Journey Toward the Light:
Imbolc and Candlemas
In early February, a number of cultural holy-days converge, centered on prophecy, purification, initiation, and waiting for light. Two of them, the Pagan celebration of Imbolc, and the Christian feast of Candlemas, are celebrated on February 2nd. It is hard not to feel that this is no coincidence, but evidence of a deep, underlying unity that links us in our journey toward the light.
Imbolc is the 2nd Pagan Sabbat, located halfway between Winter Solstice on December 21, and the Spring Equinox on March 20th. Days are lengthening. The sun rises earlier, and sets later, and we sense that the Earth is beginning to emerge from its long winter slumber.
Into this landscape of returning light steps Brigid, the Exalted One, great Celtic Triple Goddess of fire, music, divination and healing. She passes from snow and ice into Spring; from the darkness of winter into warming sun. Flowers spring up at her feet. Animals adore her. A calf leans against her; a swan spreads its wings.
In her arms, Brigid bears a lamb, always a sign of returning Spring. “Oimelc”, the Druid word for “ewe’s milk”, is the genesis of the word Imbolc. It signifies, not just the birth of lambs, but Brigid’s deep maternal care for all creatures on Earth ~ including human beings. From the holy well on the right, we see that she is mistress of divination and prophecy. The harp declares her to be the patroness of music and poetry. The fire and the sword show that she can forge weapons as well as tools. That she is the defender and savior of her people. The bringer of light and justice. Imbolc is one of the four major Celtic Fire Festivals.
In contrast to Imbolc, Candlemas is a Christian holy day, though some believe it is directly linked to Imbolc. The Pagan celebration, they say, morphed into Candlemas because February’s bad weather often made it impossible to have a bonfire outdoors . Because of this, Imbolc rituals were moved indoors, where candles were lit to replace the fires. Hence, Candlemass.
The church sees it differently. To them, Candlemas Day is the day of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, celebrated 40 days after the birth of Christ on December 25th. It is also called the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple,
Mosaic law decreed that a mother who had just given birth was unclean for seven days. After that, she was excluded from attending temple for another thirty-three days, remaining secluded in the “blood of her purification.” At the end of that time, she was expected to bring her child to the temple, where he would be presented to the priest, together with a sacrifice of a lamb, two turtle doves, or two pigeons, as atonement for sin. Once her offering was accepted, she and the child would be purified and clean again.
In this story, and in the ancient image of this ritual, we see many themes in common with Imbolc. Purification, prophesy, initiation and light are all present.
The virgin presents herself and her child for purification in the temple. There, the Christ Child is received and blessed by the old priest, Simeon, initiating him into the Jewish faith. Anna, the prophetess, stands behind him, confirming the words of Simeon. The old priest acknowledges the child as the long awaited Savior, who is to be the Light of the World. He is to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring light into darkness ~ an end to the long winter of Judaism’s despair under the brutal Roman occupation of their holy places.
The atmosphere surrounding the holy child, like the sun that rises above Brigid’s head, is filled with golden light. The haloes surrounding each head are like little suns, symbolizing their purity and sanctity. The tenderness of Simeon, as he stoops over the infant, reflects the loving care of his mother.
It is a remarkable juxtaposition.
At first glance, it may seem that there is little connection between the great Pagan Fire Festival, and Christian Candlemas. They follow two very different spiritual traditions. But beneath the surface we can detect a common journey toward the sacred, and a pathway that leads us from darkness into light.
Come Spring! And lead us toward that light.
Anne Baird, Designer/Owner of GODDESS CARDS, is a self-taught artist who has been painting and writing since childhood. Her chosen media for her unique line of greeting cards is watercolor, with touches of gouache, ink and colored pencil.
Her GODDESS CARD line grew from a birthday card she created for her daughter, Amanda, in 2001. Amanda was disheartened at being a curvaceous beauty in the Land of Thin. (Los Angeles.) That seminal card declaring, “You’re a GODDESS, not a nymph!” evolved into a long line of love notes and affirmations for ALL women. At over 125 cards, the line is steadily growing.
Anne is inspired by the archetypal Legendary Goddesses, who have so much to teach today’s women. Her greatest inspiration however, comes from the Goddesses of Today, who write her with wonderful suggestions and thoughts that expand her consciousness and card line.
She has launched an E-Goddess Card website, where the Goddess on the Go can send Goddess “e-cards”, enriched with music and stories, at the click of a mouse. (A virtual mouse.)