Imbolc and Transformation

crocus-663160_1920 We are entering the season of Imbolc, a liminal time of year in which we turn the Wheel from winter to spring. Depending on where you live, it can be very difficult to see this change. In colder climates, winter is not over. Here in South Central Texas we can have snow and ice as late as the end of February! I have memories of living in cold climates where winter often continued on into May. What triggered me into an awareness of the coming spring were the beautiful crocus blooms peeking up out of the snow! Seeing that filled my heart with joy and the promise of spring.

Traditionally, Imbolc is associated with many customs. In old Ireland it was a celebration of the first signs of spring. It was a festival of purification often celebrated as a festival of the hearth. It was a time to sweep out the old and prepare the home for the coming spring. In these modern times it is often the time when pagan groups hold their initiation ceremonies. The name Imbolc comes from the word Oimelc which refers to the lactation of ewes; their flow of milk that heralds the return of the life-giving forces of spring. It comes just before the birth of the new lambs, hence the udders filling with milk. It was a time for preparing the fields for spring sowing as well as when they gathered in extra help for the coming growing season.

To me, it is when the Earth, in Her stillness, quickens. When the unborn child in the womb first moves, it is called quickening. I love to think of the pregnant possibilities coming to us soon in this quickening.

In Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, the mythological story behind this liminal time is the story of the Cailleach and Brigit. The Cailleach is an ancient Winter Hag, clearly a giantess, as her apron held the rocks that when dropped, became the mountains. It is the Cailleach who stirs the clouds and dumps the snow, who whips up the storms and the strong winds of winter. As the Winter Hag, she contains the seed of promise. While she is clearly a dark goddess of destruction, at Imbolc she returns to us as Brigid, the Goddess of Spring.

Many Imbolc customs center on Brigid such as the making of the Brigid doll and Bride’s bed. One thing I do every year is to create my own Brigid’s Mantle, by hanging a piece of cloth outside on the Eve of Imbolc (Feb. 1st) and leaving it there overnight. It is said that in the night Brigid blesses your cloth as she passes by. This piece of cloth is now imbued with the healing power of Brigid. This was a favorite of the midwives of old and still is for many who use alternative healing modalities today.

This is an opportunity for transformation in our own lives. As the earth begins its own transformation, we too, can change our lives. Brigid offers us the opportunity to drink from her Sacred Well. In the drinking of her Sacred Waters, we may choose how we wish to transform our lives.

fountain_sanctuaryNo matter what path we walk, whether we honor the Cailleach and Brigid or not, we can all drink from Sacred Waters. Water is made sacred by our own intent. Should you wish to do this yourself, first you must prepare. We have one week to be ready by February 1st. It is good to first clean and prepare a sacred place in your home – preferably the area you feel is the “heart” of your home. Sometime between now and February 1st, sit within this space and write down all of the ways in which you wish to transform your life. Write these changes down with positive statements, as if these changes already exist. You don’t want to say, “Abundance is going to come to me.” You want to say instead, “Abundance flows in my life.”

So make your list. Then create a ceremony in whatever way feels right to you. It is up to you who you invite to your party! You might want to light a candle to set the mood. Fill a glass with water and sit in your sacred space, thinking about how your life looks with all of these changes in place. Really try to see yourself transformed! Take time to be still and quiet with your thoughts. Then, when you are ready, read your statements out loud. You can even shout them if you feel like it! Sometimes when I do this I feel like a cheerleader – cheering myself on! When you are finished, pick up your glass of water and drink it – all of it! Your positive statements have transformed this water and it is sacred. You are now taking that sacred intention and making it a part of you. Step into your own transformation with the Birth of Spring.

Bendis ~ 2014

Cailleach and Brigid

Colorful_spring_gardenAt Imbolc we celebrate the first stirrings of spring. It is a time of rebirth and new hope. The earth begins to wake from its winter slumber, the snow begins to melt, and the first green buds and shoots appear, bringing with them the promise of spring. For most of us it is still bitterly cold outside, and if you live in New England snow still covers the ground. It’s hard to imagine spring is just around the corner when you are still shoveling snow from your driveway.

The transformation we witness each year is a sacred one, one that plays out in the myth of the Celts, and in the way they viewed the Goddess. During this time of year, the myths of Cailleach and Brigid come to mind. While Cailleach, the Winter Hag, is churning the clouds above and dumping snow on the driveway, we know that soon she will transform into Brigid the lovely maiden of spring. Each Imbolc we stand at the precipice, a time of transformation, a time between times. Just as Cailleach transforms into Brigid so too can we be inspired from their myths to transform ourselves, to leave the old and no longer useful behind and to drink from the sacred well in order to be renewed.

Cailleach is arguably one of the most ancient Goddesses of the Celts. In fact, she may even be a pre-Celtic Goddess. Many historians have hypothesized that she may have been the earth Goddess of the original inhabitants of Ireland, prior to their integration with the invading Celtic tribes. She is often described as an old woman with white hair and blue skin. She was associated with a mountain in Ireland called the Slieve na Calliagh. The Slieve na Calliagh is madcailleach_jpge up of jagged rocks which may be why she was sometime said to have very sharp teeth.

