Imbolc is a time for the waning of winter and the impending arrival of spring. A typical altar around this time will carry symbols of both. However, it is important to note that there is no hard and fast line as to what exactly your symbols have to be, nor is there any rule as to what ritual you choose to perform (though there should be some reference to the upcoming warmth and new growth of spring).
I will share with everyone how I chose to set up my altar for Imbolc and the ritual I chose to perform. Feel free to replicate mine, but it is always better to add something personal to make it your own.
I chose to have four white candles (two small pillars and two tapered). The white of the candle was to symbolize the snow of winter and the flame symbolized the warmth of the sun. I also added my daffodil plant and some of the dried flowers from the plant in a separate silver container. Daffodils are one of the traditional flowers of Imbolc (including snowdrops, crocus, any white or yellow flowers, or first flowers of the year) because it is one of the first flowers to bloom after winter. Also their yellow hue alludes to the sun and its warmth.
After I set up my altar, but before I lit the candles, I told the candles what their purpose was. I told them that they were to symbolize the sun, whose warmth and light helps life grow. I called upon the God to bless and empower my candles.
After all my candles were lit, I called upon the Goddess to bless and nurture my seeds so that they may begin a life of their own.
I then thanked the Lord and Lady and continued to let the candles burn. Once they had burned down a little, I took toothpicks and dipped them into the hot wax and placed the toothpicks into each pot. I believe this symbolizes the warming of the earth and will help spark new life into these little seeds.
Many of you may have noticed that I posted this on the 3rd of February, and Imbolc is traditionally reserved for the 2nd of February. I purposely chose not to hold my ritual on the 2nd because there is a full moon on the 3rd. I believe this phase of the moon added some rejuvenating energy to my ritual. I also do not follow the aligning of the Pagan calendar to the Christian one because us Pagans have practiced magick for many many years without it. I think that it is not as important to follow the “day of the Sabbat” as it is to follow what your heart says and what you believe to be true.
I hope this has inspired you to make your own rituals for Imbolc (if you have not already), or to do a ritual now and not worry that you missed the holiday because some calendar says so.
“And thus the snowdrop, like the bow That spans the cloudy sky, Becomes a symbol whence we know That brighter days are nigh.” –George Wilson
In the midst of a silent Winter, the land sleeps. Blankets of snow cover the ground and the nights grow longer. For months, the world passes by in uneven shades of black and white. A day arrives when man begins to forget the gentler days of warmth. Doubt convinces him that Spring has abandoned the land. It is in this bleak moment, the snowdrop suddenly blooms.
In 1753, Carl Linnaeus scientifically classified the snowdrop as Galanthusnivalis. Galanthus is from the Greek words gala, meaning “milk,” and anthos, meaning “flower.” The following word nivalis means “of the snow,” thus roughly translates into English as “milk flower of the snow.” This small bulb plant, dark green and white, symbolizes Spring’s arrival, new hope, and lasting endurance. While this blog post is primarily interested in the magickal properties of the snowdrop, it is always worthwhile to explore a plant’s origins and folklore.
One Christian folk myth, entitled “How the Snowdrop Became,” illustrates how the snowdrop became a symbol of hope and endurance. The tale is describes how an angel turned falling snowflakes into snowdrop flowers to give Adam and Eve as a sign of hope before evicting them from the Garden of Eden.
Another legend, from Romania, takes a different approach to the flower’s origins. The myth coincides with the Spring celebration known as Mărțișor. The story has been shared through generations and changed over time, but the common tale as told today follows:
“Long ago, when the Sun appeared each year to warm the earth in the form of a beautiful young girl, the people loved her dearly and looked forward to her appearance with joy. When she stepped onto the earth, birds began to sing and roots stirred under the ground. One year however, the monster of Winter, known as a Zmeu, lay in wait for the young Sun and took her prisoner. No ray of brightness could escape from the thick, stone walls of his castle dungeon. That year, Winter did not lose his iron grip on the soil, the earth stood hard and grey and the people suffered. A young Hero, who loved the Sun dearly and saw the plight that the earth would face without her, set out to sort out the Zmeu and lured it from its castle walls. The two fought bitterly and the Hero managed to set the Sun free. He warmed himself with her kiss as she rose into the sky and the icy winds became Spring breezes. But the poor Hero was grievously wounded and despite the Sun’s warmth, he fell to the ground. Each drop of blood as it fell, melted the snow beneath him and the first snowdrops began to grow, opening their white petals as the Sun reached her zenith.”
