Imbolc – 1st of February (Spring)
Imbolc – also called Brigid’s Day, Lá Féile Bríde, Candlemas, Oimelc,
Dates – 1st or 2nd of February
Pagan Calendar – Sabbat, Cross Quarter Mid-Point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, Fire Festival
Goddess – Triple Goddess Brigid, Brigit, Bhridgit, Bride, Breet in her Maiden/Virgin Form
Gods – The Young Sun
Moon – Ice/ Storm/Snow/Quickening/ (Feminine)
Colours – White, Red, Silver, Pale Yellow
Talisman – Fire, Candles, Sun-Wheel/St. Bridgid Cross, Snowdrops, Brigid Dolls, Seeds, Milk, Butter, Crossroads,
Associations – First Day of Spring, Light, Rebirth, Renewal, Birthing, Women, Lambs, Ewes, Animals Coming out of Hibernation, The Hearth, Purification, Initiation, Creativity, Inspiration, Healing, Healing Wells, Cooties, Divination, Romance, Youth, Poetry, Music, Smithcraft,
Tree – Rowan; Inspiration, Seership
About Imbolc – The Celtic Fire Goddess Bridgit and her Christian Counterpart Saint Brigid
Today we can officially say farewell to winter and turn now towards the hope and promise that Spring always brings to our hearts and minds. Since Winter Solstice there has been a gradual lengthening of daylight, not very noticeable at first, but yesterday I was able to walk in our local forest up to 5.30pm before real darkness fell. At present, if I want to go out for a cycle, I have to make sure I get out and back before 3pm because of the obvious dangers of failing light on rural country roads. With each day that passes, the young child-like Sun grows higher into the sky, and before long, he will be strong enough to escort me on my cycle much later than that, ensuring that I can be seen by motorists.
Even though it is Spring, February can be a particularly harsh month for weather in Ireland with biting winds, frost, snow, hail and sleet. I always feel so sorry for the poor little lambs that are born at this time of the year for they often have to endure terrible conditions. Many are lost if the weather is particularly horrendous. Farmers have to work extremely hard during the lambing season, with little sleep and tough working conditions. It is certainly not for the faint hearted.
We may still feel the bite of cold as we dash from our cars to the heat of indoors but beneath the surface, things are stirring, quickening and we can see the early signs of the return of life to the land. Snowdrops and crocuses are gracing us with their presence once more and the promise of daffodils to come are beginning to raise their stalks above the surface. I have a few early cowslips with their delicate yellow flowers in my back garden indicating that nature is back in action once more.
The Springtime belongs to the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid and on the Pagan Calendar this day is known as Imbolc, which means ‘in the belly’ suggesting the gestation that is occurring just beneath the surface. The land is practically bulging with imminent birth. It is also associated with the lambing season and the onset of lactation of the ewes. It marks the rebirth of nature and fertility, the quickening beneath the soil and the return of light. The Goddess Brigid, Brid, Bride is a Triple Goddess taking the form of Maiden, Mother and Crone as The Wheel of The Year Turns. During this season she reigns as the Young Maiden, just as the New Born Sun from the Winter Solstice is still in his child-like state. Both are in the early stages of their reign and we must be patient with them as they grow, for as they mature, so too will the land grow and the animal kingdom give life to their young. The heat of the Sun will strengthen with each week that passes, rising higher and higher in the sky until he comes into his full glory.
Brigid is the Virgin Goddess who breathes life back into the land, and hope back into our hearts. She is a Goddess of regeneration and abundance, and was held in high regard by the people of the land, for she was the great provider of food from the land and protectress of livestock. She is traditionally associated with two oxen which were called after two areas in Ireland. One was Fea and the other Feimhean. In Irish Mythology, Brigid is the daughter of Dagda, one of the Tuatha de Dannan,a supernatural race in Irish Mythology, closely linked the Faerie Folk and said to be the ancestors of Spirits of Nature (Elementals), Goddesses and God’s. Brigid is known to have had two sisters all called by the same name which reinforces her representation of the Celtic Triple Goddess. Between the three sisters they were renowned for their magical gifts of Healing and Craftsmanship. She is Patron of the Healing Arts, Divination, Magic, Poets, Bards, Smithcraft, Birthing and Midwives. Is there anything this Goddess did not do? Well she is associated with much more. Brigid is also known to be Goddess of Crossroads and the Tween Times, neither here nor there, neither one thing or another, a time especially favoured by the Sidhe (Faerie Folk). This makes Imbolc and the early days of Spring an especially good time for divination, Tarot Reading and communication between different realms and dimensions.
