The Magic of Imbolc
In the belly of the Goddess, something is stirring. It is time for the earth to awaken from the dormancy of the winter and create life anew. Just beneath the winter snow, the seeds of life are preparing to spring from their shell and break through the thawing ground. You can feel it in the air – a freshness of feeling. A rebirth is underway.
The herbs, flowers and trees that many associate with Imbolc help us understand the magic behind the sabbat. Through their magical uses, symbology and lore we can understand the enchantment that is taking hold, as what is dead is reborn, and what is old becomes new.
Sun-like, golden flowers like celandine and tansy remind us of the significance of the new cycle, a chance to start again. A reset for all that is past. Heather and Blackthorn help us understand it is that time to initiate new plans and prepare for the harvest you want to see in the future. Till the fields, choose the seeds, and be mindful that you can only reap what has been sown.
Many Imbolc flowers and herbs, such as Bay Laurel and Angelica, make clear the importance of purification and cleansing to be better prepared for the coming seasons. It’s quite traditional to engage in “spring cleaning” during this time for this very reason.
Through the burning of Myrrh resin we are placed in a spirit of reflection and somber contemplation. Reflection breeds wisdom, and wisdom makes it easier to navigate whatever the year may have in store for you.
The magical herbs of Imbolc have a story to tell about the magic of the season. As you take time now to learn about these herbs and their deeper significance to the Imbolc sabbat, perhaps you will walk away a bit more enchanted and in awe of Nature and the magical signs she shows us every day.
The Magic of Angelica
The power of the archangels resides within Angelica, hence its botanical name, angelica archangelica. Angelica can be grown near or within the home to provide protection. Usually, the root is what is used in magical workings.
Sprinkle some angelica along the four corners of your home or around the perimeter to ward it from evil. Angelica can be used in purification baths to cleanse negative energy, and smoking angelica leaves is said to cause visions.
Angelica has powers of luck and its energy can draw good fortune, as well as provide a little extra blessing of emotional balance and harmony to one’s life.
The Magic of Basil
Basil reminds us of the charming nature of the Imbolc season; the sweet innocence of new life and new love just beginning to bud. It can be rubbed on the skin to act as a perfume that attracts love.
Basil’s saccharine and aromatic scent has been known to soothe tensions that can arise between lovers, helping them find their way to sympathy and understanding.
The legendary “witches herb,” it was once thought that witches would drink a ¼ cup of basil before flying off into the air. When strewn on the floor, it repels maligned energies, as where basil is, evil cannot exist.
The Magic of Bay Laurel
Imbolc is a time of purification. It is a time for clearing away all that doesn’t serve you in preparation for the bounty of future harvests. Bay laurel is the perfect herb for the occasion, as it is a purification herb par excellence.
Burn a bay laurel smudge or scatter bay laurel leaves around the home to banish away any dark energies that may linger back to the cold dark of from whence they came.
Place bay laurel under your pillow and allow it to color your dreams with prophetic revelations that may help inform your decisions and planning for the coming seasons. Bay laurel can be burned to inspire psychic visions, and included in brews to empower clairvoyant abilities.
The Magic of Blackberry
As Imbolc arrives, it’s time to reinvigorate the body and prepare it for all that will unfold throughout the year. Blackberry lends itself to this pursuit quite nicely, as it is a powerful healing plant.
Imbolc is also known as St. Brigid’s Day, named for the Celtic goddess of poetry and healing, and the blackberry plant is associated with her as well. There is even an old healing ritual involving blackberries that invokes the goddess herself.
If you happen to find yourself in the presence of a blackberry bramble bush that forms a natural arch, be sure to pass under it, as it is said doing so can cure all sort of maladies.
The Magic of Celandine
As the earth begins to break free from Winter’s icy grasp, and the seeds in the womb of the Earth mother stir and vibrate in anticipation of releasing new life into the world, we are reminded that Imbolc is a time for freedom – a time for Nature to discard her wintry shells and begin the cycle of life anew.
Celandine’s power is to break chains. In the vibrancy of its yellow color is a magic that has been used to free the mind of depressive mindsets. Its protective power visits in the courtroom, when freedom is on the balance, providing an avenue by which judge and jury may be inspired to change their minds and grant a more favorable judgment.
Practice caution when using celandine, as immodest doses can be toxic. It’s name comes from the Ancient Greek chelidṓn, which means swallow, as the ancients say that celandine blooms when the swallow returns as fades as the swallow flies away.
The Magic of Coltsfoot
As the Sun returns and prepares to leave a blooming landscape in its wake, coltsfoot is among the first to herald its arrival. The flower is one of the earliest to bloom, sometimes as early as February, just in time for the Imbolc season.
Coltsfoot will only unveil its stunning dandelion yellow petals at the promise of warmth and sunlight. In its dazzling golden bloom it seems to trumpet the return of the Sun and the assurance of love and peace on the horizon. And in the wake of the love shared between the Sun and the Goddess, life is reborn anew, and Spring will blossom soon.