Cailleach is best known as a Goddess of cold, winter, and darkness. She was also a Goddess of storms and during the winter months she was said to ride through the air on the back of a wolf, bringing snow and ice to the world below. She also had a magick wand that she used to strike away any hints of green on the winter landscape. While Cailleach seems like a dark figure, she is a necessary side of the Goddess. She is destruction, the bareness of winter and she can bring chaos and change just as swiftly as she can call up a winter blizzard, but we must remember she also wears another face. On Imbolc the Winter Hag melts away, transforming into Brigid the Goddess of fire and inspiration.

There are several legends as to how Cailleach’s transformation into Brigid occurs. In Scotland it was believed that each year Cailleach held the Goddess Brigid captive in a cave, preventing her radiant light and warmth to shine on the earth. In some stories Cailleach turns to stone at the first signs of spring, and Brigid escapes bringing with her renewed fertility and warmth to the world. At Samhain Cailleach awakes and captures Brigid, once again holding her captive through the winter. In another version Cailleach travels to a magical isle (sometimes said to be the Isle of Skye) where there is a miraculous Well of Youth. On Imbolc she drinks from the well and transforms into Brigid.

brighidCailleach and Brigid’s myths remind us how the Celts divided the year. Although we recognize four distinct seasons, the Celts generally divided their year in two, the dark and light half of the year. Although triple Goddesses are prevalent in Celtic myths, dual or two faced Goddesses are just as common. Cailleach and Brigid are two aspects of the same Goddess, their changing faces mirroring the changing of the seasons, and the way the Celts viewed theses seasonal cycles. At times these dual Goddesses appear as a Crone and Maiden, other times they are two sisters. We see this in Aine and Grian, two Irish sister Goddesses, who each ruled half of the year. Whether we see the Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone, or as the Winter Crone and Spring Maiden, these two aspects of the Goddess are intrinsically linked. The darkness of the Crone will always give way to the rebirth and new beginning of the Maiden.

So if there is still snow in your driveway, remember that Cailleach is about to take a drink from that sacred well, soon she will be the Goddess of spring. And as the earth around us begins its transformation think about what you can change in your own life. If you were to drink from the Well of Youth what transformation would you seek?

Below is a simple ritual I use each year to invoke Cailleach and Brigid’s energies during Imbolc. May you drink from the sacred well and be renewed!

Drinking from the Well of Transformation:

Brew a cup of your favorite tea or if you prefer use wine. Take the cup to your sacred space. red candlePlace two candles on your altar, one of each side. Blue for Cailleach and a red candle for Brigid. Light the candles and place your cup in-between the two candles on the altar.
blue candle

Take a few minutes to ground and center. See yourself in a small boat. The boat glides soundlessly across the waves, and a cold winter wind blows across you. Soon your boat glides up to the isle’s shore and you step onto the green earth. Shaded by a grove of trees you see an old stone well. The well waters shine with their own light, and you know you have found the Well of Youth. Take a few minutes to consider what kind of transformation you wish to bring into your life. Are their old habits that you need to shed, new ventures you wish to start? When you are ready you dip your hands into the water and drink.
When you are ready take the cup in your hands and hold it over the altar, saying:

Cailleach, blue hag of winter,
Churning storms and chaos in your wake,
Lady of thunder, winter, and cold,
Drink now from the sacred well,
Bring transformation,
And let me change as you do each year

Hold your hands over the cup. Visualize a brilliant white light filling the cup, the light of Cailleach and Brigid, the light of new beginnings and transformation. Then take a sip of your magickal brew. Feel the blessings of Cailleach and Brigid filling you, revitalizing you, as the Goddess’ energies renew and awaken the earth each spring. When you are ready say:


Like Cailleach I transform,
I drink from the sacred well,
The darkness within transformed to new light,
I shine like Brigid of the green mantle,
Renewed and transformed by the Goddess!

Pour the remaining liquid outside as an offering to Cailleach and Brigid.

Cailleach Image – Illustration by Jill Smith…/ pages/cailleach_jpg.htm
Brighid Image – ☆ Brigid Maiden Fire Goddess Banner :¦: By Wendy Andrew ☆

Time for Commitment

Imbolc is right around the corner. The Earth is stirring, warming and readying Herself for Spring. Deep in Her belly new life is quickening, soon to burst forth with new life. It is also the time for us to rise up and dedicate ourselves to new growth, to awaken to new possibilities in our connection to Goddess. Won’t you come join in the dance with us? Come to the safety of our sanctuary to learn and grow within our Sisterhood. Enjoy self-paced classes – rituals for all the full moons and the eight sacred seasonal holidays. Explore Women’s Mysteries in the safety of our Circle.