Although outside there may still be snow on the ground, Imbolc celebrates the returning of Spring and the beginnings of new life. Imbolc, also spelled Oimelc, means "in milk" and refers to the beginning of lactation among pregnant ewes. In Celtic traditons, it is a holiday associated with Brid, and has survived to this day in Ireland as St Bridget's Day. (St Bridget herself was reputedly a midwife who assisted at the birth of Christ.) Corn dollies were made from the last of Lughnasadh's grain and carried through the fields to bless the coming crops.The Romans dedicated the holiday to Venus and the Greeks to Diana. In Norse traditions it was known as Disting-id and was a time for readying the Earth for planting, generally by strewing it with ashes, salt, and herbs. Candlemas ritual were done as sympathetic magick to aid the Sun in his return. And people the world over celebrate Groundhog's Day, where we find out our chances of an early spring.
Imbolc is associated with new beginnings, with planning, starting over, and making way for the new. It is a good time for divination and weather magick, as well as for initiatory rites. Usually by this time the seed catalogs have come, and you can spend some very comfy evenings planning your spring garden. Take down and burn (a few at a time please!) any dried and dusty Yule greens that still remain. Clean out the herb closet and the pantry. Go through your attic and garage, and bundle together things that can be given to charity. Clean your shrines and altars, indoors and out, making room outside for new green, growing things. Traditionally Imbolc was also the time to make the candles for the coming year's use.
Decorate your Imbolc altar with Goddess images, lights, and candles. Since Brid is traditionally assocciated with wells, you may want to include images of wells or dishes of water. Set out a bowl of snow to slowly thaw and remind you of the approaching spring. Corn dollies are also appropriate, as are seeds and any sprigs of early-sprouting plants you can find. Imbolc is a festival of the home and hearth, and you can keep a fire in your fireplace all day or a small fire burning in a cauldron on your altar. Imbolc colors are black, white, pink, and green.
Children will enjoy helping you make candles to display on your altar. Wax can be purchased at your local craft store, in sheets or in blocks. Sheets are safest to use with small children, as no heat is involved. The sheets (which come in a variety of colors and a nice honeycomb pattern, are simply rolled around long wicks. For older and more adventuresome kids, melt the wax in a double boiler over low heat. Dip the wicks in one at a time, allowing the wax to harden before you dip again. Molds are also a nice option, and while it can get rather expensive to buy them, you can use orange juice cans or milk cartons. Wash them thoroughly, then fasten a length of wick to a pencil or popsicle stick and allow it to hang inside the mold. Pour in the wax, and when it is cool and dry, remove the stick and peel off the cardboard. Voila! Candles can be decorated with dried flowers and leaves or crystals, pressed into the wax while it is still warm and slightly soft, or there are even fancy colored cutouts available at craft stores as well. You can add scented oils, in small quantities, to make scented candles.
Another good craft to do at Imbolc is to make corn dollies. If you didn't save any grain from last year's harvest, don't fret; dried stalks of wheat and grass can be found cheaply at craft stores. Simple corn dollies can be made by simply tying a sheaf of wheat in three places, to represent the Triple Goddess, and wrapping it in a lace hanky. To make a more complicated doll, bend the sheaf in half, tying it an inch or so below the bend. Make a small braid and poke it through just below the tie to serve as arms. Tie it again to mark the waist. Spread the ends of the sheaf out as a skirt, draping it over a cardboard cone if necessary to give it support. You can decorate it further as you wish, with a small straw hat, flowers or leaves, or just leave it plain.
Imbolc food includes milk and eggs, lamb, salmon, and waffles. The Celts served poultry or lamb with dill sauce, while the Norsemen ate pork and saved the bones until planting time, as they were considered to be talismans of strength and good health.
Salmon Baked in Foil
Smear a large sheet of aluminum foil with a little of the butter and place the fish in the center of it. Squeeze the lemon over the fish and place the rind in the cavity. Sprinkle the herbs over the fish and into the cavity. Season with salt and pepper and dot with the remaining butter. Fold the foil over the fish and crimp one end. Pour in the clam juice and white wine and crimp the other end. Place the package in a baking dish and bake for 45 minutes at 350. Carefully open the foli package and remove the fish to a large platter. Strain the juices into a small saucepan and simmer until thickened slightly. Spoon the juices over the fish, garnish with parsley and lemon wedges, and serve.
Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly, using a fork. Beat together the egg yolks and butermilk, and beat into the dry ingredients. Stir inthe oil. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold them into the batter. Bake according to the instructions with your waffle iron. Serve hot with plenty of syrup or preserves.