Brigid’s Cross which is traditionally woven out of rushes or reeds represents the Wheel of The Year, The Four Directions or Paths, and the Four Elements; Fire, Water, Air and Earth. The centre or Heart of the Cross unites all Four Directions/Elements. With the Goddess Bridgid’s powers of Divination she is said to know from which path you came, and also to which path or direction you will go. For those who found themselves at a crossroads in life, and were unsure as to which way to turn, Brigid was often consulted for guidance and direction.
In Paganism, Imbolc is a Great Sabbat, the First Cross Quarter Day of the year following Midwinter. It marks the Mid-Point between the Winter Solstice and The Spring Equinox. It is celebrated as a Fire Festival. Great importance is placed on the hearth or fireplace on this day. In Ireland the hearth was vitally important as a source of heat and light for the family. They cooked on it and sat around it. During the dark days of winter when the land was barren, little work could be done. Families gathered around the hearth and it is here that the famous storytellers of Irish Tradition, The Seanchaí first emerged. Ancestral stories and traditions were passed down from generation to generation during this time. Brigid was the great Protector of Families and Domesticity, the Guardian of Home and Hearth. Traditionally a Bridgid’s Cross was hung over the Hearth in honour of this Powerful Fire Goddess so that the family would be protected from harm throughout the year.
Imbolc marks the recovery of the Goddess from Childbirth as she resumes her role as The Goddess Brigid in her Maiden, Virgin and Fertile Aspect. She waits expectantly as Bride to the Young Growing Sun. This aspect of her associates the month of February with romance and love and many traditions handed this day over to the young for celebration and merry making. It was a time for the new and not the old. However the old did have their own traditional rituals that were closely followed. Imbolc is a day for all to celebrate as it represents the return of Light after the Darkness of Winter
Brigid brings with her the gift of Purification and Imbolc or Lá Fhéile Bríde (Irish for Brigid’s Day) is a time for letting go of the past and turning our backs on all that is dark and negative in our lives so that we can look towards the future with hope and trust. It represents a time when we let the light back into our lives. On this day we should ask Brigid to help us with the cutting of ties that hold us back, and the releasing of negativity from our past so that we are free to move on. Because of Imbolc’s association with Purification, this day begins the tradition of Spring Cleaning. Originally the Spring Cleaning was of the the house, when it would be cleaned from top to bottom, repainted, curtains washed or replaced, and all cupboards emptied of clutter and dust. In Ireland that tradition still flows in our blood, as throughout the country, houses are being cleared and cleaned along with gardens and outside space in preparation for the brighter warmer days ahead. In modern times, the Purification has also been extended to cover the self, with the emphasis on banishing and clearing out anything from our thoughts, emotions, behaviour and lifestyle that brings darkness instead of light. This Purification extends to unhealthy relationships and friendships.
Many animals come out of Hibernation, back to life, at this time of the year which symbolically suggests that we too should start re-emerging from our own Hibernation or shells, and become active and alive once more. We tend to retreat into our homes, like our ancestors of old during the Winter Period, instead of gathering around the Hearth to tell stories, we watch television instead. Now the longer daylight hours call us forth. This is first seen in our own young, our children who can stay out longer to play and have fun. Before long, as soon as that first day of real Spring hits, we will begin to see their parents out too, and not just moving from their car to their front door. They will linger to chat to neighbours, sit on their garden wall to watch the children play and catch up with each other’s lives. I notice that in my own neighbourhood there is a definite form of Hibernation amongst the adults during the winter time. Only the children, who move and run fast, can bear to tolerate the cold and biting winds. Over the next few months, I will see and chat to neighbours that I haven’t seen since last September or October, even though we all live so close to each other. There will be days when we will all be out in our gardens, tidying and sweeping driveways, washing windows and cleaning guttering. We want all this work done and out of the way so that when the Spring has finally settled in, we will be free to enjoy it.
