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The Celtic Festival of Imbolc

Imbolc (or Imbolg) is an ancient Celtic festival, now held at the start of February, marking the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The word “imbolc” from old Irish means “in the belly” because the seeds of spring are beginning to stir and nature is beginning to awaken from its winter slumber. Today, Imbolc shares the date of 1st February with St. Brigid’s Day but the origins of celebrating Brigid date as far back as the Celts!

The Celtic Goddess, Brigid

Brigid was known as the Celtic goddess of fire, blacksmiths, wells, healing waters, springs and poets. She is also linked to motherhood, fertility and abundance. The Celtic festival honoured Brigid with feasts and bonfires in the hopes that the coming growing season would be fruitful.

With its origins in the Celtic festival of Imbolc, St Brigid’s Day was the festival of fertility and marked a period when daylight is increasing and spring is the air. Imbolc was a time to start thinking about what you wanted to plant and harvest in the coming year. Today, Imbolc and the quiet weeks of the start of a New Year offer a great time to reflect and think about what you want for the months ahead. Navan Centre & Fort’s ‘Imbolc – Celtic Mindfulness Day Retreat’ offers time to reflect, be mindful, think about future goals and consider connection with ourselves, as well as the place through our personal and emotional links.

Celtic Mindfulness

Celtic Mindfulness takes inspiration from the mythology of our ancient past and interweaves it with modern mindfulness practices. The one day retreat is facilitated by Judith Greene Mindfulness and Karen Smyth Mind & Body Skills. The experience will incorporate a balance between mindful wellbeing practices and tapping into the Celtic wisdom & mythology of the festival and a sense of place with Navan Fort, following the journey of the roots of Imbolc, through Brigid the Goddess to St Brigid’s Day. Judith is an experienced mindfulness teacher and has a Diploma in Teaching Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Interventions from the Mindfulness Centre, Dublin and is a member of the Mindfulness Teachers Association of Ireland.

Karen Smyth will incorporate Mind Body Skills facilitation, weaving in cultural elements. Karen is one of the few certified Mind Body Group Facilitators in Spain and Ireland, having trained with the Centre for Mind Body Medicine, USA. The groups provide a safe setting for an evidenced based programme which decreases stress levels, improves mood, and enhances resiliency in meeting life’s challenges through a range of self-care, meditative and mindfulness practices. Drawing on this approach, Karen will use a combination of practices such as a concentrative meditation suitable for all levels, movement, breathwork and expressive meditation. Karen will also incorporate making a Brigid figure (a Brídeóg).

St. Brigid Cross and Brigid’s Figure (a Brídeóg)

St. Brigid is said to have invented the cross herself while attending a sickbed and picking up rushes from the floor to craft them into a sacred cross. Brigid’s Cross is a symbol of Ireland that can trace its roots back to Celtic mythology. Crafted from rushes or straw on January 31st, the eve of St. Brigid’s Day, the cross is woven left to right, after the movement of the sun. It has a layered square at its centre with four arms radiating out, each one tied at the ends.

Although nowadays we are probably more familiar with St. Brigid’s Cross, an ancient alternative way to honour Brigid was the creation of a corn doll called “Brideog” (meaning “little Brigid” or “young Brigid”). Traditionally, young girls and women would make this doll, decorating it with ribbons, shells or stones. On St. Bridgid’s Day itself, the Brideog would be carried through the village, visiting houses where the representation of the saint is received with honour. Taking up the tradition in its many forms focuses the mind in the meditation of craft, and connects our minds to the great wheel that turns and is slowly bringing us into the spring of renewal. Imbolc is just one of several pre-Christian holidays highlighting some aspect of sunlight and heralding the change of seasons. These events are celebrated throughout the year at Navan Centre & Fort, including the Summer and Winter Solstices, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.