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What do know about Imboc?

  • #2
    Registered Users Posts: 1,729 ✭✭✭ Yellow_Fern

    It is often recounted that Imbolc (or Óimelc) was the ancient pagan origin of St Brigid's day (the 1st of February) marking the start of Spring. It is commonly said that Imbolc was a fertility festival with various rituals and it was christianised into the Christian tradition of St Brigid's day. Many go as far as to say that the saint didn't exist at all and another link here. This seemed logical as a figure called Brigid appears in Irish mythology. Some articles about the Goddess mention a sacred fire in Kildare that was kept burning by virgins.
    It was said to be one of the four great Celtic festival, quarter days that divided the year. It sounds very convincing but I have been trying to learn more.

    The only direct evidence that I can find for the existence of Imbolc is a single reference in Sanas Cormaic/ Cormac's Glossary, which simply mentions Óimelc and simply defines it as the beginning of spring and the word comes the word for ewe's milk. This is 10th cen so it is about 500 years after Patrick. I can't find a single other example of hard evidence of Imbolc. The ancient goddess figure of Brighid isn't associated with Imbolc in cormac's glossary. Increasingly it seems that the much discussed traditions seem to be have been inferred from folk traditions of St Brigid which creates a circular logic issue. Does anyone have thoughts?


  • #2

    I don't think there where any festivals to mark times of the year as celebrations at all back then. General gatherings so specific purposes yes. Nothing more, what would be the point really?

    Imboc, 'in the belly' they say that means. Sound like something you would say to get rid of someone.

    Óimelc. (Ói)Ewe (melc)milk. The lack of the word Bainne is noteworthy. They used the wold 'melc', which is an eastern continental word for milk. Bainne can have many etymological associations. It was a Roman word for a bath. A literal dug out tiled bath. There are still women and men in Africa who will drench you in milk and give you a dip in a river to give you a 'purification'.

    I don't think it was being put up specifically as a calender term either. I'd say people were big milk drinkers back then and were happy to get a sup from the sheep when they might be waiting longer for cows to get over the winter.
    It just happend to be a ready marker of a change in time as sheep don't start reproduction until the spring. It's interesting. I think they would have been happy to have names for the seasons, and would have used them from time to time. They wouldn't have been sprinting over to a sundial for the general seasons. They had the Roman calendar as we know in Cormacs time, yet it was before the printing press, so they would have been down to the church to gauge if they were correct. Before the Romans, a similar deal. They had the 360 degrees (days) and would have had someone, somewhere, marking off the days on a wooden pole. Again, happy to have words for the seasons. Of no real use on their own.

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