The Goddess Brigid daughter of Dagda and The Morrighan. Bridgit was of The Tuatha de Dannan Tribe and was said to have married Bres of the Fomorians in an attempt to bring peace between the two warring tribes. She had three sons, Ruadan, Luchar and Uar. However, the peace that was intended failed to come about and her son Ruadan was killed in The Battle of Moytura. So distraught was the Goddess by the loss of her eldest son, her grieving became inconsolable. Her cries and wails of mourning and lament were said to have been heard all over the land and it is from Brigid we get the tradition of Keening by mourners at wakes in Ireland. However, so appalled by her despair and suffering, it is said that the battling tribes laid down their weapons and made peace. And so we now have The Goddess Brigid as the Peacekeeper and bringer of Harmony and Unity.
The Goddess Brigid has been so beloved over the centuries that with the coming of Christianity it was unspeakable to think that she might be done away with or banned. Instead she was transformed into Ireland’s leading and most revered Female Saint, St. Brigid. Only St. Patrick, himself was ranked above her. Believed to be the daughter of a Druid or Irish Chieftain he had a vision that she was to be named after a Great Goddess. There are many conflicting stories about St. Brigid’s origins, parentage and early life, but all agree that she was known for her compassion, generosity and kindness.
One of the accounts of her early life says that Brigid’s mother was a slave, and that she too was born into slavery. Her father, a Druid or Chieftain is reported to have had a dream where he saw three clerics baptising her. One of the clerics told him to call her Brigid. Upon waking, her father attempted to feed her but she vomited and he suddenly realised it was because he was impure. This falls nicely into place with Christianity condemning Paganism and similar in order to put fear into the heart of the good people of the land. It is said that her father found a White Cow with Red Ears whose Milk sustained her. Red Eared White Cows are commonly found in Celtic Mythology as creatures of the Underworld, and here we see evidence of the merging of the Goddess and Saint, as in her Goddess Aspect she is associated with her two oxen, Fea and Feimhean. StBrigid is traditionally Patroness and Protector of livestock, and in Celtic Society, Cattle were the most important of all. StBrigid was said to have been accompanied by a Cow everywhere she went and that this Cow supplied her with all the milk she needed. On The Goddess Brigid’s Day part of the tradition and ritual was to leave out a saucer or bowl of milk in her honour. Viewed from this aspect it is hard to see where the Goddess ends and the Saint begins as the edges appear decidedly blurred.
From a young age it was clear to all that Brigid was different and very holy. As she grew older, she began to perform miracles wherever she went which were often associated with increasing milk and butter yields beyond all possibility. Many of these miracles were connected to helping feed the poor and homeless. Not only could she exert her magical and miraculous power over milk, she was also quite famous for her ability to massively increase the output of ale from just one measure. She is also said to have turned water into ale. She seems to have been totally selfless and there are many accounts of her charitable acts. Not only did she feed the poor and wretched of society, she also held the animal kingdom in equal importance. There is no doubt that this Saint was one and the same with The Goddess she was named after, and indeed is a representation of Mother Earth and The Goddess Empress of Abundance, Nurturing, Creativity, Fertility, Conception and Birthing. Brigid is a Fire Goddess and so Patron of Smitcraft. In her Saintly form, Brigid is also linked to Fire with many stories of flames appearing from her house when she was born and when she prayed. She was compared to the Sun, the Initiator of Creativity and Inspiration. This made her especially favoured by Poets and Bards who called on her for inspiration and guidance in their writings.
Brigid eventually became a Christian Nun and then Abbess. She founded several Convents and Monasteries throughout Ireland. It was her her Convent in Kildare that gained the most attention and became intricately linked with St. Brigid to this very day. In this Convent in Kildare, burned an inextinguishable, Eternal Fire or Flame that was purported to have miraculous properties. It was said that this Fire or Flame burned continuously for over a thousand years and was watched over by twenty nuns who took turns each night to keep vigil. When Brigid died, this number reduced to nineteen, and it is believed that these nuns left one night especially for Brigid to guard her own fire.
The Fire itself was kept within a small enclosure surrounded by thick hedge. It is said that no man was allowed gain access to the Fire, and if they did manage to breach the protective hedging, they suffered a terrible fate. This is very similar to the Vestal Virgins of Roman tradition, and we can see many symbols of the Feminine Virgin Aspect with the protective hedging surrounding the holy flame. Many Historians and Scholars believe that this was an original Pagan Temple where Priestesses held Fire Rituals and were trained and instructed in the Arts of Healing, Herbalism, Magick and Ancient Traditions. After their training, they would be sent to various locations around the land where they would practice their craft and encourage others to follow their way. It is believed that St. Brigid was inspired by these strong, educated and independent women and wanted to keep this tradition alive. It is likely that she built her Monasteries and Convents on Ancient Sacred Pagan sites, thus absorbing the old ways into the new. The Flame is said to have been eventually extinguished around the time of the Reformation in the 16th century by the Norman Archbishop, Ralph de Londres. However, in 1993 the Brigidine Sisters of Kildare relit the flame in the Market Square in Kildare Town and have been looking after it ever since. In 2005 Kildare County Council commissioned a sculpture to protect and surround the Flame. It is a twisted column which opens out on the top as large Oak Leaves, within the leaves sits a Bronze Acorn Cup. This Cup holds the Flame. Kildare (in Irish, Cill Dara, Church of the Oak) took its name from the Oak. The Oak again symbolises both Brigid’s Christian and Celtic/Druidic background.
Her convent in County Kildare, Ireland, has now become legendary and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world every year who make the pilgrimage to her holy place. Saint Brigid was strongly associated with the gift of Healing and there are many accounts of her Miraculous Healing abilities. Many Healing Wells around the countryside are named after her and there is a famous one in Kildare not far from her Cathedral. In 1984 the local Kildare Nuns totally refurbished this Well in her honour and people flock to it in search of comfort, healing and peace. People would make offerings at the well of coins or little gifts. Cooties (Ribbons or Rags), or little notes petitioning to their Saint or Goddess would be tied to the nearby tree which was always to be found beside a Healing Well. Anywhere where there is a Healing or Holy Well, there will always be a tree covered in Clooties. It is an ancient tradition and one that is still practiced today. A stone near St. Bridgid’s Healing Well in Kildare is engraved with both the Christian Cross and the Cross that was named after her, once more uniting Christianity and Paganism.
Brigid‘s Cross does not take the shape of the traditional Christian Cross but bears strong resemblance to the Pagan Symbols of the Sun-Wheel with its twirling appearance. Like the Saint herself, Brigid’s Cross is legendary and is also strongly linked to her Pagan Goddess Counterpart. Legend has it that Brigid was called to the house of a dying Chieftain or High Ranking Druidic Pagan because of her reputation for healing. She arrived to find the dying man quite delirious and hard to calm. In the traditional manner, the floor was strewn with rushes and reeds. It is said that Brigid reached down and picked up a handful of rushes and began to fashion the shape of her Cross out of them. The dying man was fascinated with what she was doing and began to feel calmed and soothed. As Brigid wove her Cross, she explained the nature of Christianity to the man. It is said that he was converted on his deathbed and baptised before he died.
Brigid‘s cross was typically woven out of reeds and rushes into a shape that had a square centre at its heart with four arms that radiated out from this centre and were tied at their ends. Unlike the Christian Cross, the arms do not form in the typical even and rigid cross-like shape. Rather its arms suggest movement, similar to a wheel and symbolically represent a host of varying associations. We have the St. Brigid’s Cross representing the Four Seasons, The Four Directions, The Four Elements and so on with all four being harnessed at the Central Heart of the Cross. There are many rituals associated with the making of Brigid’s Cross on both the Christian and Pagan side. In just about every Catholic School in Ireland this week, children will sit and craft with their own hands this strongly symbolic and ancient talisman. It was believed that Brigid‘s Cross protected the house and home from fire and evil spirits and they were hung in just about every room of the house, but especially over the hearth or where food was prepared. Because Livestock was so important to the people of the land, her Crosses were often hung in the areas where beasts were housed. This certainly was a Pagan tradition the people kept alive and was not associated with Christianity. This tradition still exists in Ireland today.
Here is a lovely you tube video I found of a Young Irish Girl demonstrating how to make a Brigid‘s Cross which is much easier to understand than any drawn instructions. I hope you enjoy it.
In the Catholic teachings Imbolc, the 1st of February is called Saint Brigid’s Day or in Irish, Lá Fhéile Bríde. Traditionally this was a day of generosity and benevolence. Gifts of butter and milk, bread and ale were given by farmers to the poor and special meals were prepared to celebrate not just The Saint, but also the return of the Goddess of Spring when the land would begin to yield once more. Especially in Ireland, Christianity found it exceptionally hard to rid the people of these lovely associations with their Ancient Pagan Goddess. Even the most devout Catholics celebrated in both a Religious and Traditional manner for they couldn’t have one without the other. My own mother, a firm Catholic, taught us the Pagan Traditions she too celebrated as she grew up. Rural Ireland, closely connected to the land kept these traditions alive alongside their Catholic Devotions.
It is believed that on her feast day, Brigid travels the land and blesses each house and animal. In return gifts of food, especially butter, milk and bread are left outside for her and her Cow or Oxen. Another custom that is also quite common is the making of The Bride or Brigid Doll out of Straw, which was then dressed in white and laid in a specially made basket or Bride’s Leaba, (Irish for bed). Sometimes an effigy of St Brigid was carried through the towns and villages calling from house to house where she was bestowed with gifts of flowers, cheese and butter. Other traditions involved a selected young girl of the village who was dressed in white and held ceremony in a designated room or dwelling, where she would be surrounded by the flame of candles. People would call to pay homage to her.
One very important aspect of Brigid‘s Day, Imbolc was the desire to attract her into the home. Many rituals were enacted to invoke her presence, and these mostly centred around the Hearth where a fire was lit in her honour. The morning after Brigid‘s Day, the ashes in the Hearth would be inspected for signs that she had been. The signs looked for where either a Swan’s webbed foot print, another of Brigid’s Totem Animals, a special mark from her White Wand or indeed Brigid’s own footprint. The family would be elated to discover such signs as this meant Brigid would look after them in the coming year.
The Goddess Brigid being celebrated for Purification was intertwined with The Feast of Candlemas, with the coming of Christianity. Candlemas which is celebrated on the 2nd of February is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary carrying her the Baby Jesus was readmitted to the Temple at Jerusalem forty days after giving birth to be purified, thus again symbolically associating this with the Pagan tradition of the return of the Sun and The Maiden at Springtime after her recovery from childbirth, the Light Bringer emerging from the Dark.
In the Catholic Religion this tradition became known as Churching. Women after giving birth were considered to be unclean, impure and were not allowed attend Church. Six weeks after giving birth, there would be a special ceremony when they would return to their Church to be purified and re-admitted. It also marked the time when sexual relations could resume and usually this meant the woman soon became pregnant again. During menstruation women were also considered unclean and often were not allowed touch or prepare food that was to be fed to the family. Thankfully in Ireland both customs have ceased, and where once they were strictly enforced, are now deemed to be derogatory to women. The Goddess Bridgit and her Saintly Counterpart both held strong beliefs on the rights of women. Saint Brigid is known to have fought for the equality and rights of women. Candelmas is also known as the Festival of Lights in many places. It is the tradition to place a Candle in the window or on the table on this Feast Day. The Snow Drop, one of the first flowers of Spring is also referred to as The Candlemas Bell or Purification Flower. There is an old saying that goes with Candlemas.