In modern times, it is still a tradition at the Mârtisor Festival, for women to receive charms with red and white threads. Sometimes with tiny red and white dolls attached. If this red and white practice of dolls, snowdrops, and spring all seems vaguely familiar to some readers, perhaps it is not too far a stretch to link Mârtisor with the Wiccan sabbat, Imbolc.
A sign of spring in Europe and the Americas, snowdrops can form expansive carpets of white. These displays attract enormous crowds of sightseers to gardens and festivals. The most notable modern event concerning snowdrops is Scotland’s Snowdrop Festival, which is held for weeks on end between February and March. Such a little flower can fascinate millions of people worldwide for generations. This brings me to a very serious point. A few wild snowdrop species are threatened by loss of habitat and human consumption. Please do not needlessly pick the flowers! If you must use a plant’s magickal properties for spellwork, always ask for the plant’s permission. Talk to your blossoming neighbors and show them the respect any innocent deserves. Instead of cutting flowers and putting them in a vase, plant them in the yard or a container. Below is a brief introduction to the planting and care of snowdrops. If you have additional questions or comments on this plant, leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Planting Instructions for Snowdrops:
First, the propagation of the bulbs. Always buy your bulbs from an accredited source! A good nursery will provide you with a healthy set to get you started and ensure you a full crop. Some suppliers sell clumps of bulbs in full growth (also known as “in the green”), while others sell dormant bulbs (a phase in the plants life when the leaves have withered).
The snowdrop does not do well in warm, tropical climates. The Hardiness Zone depends on the species of Snowdrop, but USDA typically recommends Zones 3-8 for most varieties. If you live outside these zones, there is a little trick to try! Buy the bulbs in the green and cool them by sticking them in your freezer for six weeks. Some nurseries will even do this for you. After this process, pot them and watch them grow. Keep in mind, the bulbs need to be dug up and chilled again for next year.
Snowdrops enjoy full sun to partial shade. Heat, however, will shorten their bloom period, cause them to wilt, and go into dormancy. They bloom between late winter and early spring. They will flourish while there is still snow on the ground and a dusting of snow will not bother them at all.
Snowdrops like a neutral to slightly alkaline soil pH and rich but well drained soil. Plant bulbs point up, about three to five inches apart and two inches deep. Try not to crowd them too much either. Water well and keep watering weekly. Unlike tulips and daffodils, snowdrops do not linger long once they have bloomed. For the most part, snowdrops take care of themselves during dormancy.
If your soil is lean, consider fertilizer after flowering. As the bulb grows into clumps, there may be less blooms— At this point, consider digging up the bulbs and dividing the clumps for more little snowdrops. Replant immediately.
Unfortunately, snails and slugs will eat their way through the flower’s leaves. To prevent this, try setting up some copper barriers around your plot. Luckily, snowdrops are resistant to larger animals such as deer, rabbits, and groundhogs (except maybe kitty cats and the fairies)! Everyone will enjoy these elegant flowers.
Finally, as a medical warning, some people get a skin irritation from contact with the bulbs. All parts of the Galanthus are mildly toxic if ingested, so it is not recommended for teas, although many Green Witches have made Snowdrop Essence without complication.
Pax et bonum,
“Alluding to the colour of the flowers. The snow-drop, Winter’s timid child, Awakes to life bedew’d with tears; And flings around its fragrance mild, And where no rival flowrets bloom, Amidst the bare and chilling gloom, A beauteous gem appears!”
–THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS (1839)
Information gathered from personal experience and several sources through public access. For reference and further reading:
*Nature Lovers from Amazon Online