Pagans Celebrate Coming of Spring with Imbolc Festival

By steven earnshaw [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Rituals and Traditions of Pagan Imbolc and Lughnasadh.

The ancient Celtics, pagans and including the neopagans of today honor and celebrate the four different seasonal transitions. These festivities include the Samhain (transition from fall to winter), Imbolc (from winter to spring), Beltane (from spring to summer) and Lughnasadh (from summer to fall). This article will focus on the Imbolc festival which is the beginning of the growing and planting season and Lughnasadh festival that marks harvest time.

The Pagan Imbolc and Lughnasadh Festivals[/tweetthis]

The Imbolc festival

As mentioned above, Imbolc marks the transition from the cold and dark winter towards that bright, warmer and lush spring season. Imbolc is an Old Irish word that literally means ewe or sheep’s milk. It is said that when ewes start lactating, it’s one of the traditional signs of spring’s arrival. The festival is also referred to as Brigid’s Day, the feast of the Celtic deity Brigid or Saint Brigid for the Catholics. Brigid is considered the goddess of fertility and represents light, regeneration and livestock. The Imbolc festival usually falls on either the 1st or 2nd of February each year.

Pagans celebrate Imbolc in different ways but celebrations usually involve spiritual purification and dedication, torch processions, bonfires and individual reflections and other rituals. Purification rites and rituals are usually aimed at cleansing the body, mind and emotion for a better start of the year. Bonfires, torches and lights on the other hand symbolize the returning power of the Sun and also a way to honor Brigid. Personal reflections tend to focus on the goals for the coming year in all life areas be it financially, emotionally, on relationships and even the crops or livestock the individual is planning to raise this spring.

Since much of the Celtic and pagan traditions have dwindled in influence and were later on assimilated by religious traditions, Imbolc has its own Christian or modern versions. It is believed that the Imbolc festival gave rise to the Groundhog Day which also celebrates the beginning of spring and of the Candlemas celebrations which aside from the offering of children to Jesus Christ, also symbolizes the bringing or coming of light to the world.

The Lughnasadh festival

The Lughnasadh festival is a celebration of the upcoming fall and harvest season. The term Lughnasadh means Lug’s assembly referring to the Irish mythological god Lug. Based on historic accounts, Lughnasadh is a funeral and athletic festival created by the deity to honor his mother Tailtiu who was considered as an earth goddess particularly of drying vegetation (harvested crops) that feed people. The festival is held annually on either July 31 or August 1. There are also those who celebrate it on the Sunday closest to such date.

Traditional activities held during the celebration include harvest and animal offerings, climbing of hills, funeral games and other sporting activities, matchmaking, visiting holly wells, trading and fairs, feasting and general merrymaking.

Food offering and the accompanying ceremonies or rituals are usually held on top of the hills or mounts. The first corns to be harvested for the season are usually being offered to the gods. Sacred bulls are also slaughtered and are symbolically replaced by younger cows. Matchmaking in Lughnasadh’s history involved trial marriages that would last for a year after which, the couple have the option to make the relationship permanent or otherwise end it. The Puck Fair is the closest resemblance of the trading and fairs done by the ancient pagans.

Though much of the tradition was lost as times modernize, neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionists and Wiccans commemorate and try to revive the old Lughnasadh customs. Some of the Lughnasadh activities were even adapted by the Catholic Church having their own names and custom twists.


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