Imbolc means, literally, "in the belly". For in the womb of Mother Earth, hidden from our mundane sight but sensed by a keener vision, there are stirrings. The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and grows. Imbolc is the festival of the Maiden, for from this day to March 21st, it is her season to prepare for growth and renewal. This sabbat celebrates the first evidence of the return of life. The Sun is slowly starting to make its return and the very hardiest of plants will begin to grow again from this day forth. This is a time for renewal. Dispense with all that holds you back and start fresh. Purify your soul and everything that surrounds you. This is a time for initiations or rededications.
Imbolg is also called "Brigit's Day", in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit. At her shrine, the ancient Irish capital of Kildare, a group of 19 priestesses (no men allowed) kept a perpetual flame burning in her honor. She was considered a goddess of fire, the patroness of smithcraft, poetry and healing (especially the healing touch of midwifery). This tripartite symbolism was occasionally expressed by saying that Brigit had two sisters, also named Brigit. Another form of the name Brigit is Bride, and it is thus She bestows her special patronage on any woman about to be married or handfasted, the woman being called "bride" in her honor. The Roman Catholic Church could not very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, so they canonized her instead. Henceforth, she would be "Saint" Brigit, patron saint of smithcraft, poetry, and healing. Brigit's holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday. The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism as well, using "Candlemas" as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Mary Feasts. The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of "churching women". It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn't be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess.