What is Imbolc? – Some Ancient History



Since starting this website I have had so much fun researching different topics. I’ve discovered that I love learning about ancient history, nature, seasons, celebrations, cultures and of course, anything essential oil related.

This week’s topic is Imbolc. Are you familiar with what this is? If you said an ancient celebration, you would be correct! Imbolc was celebrated by our Celtic ancestors to honor the arrival of spring. Although the exact day may vary slightly, it was generally recognized around February 2nd. This celebration is mentioned in some of the oldest Irish literature. Cool!

What is Imbolc? youraromatherapystore.com

The Celtic people were very much “in tune” with nature as their survival depended on it. During this time of year, they were noticing the inklings of warmer days ahead.

Are you noticing the little things that are happening in nature right now? The days are getting longer, YAY! In some places you could be noticing the snow slowly melting. We may be having the occasional thought about what to plant in our gardens. I’ve noticed that the stores are selling spring related items already.

The Celtic people believed this was a time to pay respect to their deities and prepare for the spring ahead. The holiday was a festival of hearth and home. They celebrated the lengthening of the days and the little signs in nature that promised that spring was just around the corner.

Have you been thinking about spring lately?

The History of Imbolc

Imbolc is one of the four most important festivals in the Celtic calendar.

Imbolc is celebrated at the beginning of February as this is halfway between winter solstice (shortest day of the year) and spring equinox (the day when night and day are about the same length).

Imbolc was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Each region had slightly different variations in the customs and names but the basic idea was the same. They all celebrated the onset of spring and new life.

The word Imbolc translates as “in the belly”. Spring, as we all know brings all kinds of new life, life from the earth, life from livestock, in particular ewes (for the Celts), and even new human life. It is said that many women were impregnated at the previous Beltane celebration.

What is Imbolc? Hands with milk dripping from them.
Offering of milk to the earth!

Milk was a big deal at this time of year too. Ewes would be lambing , therefore milk would have been available. This would have been a welcome thing, especially after spending months in the cold winter with a limited food supply. Milk was considered so special that it was poured on the ground in some cases, as offerings to their Gods.

With spring in the air, the days getting longer, and warmer days just around the corner, it was a great reason to celebrate. The Celtic people were happy to have survived the winter and were looking forward to all the good things that Mother Earth had to offer.

Fire played an integral role in the celebrations of the Celtic people. It meant different things at different times. At Samhain large bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits and at Beltane they offered protection and growth. During Imbolc they were a symbol of the return of the sun. Fires at Imbolc were lit in each home’s hearth; this fire would burn through the night to honor a special deity by the name of Brigid. If the weather permitted, bonfires were lit to chase away frost and welcome the warm weather that was coming.

What is Imbolc? Fire in am hearth.

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A Little about Celtic Spirituality

Some Celtic people honored the Goddess Brigid at this time of year. She was the daughter of a significant Celtic deity and was associated with many things, but primarily for fertility and fire (specifically the protective fire of the hearth). To honor her and pay respect, crosses and a small doll-like figure of Brigid were made. The doll was taken from house to house. It was believed that Brigid would visit homes on the night of Imbolc. Food, drink and other items were left out for her to bless. It was also hoped that she would protect and bless the livestock.

What is Imbolc? Picture of a doll made from straw.
Doll-like figure of Brigid.

In Brigid’s honor, fires were left burning all night in every home’s hearth; many candles were also lit. Brigid was a big deal and her presence was much revered during this festival.

The Celtic people were very in tune to nature. They had a great deal of knowledge about the alignment of the sun and stars. Megalithic monuments from the Celtic time period still exist. They are perfectly aligned with the rising of the sun around the dates of Imbolc and Samhain. Very cool! 🙂

What is Imbolc? Picture of standing sotne on isle of lewis, scotland
Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Some Celtic Imbolc Rituals

Spring Cleaning

Some say that the tradition of “spring cleaning” came from a ritual practiced during Imbolc. During the week leading up to the celebration day everything was white washed, freed from cobwebs, and swept and dusted. Incense was burned in honor of the change in season. Homes were being prepared for the energy, life and growth that accompanies spring.

