Book Review: Imbolc by Carl F. Neal (Llewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials Series)

Imbolc Llewellyn Sabbat EssentialsLlewellyn’s Sabbat Essentials series contains eight small books, one for each Sabbat in the pagan Wheel of the Year. The author varies by Sabbat with no author having more than two books in the series. Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes, and Lore for Brigid’s Day was written by Carl F. Neal. Neal is not an author with whom I am familiar; researching him it appears that his area of expertise is incense.

The standard sections in the Sabbat Essentials books are: Old Ways, New Ways, Spells and Divination, Recipes and Crafts, Prayers and Invocations, Rituals of Celebration, Correspondences, and Further Reading. There is also a Series Introduction that is the same in all eight books, so I won’t review it aside from saying that it is worth reading over annually. It also has two really beautiful Wheel of the Year illustrations, one for the Northern Hemisphere and one for the Southern Hemisphere, which is worth copying into your Book of Shadows.

The Old Ways section is as interesting as always, and contains a lot of helpful information about the history of the Sabbat. The section discusses what winter meant to people throughout history, and why that meaning makes Imbolc so important. Roman, Egyptian, Native American, and Asian traditions are discussed, as well as Celtic traditions and the goddess Brigid. The New Ways section discusses the difficulties of the Sabbat, and Brigid’s importance to Imbolc as well as modern paganism. Secular holidays are examined, and there is a brief examination of activities that can be done during the Imbolc season. Both of these section are quick overviews.

The Spells and Divination section has several helpful pieces to it: two divinations (one candle, one incense), a Full Moon ritual, and a candle blessing ritual. None of them were fussy or require a large number of supplies, which I always appreciate, and some of them could be easily adapted to a full Imbolc ritual. I used a shortened version of the “Blessing of the Candles” spell (pg. 76) as a makeshift Imbolc ritual when I was in the middle of a move one year and couldn’t complete a full ritual. This is one of, if not the, strongest sections in the book.

Unlike the Spells and Divination section, I found the recipes in the Recipes and Crafts section to be a bit fussy. All of them use dairy, but none of them use meat, which is something. The crafts are a mixed bag, the Brigid’s Cross craft is ubiquitous, appearing in every Imbolc book that I’ve read, but that’s not a bad thing, and the diagram is helpful. The corn dollies are similar, but there is no diagram included, which I would have liked. The Imbolc incense and dipped candles are in the ‘fussy’ category again for me, I’m not going to do crafts that are potentially so messy. While the author is known for making incense, I’ve found that it’s not an accessible craft at all, and has a steep learning curve. As someone whose partner makes candles I can say they also have a learning curve (though not as steep as with incense), and that making dipped candles can create quite a mess. However, the candle blessing was quite good.

The Prayers and Invocations section was quite short, but has several excellent blessings and invocations. They cover a wide variety as well, making this another very strong section. The Rituals of Celebration section, however, was a mixed bag. The solitary ritual, “The Fire Seed,” was the best of the three, and could be used as a supplement to an Imbolc ritual as well as a full solitary ritual. The ritual for a pair is specifically for a couple, and is very over-the-top. It’s more a Valentine’s Day ritual than an Imbolc ritual, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it might work for you. Finally, the group ritual, “Uncoiling the Dragon,” is the weakest, in my opinion. I often use the rituals in the Sabbat Essentials books as a jumping off point for my coven’s ritual, but there was nothing I could use here. If your coven is into dragons, it works, but it has nothing to do with Brigid and feels more ‘sword and sorcery’ than pagan. The plus side is that these are very different than the rituals you will encounter elsewhere, and that can be a good thing.

Conclusion

In the end I recommend this book, and I am especially pleased with the Spells and Divination section and the Prayers and Invocations section, both of which are quite helpful. Blessed be, friends.

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