Imbolc is the period of mid-winter, six weeks after the Winter Solstice, and six weeks before the Spring Equinox. The days have been growing longer since yule, but they have still been shorter than nights. At Imbolc the daylight hours are noticeably lengthening, and gradually becoming longer. At the spring equinox the length of day will be equal to the length of night. While it is still winter, the growing light reminds us that spring is coming, and we begin to plan for the coming growing season.
For the Northern Hemisphere: The traditional date to celebrate Imbolc is February 1st The astrological date will be when the Sun is at 15 degrees Aquarius, which may not be exactly on February 1.
Generally, you can choose any time from late January through mid-February to celebrate this seasonal holiday, as it is not really about a specific day, but it is about the shift in seasons. It is a recognition that Winter will be ending soon, and Spring will come again.
Gestation and Birth
Imbolc grew from the celebration of the first milk from pregnant ewes and cows, which would often be pregnant through the winter and preparing to give birth at this time of year. The birth of lambs and calves would mean fresh milk was available again, something our ancestors did not have access to all year round like we do now. This is why milk, butter, cream, and cheese are associated with Imbolc celebrations.
For human gestation, it is interesting to note that babies who were conceived at Beltane will be born around Imbolc season (if it is a full-term pregnancy)
Imbolc is symbolic of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and the final gestation period before the rebirth of spring. Spring is still some distance away, but there is a light of hope flickering in the distance. Just as the farmer must plan in advance what kind of crops they will grow, we have this time to plan ahead for what “seeds” we might plant. It is a transformative moment when you make a decision and begin planning your goals. In the metaphor of the final period of gestation, this is when the baby has turned over so its head is facing the birth canal, and there are signs that baby will come soon, though it may need a few more weeks in the womb.
This period of the final gestation (the end of the pregnancy) relates metaphorically to how we make wishes and plans for the future at Imbolc. Some seeds need to be planted indoors or in greenhouses now before they are transferred to the outdoor garden once spring begins. Some seeds need cold striation - a process in which the cold weather of winter actually begins to prepare the seed for growing season. Parents prepare their homes and lives for the arrival of a new baby before the baby is born. The farmers prepare the barn for the baby sheep that will soon be born, and add milking the ewes to the daily routines - these are all changes that occur before the birth which will come later.
Energetically and Metaphorically - even though we might not quite be ready to "plant" our seeds, now is when we bless our seeds. We can think of the future and make wishes and begin planning for what we will do when the time is right. We can make some changes now, and other steps of the process come later.
Making Wishes, Setting Goals
Imbolc is a time when new plans are made and new ideas are “planted”. It is also traditionally a time to examine your life and discard things you no longer need, cleansing and releasing to open the pathway for the new wishes and goals. This is a sabbat that is about preparing for what is to come, getting rid of old things that no longer serve us. Through introspection, we discover what we want to be different in our lives going forward. Imbolc is about new beginnings and the transformation from winter to spring, and it is generally a time when we make Wishes or set goals for the year ahead.
Imbolc is also a time for cleansing. Milder weather meant that it was time to open doors and windows to let the stale air out and the fresh air in. The barns are cleaned of old hay and new fresh bedding and straw is placed so the coming lambs and calves will have clean fresh bedding to lay on. We can do the same in our own homes - and begin the process of “Spring Cleaning”. Change your bedding, let fresh air in from the windows, get rid of extra clutter in your home. Dust the shelves and corners, get rid of cobwebs and dust the fans and light fixtures. Shake the dust from your rugs, and maybe consider cleansing or shampooing the carpet. Decorate with bright colors to help yourself feel enlivened and awakened, and work on getting rid of things that are broken, worn out, or just no longer used or needed. Make sure you donate things that are still in good repair to shelters or churches where people in need might be able to use them.
Cleanse your body as well - refresh yourself with a nice exfoliating sugar scrub to scrub away the dead skin. Maybe a nice facial with a deep pore cleansing face mask is in order. Give yourself a nice manicure or pedicure, and maybe get your hair trimmed or use a hair treatment for damaged hair (like a leave in conditioner or some kind of scalp rejuvenating potion.) This goes beyond just a nice “treat yourself” spa day - you can use these care tasks to symbolically represent an energetic cleansing and renewal. If you wish, you could also use the day or two before Imbolc for a detoxifying and cleansing diet to help cleanse yourself from the inside out. (Please research safe methods and talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of extreme detox diet or cleanse!)
Use this time of year to take stock of your magical supplies. Do you need to replace any tools? Do you need to restock any herbs or oils or incense? How is your supply of herbs? You do not have to buy everything all at once, but make a list of what you need so that you can remember when you are ready to make a purchase. Or, this list can also help you decide what herbs you will need to grow in your garden, or what things you might want to barter or trade for if this is something your community does.
As you cleanse your home, consider also reinforcing or repairing your protection spells and wards. The Sabbats are all a good time to reinforce your protection magic, and Imbolc is especially a time to consider protecting what we find sacred. The pregnant ewes and cows would need extra protection during these last winter months as they were moving more slowly but predator animals were likely waking up from hibernation, or coming down from cold mountains to hunt for food. Consider this energy as you reinforce your magical protection around your home. You are making goals and planting seeds and setting up your home to be a safe place for you to grow through this year - make sure you have strong boundaries and protection from predators!