I think we can all relate to the desire to clean and declutter our homes. Spring is a great time to get this task done. It’s almost as if we feel energized and motivated when we can open the windows and let the fresh spring air in, especially after the long winter of having doors and windows locked up tight to keep out the cold. It feels good to get things fresh and tidy.

Some people like to clean out cupboards, wash curtains, sort clothes, wash walls and all that fun stuff at this time of year. It always feels good to clear out the junk. Donating items you no longer want or use is a great way to help the community!

Walking Around Wells

Walking around a holy well in a sunwise (clockwise) direction was a ritual the Celts took part in. Often they would leave offerings of coins and cloth in hopes they would have good weather and a prosperous growing season.

St. Gwenfaen's Well, Rhoscolyn Head, Ynys Gybi. - geograph.org.uk - 108900

Ground Hog Day

Did you ever wonder how Ground Hog Day got started? It’s believed that this somewhat odd ritual began with the ancient Celts.

Since weather played a vital role in the lives of this ancient culture, it was helpful to know if winter was over or if the cold weather was going to continue for a while longer. The following story may seem a little familiar.

If the weather on Imbolc was good, it was believed a female mythical creature by the name of Cailleach would spend the day collecting firewood; it was thought that she was collecting more firewood because the winter wasn’t ending soon. The story goes on to explain that she could only collect firewood if the day was bright and dry. If the weather was wet and windy it meant that Cailleach went back to bed and there was no need to collect extra firewood because warm weather was on its way.

Over time, European cultures took this tradition and changed it a little. People started to look at certain animal hibernation patterns at this time of year in order to predict the weather. The animals varied depending on what country you were in.

Eventually, the tradition made its way to America where we now watch and wait for a ground hog to emerge at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. If the ground hog does not see his shadow, spring is almost here. If he sees his shadow, this is not great and we will have six more weeks of winter.

Gobblers Knob - Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (6940880814)

I wonder if he will see his shadow this year or not. 🙂

Celebrate Imbolc with Essential Oils

Cleaning up our physical space promotes a healthier state of mind. We feel good when our surroundings are clutter free and in order. We also feel better when we declutter our mind. It’s the time of year for cleaning things up and this can mean your state of mind and your body too.

What is Imbolc? Silhouette of lady in bathtub.
Silhouette of lady in bathtub.

Take a nice long soak in the tub, make it extra special with some calming music and perhaps a candle or two. Relax your mind and body. Some people like to use bathing as a ritual to clean or rinse away negativity. Adding essential oils (always mixed in a carrier oil first) to your bath water is a nice way to make this experience that much better. Rest, relax and breathe in some of your favorite scents!

A good ratio of essential oils to carrier oil is 10-20 drops of EOs to 10 ml of carrier. Add your mixture to the water after your tub has filled up, swish the oils around with your hand before getting in to make sure they have dispersed well.

What is Imbolc? Suggested essential oils for Imbolc. Lavender, lemon, rosemary,cedarwood, rose, chamomile, jasmine
Essential Oil suggestions for Imbolc

The oils mentioned above are just suggestions. There are many EOs that can help you relax and rejuvenate your mind. The important thing is that you take time for yourself, relax and renew your mind and body.

Meditation is a great way to de-clutter your mind. Spend some time focusing on your breath and being silent. (If starting a meditation practice is something you are interested in doing, you can find more information in the related articles’ area below.). Of course, use essential oils when you meditate too! Aromatherapy is beneficial anytime!

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So, what is Imbolc?

In a nutshell, we could say Imbolc is the time of year that we begin to feel the stirrings of spring. Winter is drawing to an end. The thoughts of warmer days pop into our mind.

Paying mindful attention to the changing seasons is one way to help us feel balanced and fully present in our everyday lives. Stop and take note of the little things in life, like those few extra minutes of daylight we are enjoying now. Spring is on its way and we are heading into the lighter part of the year. Awesome!

What is Imbolc? Lady enjoying the view of a city.
A lady enjoying the view of a city!

Do you do anything special on February 2nd? Maybe you pay attention to whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not. I wonder if Cailleach will collect more firewood or if she will go back to sleep. 🙂 I guess we will find out this coming week!

I hope you enjoyed this article. It’s always a great deal of fun to study history. I especially liked learning about the origins of Groundhog Day and even spring cleaning.

I hope everyone has a fantastic week ahead. Take good care and stay happy and healthy!

Angela (founder of Your Aromatherapy Store)

Related articles

I would like to remind you that essential oils are very POTENT and should be used with common sense and caution. Always read the labels. If you are currently taking any prescribed medication it is recommended that you speak to your doctor before using essential oils.

If you are concerned about allergies, you may want to perform a patch test on your skin.

It is also good to be aware that some essential oils are photo toxic. Avoid the sun as necessary when using these oils.

Please know that some oils are not recommended if you are pregnant or nursing.

Essential oils are considered “complementary and alternative medicines” and are not always a substitute for professional medical intervention and advice. If you are experiencing severe physical or mental illness it is best to contact a medical professional.






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8 Replies to “What is Imbolc? – Some Ancient History”

  1. This article was very informative. I am so longing for spring right now! You took me away from winter and got me thinking of warmer days. I like how you took an ancient tradition and applied it to how we can use it now. I love essential oils!

    1. Hi Tammy
      Thanks for the comment. I look forward to a change in weather. The winters are so long where I live. We probably wont see spring for a couple of months yet. I’m enjoying the few extra mins of daylight we are getting now. I have started to notice it isn’t as dark out when I get home from work. So that is a good thing!
      I love essential oils too! LOL
      Thanks for stopping in.

  2. Hey Angela,

    Years ago I learned a lot of what you have put together here but not nearly researched as well as you have. I guess I leaned more on the wiccan aspect of it all. I guess you could say a lot has changed for me since then but aroma therapy has not. Do you think the oils you have listed would work in a diffuser?

    1. Hi there,
      I am aware of Wicca and I have done some reading in that area. Yes, these Celtic Seasonal Celebrations have been included in the Wheel of the Year ( I believe that is what the modern Wiccans call it ). It’s all very interesting. I appreciate that you stopped by and commented.
      Yes, all the essential oils I mentioned can certainly be used in your diffuser. I hope you have a great day!

  3. Hi Angela,
    I really enjoyed reading your article about Imbolc. I never really enjoyed history in school but you made this topic interesting and fun to learn about. The Celtic people are my type of folks. I love being “in tune” with nature although I’m glad my ‘life doesn’t depend on it’.

    i can relate to their celebration in February as winter seems so long here in Alberta. January and February always seem like the longest months. It would be fun to celebrate ‘the onset of Spring” even though we will still have a foot of snow. Perhaps a trip to Ireland, Scotland or Wales is in order!

    I agree with the onset of Spring, bringing forth that need to clean. i like to air out the house and clear out the clutter as soon as it’s warm enough to open my windows…which will probably have to wait until March.

    I love your suggestions for Essential oils for Imbolc! Although I’m not a bath person I often like to mix a few oils into my body wash. I usually go with my favorites – lavender and rose. I might just have to try some of the other oils you recommend.

    Great article, I look forward to seeing what topic you write about next time,

    1. Hi Liz,
      Thanks for popping by. You mentioned that you did not care for history when it was taught in school. I am very much the same as you. I did not really care for history classes in grade school. I studied the material long enough to pass any tests then promptly forgot the information. Now that I am older, I find myself quite fascinated by historical information.
      I too, live in an area that does not see spring-like conditions for quite some time yet. I am however, enjoying the fact that the days are getting longer and it’s not quite so dark at suppertime….lol We are slowly getting our daylight hours back.
      I don’t particularly like housework, but there is something special about cleaning up in the spring time. It feels good and I’m often motivated to get rid of the clutter that has accumulated over the winter. I love opening my windows and letting the fresh air in.
      Here is hoping that Spring wont be far off, I wonder what the groundhog will have to tell us this year.
      Take good care of yourself and thanks again for stopping in. It is always great to hear from you.

  4. Hi. I’m on the other side of the world where we are still immersed in summer. However, we have passed the longest day and our days are becoming shorter and shorter. It is even dark now when I get up at 6:15 to get ready to go to work!
    Being in touch with the cycles of nature is good for our wellbeing, as is taking a bath with essential oils. I like your suggestion.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Your comment reminded that I should have mentioned that the dates of this celebration differs in the southern hemisphere. It was great to have you stop by and interesting to hear about the difference between your part of the world and mine. I hope you have an awesome day, or night…..take good care!

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