Today the ancient rites of Imbolc or Imbolg, are largely observed on St Brigid’s Day on February 1st lasting till sundown on Feb 2nd. However, this Celtic holiday welcoming the first stirrings of spring and the arrival of the “bright” or “exalted” one, the goddess Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, Bríde) was originally a “moveable feast” determined not by fixed dates on the calendar but by shifting heavenly events. It was at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, that Brigid descends to earth in her maiden form as the sun. This matter of timing was of no small importance.
For the ancient Celts (and many other European and Indigenous peoples) timing was everything. And according to the Coligny Calendar (used by the continental Celts before being banned by the Romans), Brigit’s celebration was not only further determined by the moon – it occurred twice! According to this amazing source, the full moon was Brigit’s public holiday and the new moon was her “Holy Night”. This year the midpoint falls on February 4th, 2023 and the new moon occurs on Feb.19th – all of which means you’ve got plenty of time to make these Magical Blackberry Scones for Brigit’s Holy Night!
The Coligny Calendar is believed to be one of the most accurate lunisolar calendars of the ancient world so I’m highly simplifying the matter when I say it divided the year into two halves, the dark, and light. The high points of the seasons were determined by solstices and equinoxes called “Quarter Days” while mid-points between these were called “Cross-Quarter Days,” and marked the beginning and end of a season. Imbolc fell somewhere between the closest new or full Moon after the Sun reached its first cross-quarter point and was considered the start of spring.
Now I love the communal camaraderie of celebrating a sacred event together on one single date – not to mention the energy of blessing it conjures – but are we missing something important when we no longer observe Imbolc by its original cosmological alignments? For the ancient peoples, solstices, equinoxes, and the changing moon phases were seen as shifts in the energetic cycles that shaped all life on the planet. As such, they were liminal thresholds of ‘betwixt and between’ moments of auspicious and propitious timing during which life-enhancing magic could be worked.
All forms of heat, warmth, and illumination were sacred to Brigid and so bonfires were lit on every hill and farm field, fires blazed in every hearth, and candles were lit in every window. A plethora of food offerings (see this post on the magical foods of Imbolc) connected with the power of the sun, golden butter, cheese, egg yolks, and honey, were baked into round cakes, bread, scones, custards, pancakes, and pies and served for her Feast of the Light.
Today, the custom of celebrating Imbolc on February 1st began when the 12-month Roman calendar was enforced for the purpose of disconnecting the pagans from their old religious beliefs. Much of this was accomplished first by Caesar, then the Church (the new arm of Rome) who finished the job by absorbing the old Celtic holidays into the fixed dates of the Roman Catholic liturgical year. Hence Brigit’’s holy day and Feast became Candlemas and Feast Day of St. Brigid. While the Christian and pagan holy days share many similarities, a feast, lit candles, and plenty of dairy and cakes, it is on the critical matter of timing that they differ.
I find it fascinating that Imbolc’s celestial timing is reflected on earth in the old passage tombs and megalithic monuments of Ireland, many connected with legends of Brigid. On the days preceding, during, and after the cross-quarter day of Imbolc, inner chambers or standing stones at Carrowmore and Carrowkeel and the Hill of Tara are illuminated by a shaft of sunlight. Seems to me that when the old holy days once tied to the shifting heavens, became fixed to dates on calendars, we were unhinged from the natural cosmic rhythms which had guided our lives – and our magic – for millennia.
For me reclaiming the original timing Imbolc offers an opportunity to connect with the natural magic of our ancestors. As above, So Below. Whether we light candles in honor of Brigit or bake special cakes, I believe we are reenacting rituals, prayers, and feasts which once brought us into conscious harmony with the great energetic cycles of birth, growth, rest, and regeneration that govern life itself. And isn’t that the only way to truly thrive?
So why not consider celebrating the Holy Night of Imbolc? The new moon, of course, was the traditional beginning of the new cycle/new month across much of old Europe. Many people celebrated similar festivals of renewal and purification at this time, and in general, the plantings of seeds occurred on new moons and Imbolc is when the first of the new seeds were planted. According to the old lunar calendars (and magical traditions), each dark moon initiates a new cycle of potentiality, a time for releasing the old and nurturing the new. A time for lighting candles and planting seeds in the dark in the faith that new life begins again.
Plus, according to the old traditions of food magic, making these Blackberry Scones on Brigit’s Holy Night will strengthen the powers of the sun, nourish the fertility of the earth, and enhance abundance, prosperity, healing, vibrancy, and good health for all.
Being inspired by the old customs, however, doesn’t preclude us from taking advantage of modern conveniences. So while blackberries are not seasonal at this time of the year, luckily we can find them fresh and frozen in grocery stores. Blackberries were sacred to Brigid and today they are often included in modern Imbolc feasts to attract Brigid’s blessings of good fortune, fertility, and healing.
Bay Laurel is an aromatic sun herb with a reputation for granting wishes, dispelling and protecting from negative energies, and attracting prosperity. Luckily it is evergreen and found easily in most gardens. It adds just the right touch of spicy redolence to the custard – which of course also features those important Imbolc foods, eggs, and dairy! That’s a pretty powerful magical combo packed into these scrumptious scones!
Wishing you a most blessed Imbolc!
Brigid’s Magical Blackberry Scones w/ Bay Laurel Infused Custard Sauce
- 8 tbsp. butter, cubed and very cold
- 1½ cups blackberries
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
- ½ cup sugar & extra for sprinkling
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and heavy cream. Set aside.
- Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the cold cubed butter to the flour mixture and massage in with your fingers. Don’t overwork butter into the flour. You want to see visible streaks/clumps of butter.
- Add the milk mixture to the flour and fold with a spatula just until combined. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and form the dough into a ball. Add more flour if necessary.
- Roll the dough into a 12-inch square and then fold it in half, and then in half once again. Roll out the dough once more and sprinkle it with blackberries. Gently press berries into the dough. Gently roll the dough up to form a tight log and flatten it into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using a biscuit cutter (or the rim of a glass) cut out your scones. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before serving with custard sauce.
Bay Laurel Custard Sauce
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 10 fresh bay laurel leaves, (not California bay or dried bay leaves)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Pinch salt
- Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaves. Cover the pan, remove from heat, and steep for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve, pressing down firmly on the herbs to extract all the liquid. Add fresh milk if needed to measure 2 cups.
- Allow to cool slightly before whisking in eggs, sugar, vanilla, infused cream mixture, and cornstarch. Place in a saucepan over medium-high heat and whisk until smooth. Continue whisking on the stovetop until the custard becomes thick and creamy. Remove from heat – and sieve off any lumps. Serve warm if you can!
- P.S. This recipe is an excerpt from Imbolc Edition: Bridgets Magical Feast of Light, a Gather Victoria E-Cookery Book, If you’re looking for another magical Imbolc recipe you can find this recipe for this Blackberry Pudding and Irish Whisky laced Custard at Gather Victoria Patreon). After all Irish Whiskey is practically a sacred foodstuff in itself!