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The faces of Imbolc

The ancient holiday of Imbolc has many faces, many rituals and many many names depending on your beliefs and where you come from. You may know this holiday as Imbolc, Imbolg, Brighid's Day, Imbolq, Olmeic, Candlemas, Brigits Day, Bride Day and surely there are more as well. No matter what you call it the meaning of the day is similar. Imbolc is normally celebrated as a day of preparing for the season to come and of things to come. This may be the day that you prepare your candles for the year, prepare for the coming spring, or prepare for new life to come to the world. Although you may not be seeing it where you live right now, Imbolc is the ending of winter and the coming of the spring.

For the Romans this is the time of year that is directly between the Winter Solstice (usually about December 21) and the Spring Solstice (usually about March 21) and is known as the season of the Lupercalia. The Romans held a purification ritual on February 15 each year as part of their practices. During this ritual a goat would sacrificed and they would make a scourge from its hide. Men would run through the cities, hitting people with pieces of the goats hide. Anyone who was hit with the hide were viewed as being very fortunate. Most Roman celebrations are associated with a specific deity or temple but this holiday does not. Its focus is on the creation of Rome by Romulus and Remus. These city founders are said to have been suckled by a she-wolf in a cave called Lupercale which is also where the name of the season comes from.

In ancient Egypt this time of the year was celebrated as the Feast of Nut. Nut‘s birthday is said to fall on February 2 on the Gregorian calendar. The Book of the Dead says that Nut was viewed as a mother to Ra the sun god. At sunrise Ra would be called Khepera and would take the form of the scarab beetle.

Of course most modern day Pagans associate Imbolc with the goddess Brighid. In fact the worship of Brighid was so strong that when Ireland was forcefully converted to Christianity, it was impossible to convince the people to get rid of their beloved Brighid. As a result the church was forced to allow the people to continue to worship Brighid. This is where the holiday of St. Brigid's Day comes from. The goddess turned saint has been so popular that many churches and church related buildings are named after her.

For modern day Christians February 2nd is still celebrated but typically as Candelmas rather than St. Brigid‘s Day (depending on your beliefs and where your from). It is the feast of purification of the Virgin which closely resembles the ancient practices of the celebrations of Brighid. According to Jewish law it takes 40 days after a woman has given birth to a son for a woman to be cleansed. Christmas is 40 days from February 2nd. On this day candles are blessed, a feast is had and the days of winter dwindle away. Again this is a reflection of the ancient holidays and practices.

Although Imbolc is not Valentine’s Day, the two are actually related as love and life go hand in hand. February has always been known as a month when love begins. There is a belief in Europe that on February 14th the birds and animals of the region would start to look for a mate. Valentine's Day itself is named after the Christian priest who went against orders from Emperor Claudius II that banned soldiers from getting married. Secretly, Valentine performed many weddings for the young lovers. The loving Valentine was captured and executed on February 14, 269 C.E. Prior to his execution he had a message to a girl that he had become friends with while he waited to be put to death. Its said that this was the first Valentine's Day card.

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