Brigid and the Festival of Imbolc

Brigid is both Goddess and Saint.

Brigid is often described as a Celtic goddess of fire, smithcraft and poetry, but she is so much more. She is a goddess of the hearth and healing, with a triple aspect. Worship of Brigid was so widespread and ingrained within Celtic culture that when Christianity tried to wipe out paganism in Ireland, they could not eliminate Brigid, so they transformed her into a “saint”. She became St. Brigid. The Goddess Brigid and Saint Brigid are one and the same. Her name is also spelled “Bride”, “Brighid” and sometimes “Brigantia” or “Bridget”. There is no definitive answer regarding the pronunciation. Most pronounce her name as “bridge-id” or “breed”. Some Celtic lore indicates that Brigid is a daughter of the Morrigan. Brigid is usually honored on February 1st or 2nd, at the festival of Imbolc, with many lit candles and rituals welcoming the return of the light. Candlemas is the Christianized version of the ancient pagan holiday.

The many customs of Imbolc speak to how beloved Brigid is and how warmly she is welcomed. Offerings if milk, butter, bread and beer sustain her on her journeying…Brigid’s crosses are made, their sun-wheel shape symbolizing the increasing strength of the light. Another custom evokes the tradition of sacred hospitality and invites Brigid to come and take her rest within the shelter of the home. A symbolic bed is lovingly prepared for her in a basket, and a doll dressed in pure white is made and tucked in for the night”. Lunaea Weatherstone, Tending Brigid’s Flame.

Those who follow Brigid faithfully are known as Flamekeepers, keeping alive an old tradition of the Brigidine Sisters tending the holy flame at the monastery of Brigid at Kildare. Ord Brighidach International is a Brigidine Order of Flamekeepers founded in 2005. The order has 700 flamekeepers worldwide, each of whom vows to faithfully tend a flame in Brigid’s name for a daylong shift. You can join the Order at http://www.ordbrighideach.org. It is open to everyone.

Brigid’s Cross.

On or around the 1st of February in the northern hemisphere and 1st of August in the southern, Imbolc is often seen as the first of three Spring festivals. Imbolc is correctly pro-nounced “Im-Olc”. The B is silent. It is hard sometimes to think of Spring in what feels like the depths of Winter. But if we look at the ground we can see the first shoots of green beginning to reach towards the Sun. Imbolc can be celebrated on either the 1st or 2nd February, or more naturally when the Snowdrops cover the ground. This is the seasonal change where the first signs of spring and the return of the sun are noted, the first sprouting of leaves, the sprouting of the Crocus flowers. In other words, it is the festival commemorating the successful passing of winter and the beginning of the agricultural year. It is also a day of celebrating the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Brigid is the Goddess of Poetry, Healing, Smithcraft, and Midwifery. This is a time for communing with her, and tending the lighting of her sacred flame. Imbolc celebrations are held by some pagan communities on February 1st in the northern hemisphere, to observe the astronomical midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is named after an Irish word originally thought to mean “in the belly” – although it can also be translated as “ewe’s milk”. The day is referenced in some of the earliest Irish literature, an indication of its significance throughout Gaelic history. It is believed that Imbolc was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid, considered goddess of fire and the arrival of early spring in Celtic mythology. Imbolc was one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar. For them the success of the new farming season was of great importance. As winter stores of food were getting low, Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later. The lighting of fires celebrated the increasing power of the sun over the coming months. For the Christian calendar, the holiday was reformed and renamed Candlemas – where candles are lit to remember the “purification of the Virgin Mary”. Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times. It is believed that it was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid and that it was Christianized as a festival of Saint Brigid, who is thought to be a Christianized version of the goddess. There is some debate about what came first, Imbolc or Candlemas, however, the date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period A celebration of hearth and home and the sign of longer days to come, traditional customs included hosting special feasts, visiting holy wells and practicing divination. Brigid crosses were also made and hung over doorways and hearths to invoke her protection. Another tradition of Imbolc was weather divination, and the ancient tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers emerged from their winter dens – which is thought to be the origin of the American tradition, Groundhog Day.

Blackthorn Druid Witches honor Brigid at Imbolc by making their own Brigid Crosses, invoking her protection with a special incantation, and giving an offering of ale and milk.

Advertisements