beats a steady rhythm on a frame-drum with a mallet to set the pace, beginning low and slow and rising in volume and speed. We all chant to raise energy. All celebrants tread the mill (deosil – clockwise), turning to walk to their left, with left hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, and right hand pushing power to the center of the circle and the cauldron of soil. To tread deosil, we take a normal step with our left foot, and a heavy stomp with the right foot, swaying toward the center slightly.
High Priestess leads chant in call and response:
Imbolc tides are turning, turning (repeat)
Seeds are stirring, wake the earth (repeat)
Imbolc tides are turning, turning (repeat)
Milk is flowing, wake the earth (repeat)
Repeat chant X3, then sink energy into the cauldron, repeating “wake the earth” until resolved.
Cakes and wine are blessed, then a libation is given onto the soil of the cauldron.
The Priest and Priestess serve each other, saying “You are a Goddess/God; May you never Hunger/Thirst.” The recipient answers, “Blessed Be,” takes a sip, or a bit of cake. Each are passed deosil around the circle, celebrants passing the blessing as the cup and plate are offered.
Dissolving the Temple:
High Priestess: Blessed Be this Imbolc Night!
All: Blessed Be!
High Priestess: Our work is complete. Let us dissolve our temple and step back into the flow of time.
Farewells to Allies:
In our typical fashion, we release the ancestors, Goddess and God with our gratitude, knowing they always walk with us. We then close the elemental gateways, widdershins beginning in the North.
High Priestess: Compress the sphere of our remaining circle energy to a small, dense ball at center. We charge the sphere to be a light upon the path for each of us. Like a jump-shot in basketball, on the count of three we release the sphere upward, and clap to break the remaining constructs.
All: The circle is open, but never broken! Merry meet, Merry part and Merry meet again!
Sing the Circle song and dance about!
“May the circle be open, but unbroken.
May the love of the Goddess be ever in your heart.
Merry Meet and Merry Part and Merry Meet again.”
Before everyone leaves, we divide the blessed soil into ziplock bags for each celebrant to take some home, with the instruction to sprinkle it around the foundation beds of their homes, or put it in a flower pot in their apartment.
I hope you enjoyed this Imbolc Ritual. As the Winter wanes, may the Divine Light within shine for you all,
For more ways to prepare for this Imbolc Ritual, check out these articles:
Preparing for Imbolc: Home Cleansing Ritual