Imbolg: Spring Folk traditions in Ireland


The La Fheile Brid, or Imbolg is one of the greatest feasts of the irish celtic calandar and one which has defied time and Christianity to remain part of Irish trads and folklore.


Brigid was one of the great goddesses of Ireland a goddess of arts, crafts, sovereignity and healing, and one who was so beloved of the people that even the final rejection of ancient paganism in favour of Catholicism couldn’t dislodge her. Goddess Brigid had a temple oin Kildare, tended by women who kept burning a perpetual flame, or fire; as with alol the celtic great feasts, bonfires are a staple! This temple became the great abbey of Kildare, over which the (now) Nuns watched, and who continued the tradition of healing and care well into the middle ages.  The healing well of Brigid is also to be fopund at Kildare, one of the famous sacred wells, but by no means the only one dedicated to Brigid – almost every county has its Brigidine well.


But by now, Goddess had given way to the Saint, St Brigid daughter of Lubhtach the Pagan, chieftain of Kildare.  Did she exist? Probably.  The title of Brigid  was given to the head of the temple, and later to the Abbess of the church at kildare.  St Brigid was the first Brigid to become a Christian and to spearhead the change from pagan temple to Abbey, according to modern historians. At any rate her sanctification ensured the survival of the Brigidine order, and Brigidine traditions, albeit in a new and christianized form.


And what were these traditions?

Spring-cleaning for one! The idea of spring-cleaning comes from the rite of purification of Brigid, very apt for a goddess of so many wells.  The houses of the rural poor in particular have maintained this tradition up until the later half of the twentieth century.  The house would be scrubbed up and down on Brigid’s eve; the men were sent out into the fields; the women worked into the night and at the first dawn the men would return with the first cut reeds/rushes from the fields. These were handed ceremoniously into the house across the threshold, and scattered (or woven into the Bríd cross, or a corn dolly depending on the area)


Water was sprinkled in every corner of the room,(remember most rural dwellings in Ireland for many years were just one room) and every surface washed, clearing out the bad air and stuffiness of the winter.  Out in the fields and over the livestock the men sprinkled water also, the bless the animals and crops.  Obstensbly this was “holy” water as approved by the church but in reality taken from the sacred/”holy” wells.



 The youngest woman in the house, or the latest mother, would go the threshold as the  dawn deepened and “call” Bríd into the house. The format in which she was called was varied widely but contained certain elements common to all.  There was little reference to Saint, only to Brigid, an interesting ambiguity and also the main idea was to invite, call and cajole her into the dwelling, in order to protect against fire, poverty and sickness.  A sample call might go “As Day breaks,

Brigid enters, and ills depart.  Brigid come into our homes, and bless our hearths.” Whereupon the dolly, or cross would be affixed above the fire in the kitchen.  Modern households to this day still affix the cross above the cooker in the kitchen!


The other big set of folk traditions in Ireland on La Fheile Brid center around the lovestock.  Brigids fire, a burning brand lit by or made of the first cut rushes, was waved around and over and under the livestock especially the milk cows, young newborn lambs or calves and thegoats.  Pregnant and newly birthed mothers also used to insist on purification by Brigid’s fire, and many a parish priest resigned himself to “blessing” the whole procedure as parents would not have the child baptized until the fire rite was performed.  Thus in self-defence it became diluted into a church ritual, culminating in some areas as the refusal to allow women communion after childbirth until they had been purified of their “dirtiness” in a church (known as “churching”).  The Mind boggles…………….



Imbolg/Lá Fheile Bríd as part of Irish Traditional Witcchraft.


As with most things individuals and families vary in their precise ries or ceremonies to mark each festival: some being low key, others being more formal. The general consensus on Imbolg is that it is a period of welcoming spring, honoring the Goddess Brigid (if you are so inclined) purifying dwelling places, and animals, blessing children and marking the beginning of the ascent into Spring & Summer.


In terms of Magic and occult workings, while it is traditional not to do actual spellwork on a festival day, the time preceding and following the day itself is often used for several categories of work, all related to the themes outlined above.  Purification of the physical dwellingplace can be aptly mirrored by spells concerned with spiritual cleanliness, undoing past mistakes, clearing away negativity, forgiveness and rebirth.  Fertility and children are especially apt themes for work around Imbolg.  The waters of the sacred wells are often bottled around now, and used through out the year. One tradition has it that to bottle water from a spring or well on the new or full moon immediately before or after Imbolg is most effective. 


Spells connected with rebirth, of projects, emotions or hope, and spells aimed at healing are especially effective either side and close to the date itself. The far side of the date is the best time to utilize old sewing spells, e.g. to sew seeds of love or friendship.  It is an important time to bless the land and the night of Brigid’s eve is traditionally a very important and magical night, one to remember animals both wild and domesticated.  It is also an important night for children and they should always be included in any Brigid house blessing on the night, as they will bring especially good luck. 


And just to finish on a comforting note, the best time to start or give a boost to your diet? The waxing moon after Imbolg! Don’t ask me why but it’s the best time, I swearJ



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