Imbolc does not mean “in the belly!

The curse of Wikipedia strikes again. Now I’m seeing that Imbolc means “in the belly” all over the blogs for today’s holiday and I couldn’t figure out where the hell it was coming from until I looked in Wikipedia.

So I went to my handy Gaelic dictionaries. Number one the word Imbolc or any derivation there of does not appear in either Dwelly’s or MacClennan’s. Two very comprehensive Gaelic dictionaries which might explain why the holiday in Scotland is Fheill Bride not Imbolc.

The nearest words I could find were Im or Imb which are words for butter and the other words using those prefixes all have to do with milk or things done with milk. Normally you used to see that Imbolc had to do with ewe’s milk and that would make sense.

Bolg is a word for belly but if you use the logic of the two words together that would make the holiday butter belly and I sincerely doubt that.

So I looked at the alleged references used in Wikipedia. Most of them are New Age sources and not a Gaelic Dictionary in sight. Don’t you think if you are going to define a Celtic holiday with an allegedly Gaelic name you should at least consult a Gaelic dictionary?

So as I’m concerned Imbolc does not mean “in the belly” and how they got there mystifies me. It probably does have some thing to do with sheep and milk which makes a hell of a lot more sense.


15 thoughts on “Imbolc does not mean “in the belly!

  1. Excellent! I recently learned the Irish name, Lá Fhéile Bríde, and have been trying to work it into my conversations with others about it. I want to make sure I’m pronouncing it right first.


    • Anything with the grave/ accent mark is a long vowel. So I is an ee sound. A is like the A in Pa. And an e is like the e in hey!

      Fh is usually silent. There are a couple of good website you can access for both Scots and Irish gaelic. Just search Google.


  2. Pingback: Imbloq doesn’t mean Ewe’s milk either | Adventures and Musings of a Hedgewitch

  3. To be fair, a large number of books (from as far back as the 1980s) make references to what Imbolc means. A large number of internet-and-book taught, solitary pagans are practicing based off of what they can get their hands on. Gaelic dictionaries are hard to come by (except online, and we’re told not to trust everything online, especially translators), so it’s reasonable to assume that these people who irritate you so really aren’t trying to be un-learned. We trust our community elders and, frankly, people who have a dozen books published and available everywhere we go. That’s why I’m partial to a stance of un-naming: go with “February Eve, Spring Equinox” etc. instead of pseudo-Celtic holiday names.


  4. In researching the exact meaning/translation of Imbolc for a book I’m writing, I came across your post. I then found this in a book published in 1903…

    Errach or Spring began On the first of February. This
    day was called oimelc, imolg, or imbulc: the first form
    aimelc is given in Cormac’s Glossary (p. 127, åi”), where
    it is derived from åi, a sheep, and melc or melg, milk :
    åi-melg,’ ewe-milk,’ for that is the time the sheep’s milk
    comes.” That oimelc is the first Of February we know
    from Peter O’Connell’s Dictionary, where oimelc is identi-
    fied with Féil Brighde (St. Brigit’s feast day), which has
    been, and is still, the Irish name for the first of February
    all through Ireland, the old Pagan name oimelc
    being obsolete for centuries.

    so, I think the disconnect with your current dictionaries may be that the words are no longer used. You can find the book here:

    Hope this helps maybe clears up the confusion and explains why so many have adopted the meaning. 🙂


  5. I guess I should have put it on your post stating it doesn’t mean ewe’s milk either. Didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers. I neither speak Scots or Irish Gaelic, but thought your be might be interested in a possible reason why people started defining it that way.


    • It annoys me when people who don’t speak the language and therefore the mindset of the people make up stuff because of the way they think it should be rather than what actually is and my fellow pagans are the worst. All you have to do is look up that meme about the word tenalach to see that.


  6. Okay, as I’m one of the ignorant masses that don’t know the language (though being a McAlister descendant would love to learn) I’ll defer to your expertise. Do you think that it could have been derived from ancient words no longer used?

    Of course, I had to google tenalach to see what you were referring to. 🙂


    • No i think one pagan makes something up and someone else quotes it without checking and then because it’s on the internet it becomes fact. Just like the pagans who think Mabon and Litha are ancient names and not something made up by Aidan Kelly


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