Coltsfoot can be used in love sachets to attune your soul and vision to Love’s energy. It is an herb that inspires peace and has divinatory applications, as the leaves can be smoked to induce visions.
Medicinally, coltsfoot leaves and flowers are used in cough remedies. In fact, its genus name tussilago means “cough dispeller.” Practice great care and consume coltsfoot very sparingly, as it contains alkaloids that can attribute to liver disease.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should steer clear of consuming coltsfoot, as these alkaloids can be passed on to the child with toxic results.
The Magic of Heather
On Scottish moors and heathlands, a curious magic takes place, as the hills are alive with the beauty and majesty of the heather flowers that grow there widely and with abandon.
The enlivened enchanted purple glow of the heather plant is a beloved treasure to the locals, and many a poem has be wrote in tribute to its inspiring and captivating beauty.
Heather is a plant steeped in magical potential. It has been said that heather “is a suitable tree for the initiation of Scottish witches.” This magic extends to all that would proceed to initiate a new path or journey, and as Imbolc is a time of planning for the future, heather’s power is right in line with these pursuits.
Heather has a plethora of magical uses. It can be burned with fern to attract the rains that will allow Spring flowers to grow. Heather’s ethereal beauty seems to call beyond the veil and has been used to conjure ghosts. White heather is particularly lucky, and can double as an added protection against rape and violence.
There are many magical ways you can incorporate the magic of heather into the Imbolc season. Heather branches make wonderful besoms, perfect for cleansing lingering unwanted energies headed into the time of planning. The branches can be woven into lovely wreaths that will invite good fortune to the home.
The Magic of Iris
During the Imbolc season, there are two worlds at play: the evidence of the winter season, as layers of snow have finally started to thaw and trees shrug off their coat of frost, and the imminence of Spring, and new life begins to form just below the ice, and the Earth vibrates and warms with the Sun’s ever-nearing energy.
Iris is a symbolic reminder of this duality. While in the world seen, above ground, there exists a delicate flower of otherworldly beauty, just below the surface in a world unseen exists a root system steeped in mystical energy.
With a scent similar to that of violet, the energy within Iris root -- more commonly known as orris root -- weaves its way into the subconscious mind, helping to uncover the hidden worlds and knowledge tucked away within the psyche. Its powder can help intersperse divinatory revelation into dreams, and it is associated with the moon and the realm of intuition.
Iris flower and orris root both can be used in rituals for purification. Place fresh iris flowers in an area you wish to usher in vibrant, cleansing energy. The three petals of the iris flower represent the highest of ideals – faith, valor and wisdom.
Considered a birth flower of February, Iris shares a name with the goddess of rainbows and new beginnings. In her wake, she creates the rainbow with her cloak woven of multi-colored flowers, thus connecting heaven and earth.
Iris shares numerous connections with death and the Underworld. Cross-culturally iris has commonly been used to adorn the final resting place of the dead. Ancient Greeks would place purple iris flowers on the graves of young women, in hopes that the goddess Iris would show compassion on their souls and shepherd them into heaven.
It is said that the iris flower was one of the flowers Persephone and her nymph friends were gathering before she was woefully abducted by Hades into the Underworld.
The Magic of Myrrh
While Imbolc is a time to celebrate, it is also a time to be solemn of mind. The winter’s frost and its dangers might linger still, delaying the advent of Spring and the growing season. The Earth Goddess still remains separated from her daughter, Persephone in the Underworld below and still mourns for her loss, even if their reunion is near on the horizon.
With an earthy scent that some might call bittersweet, myrrh is a gentle reminder of the harsh world we leave behind as the barrenness of winter’s grasp releases its hold to the burgeoning font of life that will become Spring. While at Imbolc we are almost there, we are still only halfway there – winter’s throes and the dangers they may represent are still reality.
It’s important to remember that while modern advancements have lessened the dangers that usually accompany the winter season, the cold of winter is no trifling matter. In days of yore and even in the current day, not being adequately insulated from and prepared for winter’s danger can mean certain death.
Traditionally, myrrh is a funerary herb. It was used by the ancient Egyptians to embalm their dead. It has numerous connections to death, mourning and the Underworld, and is used to heal the sorrows of the past as well as connect with the spirits of the dead. The nuggets of resin that form when myrrh leaks from a tree are sometimes called “tears,” seeming to further myrrh’s connection with mourning and sorrow.
Myrrh is a purifying herb. The smoke can be used to cleanse and consecrate magical tools and talismans. It is usually coupled with frankincense which shares similar qualities, and together the smoke of both resins work to raise powerful magical vibrations, banish negative energies, and provide protection.
The Egyptians honored the Sun God Ra by burning myrrh at noon, and it was also burned at temples for Isis. Its name comes from the Semitic root m-r-r, meaning “bitter.”
The Magic of Tansy
Imbolc is a time that reminds us that nothing ever really dies. The trees reemerge from their frost-bitten winter shell and display new life and leaves. The seeds from the plants that have been felled by winter’s crisp snap are beginning to sprout – an heirloom of the generation before. Everything that dies is reborn. Everything old becomes something new.
Tansy is a symbol to death, rebirth and the cycle. Colloquially known as “buttons” for its distinctive, button-like yellow flower heads, its name is believed to have come from the Greek word athanaton, which means immortal.
Tansy was gifted to Ganymede to make him undying, thus it is often included in spells and rituals for longevity. It is also associated with Hebe, a goddess often connected with youth and immortality as well as any other god or goddess that represents death and rebirth.
Tansy has had a myriad of funerary uses. It has been packed into coffins with the dead do to its excellent ability to repel insects and worms. Corpses were dressed with tansy oil before burial, as tansy wreaths decorated funeral halls and cakes made of tansy and caraway were served to those mourning the dead.
The prevalent use of tansy in funeral traditions made the herb fall out of flavor for some, who had no taste for such a “morbid” herb.
An excellent insect repellent, tansy was often stuffed in shoes to ward of mosquitoes carrying the pestilence of malaria and to prevent contracting fever. Ants particularly do not like tansy, however bees have been known to be calmed by its smoke.
With a minty scent that is sweet like rosemary, it is a common tradition to flavor dishes made with dairy using tansy leaves during the Imbolc season. However, practice care when consuming tansy, as it is slightly toxic.
It is also very similar in appearance to ragweed tansy, which is very toxic, so pay great attention when foraging for tansy in the wild. Pregnant women should steer clear of consuming tansy altogether, as it can have adverse affects on pregnancy.
The Magic of Violet
Imbolc is a time of rebirth and reemergence. The squirrels and groundhogs are reemerging from their ground burrows, testing the ground for frost and foraging for nuts and berries. Little green sprouts are starting to form on the once barren trees, young saplings that seem to return the trees back to life and the visage of youth.
As good fortune would have it, violets make their reemergence for the Imbolc season as well. The birth flower of February, violets don’t mind the waning cool of the winter season exiting, as they prefer cooler temperatures. If the winter months have lasted too long, chances are you can find sweet violet greens still crisp with winter frost, but perfectly edible and rich in nutrients.
While violets tend to grow wild and can be somewhat invasive, don’t make the mistake of missing the gift of the prevalence of this delicious flower! Young violet blooms can be plucked and candied with a little egg wash and some sugar or syrup for a tasty floral treat. They are also popularly baked into cakes, cookies and scones and sprinkled into salads with divine results.
The beauty of violet is both lovely and lucky, and can be used in spells to attract and raise your good fortune when it comes to love. This magic is especially potentiated when you add lavender to the mix, as between the two is created an aroma and beauty that Love cannot resist.
Make sure to gather the first violet you see in the spring, as it has the power to grant wishes. Maligned spirits and energies can’t withstand the beauty of the violet flower, so be sure to carry some for an added measure of protection.
Violets have a wonderful yet fleeting soft, powdery scent. However interestingly enough, if you’ve smelled violet once, it will be a moment before you can smell it again, as it contains a compound that dulls the olfactory nerves momentarily, making experiencing violet’s flirty aroma again a game of patience.
The Magic of Blackthorn
Known as the “Dark Crone of the Woods,” Blackthorn is at the very heart of Winter, and the harbinger of the Spring. Winter begins when the Cailleach – the Goddess of Winter – strikes the ground with her Blackthorn staff. And as the Blackthorn tree blooms, it marks the beginning of the Imbolc season.
Imbolc is a time of initiation. It’s time for the initial planning and preparation needed to undertake new projects and endeavors. Blackthorn is also intimately tied to the art initiation, as blackthorn staves and wands are often used to initiate new witches into the Craft and the magic of the Underworld.
It is called Blackthorn is because during the dead of winter, when the tree has shed all of its leaves, what remains is a portentous black and thorny, gnarled and barbed husk. It is very much the inspiration behind the menacing brambles you find protecting many enchanted forests in fairy tales, most notably Sleeping Beauty.
And protect it will. Blackthorn branches can be hung on doorways can protect the home and its inhabitants from calamity and disaster, as well as prevent dark energy from entering the home. It is customary to carve Blackthorn staves with the Norse rune thorn for an added means of defense.
There’s a reason Blackthorn understands protection – it is because it understands what to protect against. It understands the dark and cold of the winter, and the threats that bitter cold holds. It understands the Underworld and all its mysteries, and is a portal to and an anchor from it.
Blackthorn is steeped in mystical and auspicious magical energy. It represents the dark side of the Craft. It is the "increaser and keeper of dark secrets.” It is linked to the crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. To know and understand magic and witchcraft is to understand the dark and the light, and Blackthorn’s energy is there to protect you, a wizened guide as you dabble in the dark.
Blackthorn wood can be fashioned into a powerful wand that can be used for all magical purposes. Its fruit, called sloe, is a dark and edible berry, but do be advised that its flavor is quite acrid and sour unless you wait till after the first frost in Autumn to harvest them.
Image Gallery: Herbs for Imbolc Magic
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