If Candlemas be bright and clear, There will be two Winters in the Year
Saint Brigid is so loved in Ireland that most Catholic Girl’s Schools are named after her, with her male counterpart Saint Patrick giving his name to a host of Catholic Boy’s Schools. My Second Level School was called Colaiste Bríde (Brigid’s College), So too are many Churches named after this Goddess/Saint.
Reflection: Brigid Prayer
Brigid you were a woman of peace,
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light into the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace
Cover those who are troubled and anxious,
And may peace be firmly rooted
In our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and reverence all God has made.
Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater
Wholeness in mind, body and spirit.
Solas Bhride Community, Kildare, Ireland
- Spring Clean the House.
- Clear your Wardrobe of anything you no longer wear and bring to a charity shop.
- Make an effort to do something Charitable this day.
- Burn any Yule Greenery that has been left to say Goodbye to Winter.
- Light Candles and place on window sills and tables.
- Light a Fire in the Hearth and let it burn down to ashes. Rake the ashes smooth before you go to bed. In the morning check to see if Brigid has left a Mark in the ashes as a Sign that she has visited.
- Embrace Brigid the Light Bringer by rising at Dawn to watch the Sunrise on the 1st Day of Spring.
- Make a Pilgrimage to a Healing Well and leave an offering of to Bridgid such as Flowers or Crystals, along with your Petition written on a piece of paper or a photo of someone who needs Healing. If there is a nearby tree or bush, tie a Ribbon to it as you meditate on your requests.
- Go for a walk in Nature and look for signs of Spring. Take photographs or sketches of the first delicate Spring Flowers. Look for the tiny new buds on trees. Marvel at the wonder of Nature and the return of The Goddess from the Underworld. Be Aware of The Dawn of a New Season and inhale its Healing Energy. Begin to take notice of the lengthening days and give thanks.
- Craft Brigid’s Crosses to hang in in the Kitchen and over the Hearth. Ask for Brigid to Bless and Protect Family and Home.
- Craft Brigid Dolls (Bríde Og) and dress in White. Place in a little basket decorated with Ribbons of White, Yellow and Red. Surround the Basket with White Candles and place near the Door or Hearth. The next day, hang The Doll in the house as a Talisman of Protection
- Fill Vases with White and Yellow Flowers.
- Do Special Imbolc Tarot Readings.
- Cutting of Ties. Release the Old and Look Forward instead of Back. Let go of any Negativity you may be carrying so that you can let the Light of Positivity into your Life.
- This is best done outside or in the Hearth. If you have a Cauldron, line the bottom with some WhiteTea-Lights and Light. Write a list of hopes, dreams, plans and ideas you have for the coming year. Concentrate on these while you hold the piece of paper between your two palms or against your heart or forehead. When you are ready, stare into the Cauldron and call upon Brigid to accept your desires into her Flame. Now throw the paper into the Cauldron and let it catch fire. Watch the paper as it burns and feel the Flames ignite all your desires and wishes with positivity and enthusiasm. When the Paper is completely burnt to ashes, scatter the ashes outdoors where the wind will catch them.
- Do the same for anything you wish to let go of. Write your list of things you wish to say goodbye to or release from your life. Throw the list into the Candles that have been re-lit for this purpose, calling upon Bridgid to Purify them in her Flame. When fully burnt, blow out Candles and Bury the ashes under the earth or throw them to the wind where they will be taken away.
- Book a Healing for this Day to release any Stale or Negative Energy.
- Prepare a Feast for the evening and invite friends and family.
- Call on Brigid to help bring Peace and Harmony to any Family or Friend disputes and arguments. Forgiveness.
- Call on Brigid to Bless any Seeds you wish to Sow.
- Sow your own Seeds by Making Plans for the Future.
- Call on Brigid to Blessing Your House. Leave Symbolic Gifts of offerings outside for Brigid and her Cow/Oxen such as bread, milk, butter. Discard them the next day.
- Leave a Silk Ribbon outside the door and ask Brigid to Bless it as she passes (use this Ribbon for Meditation or in Healing work)
- Hang Three Ears of Corn on the Door to represent The Triple Goddess and leave until Ostara, Easter.
- Meditate on your plans and ideas for the coming year and ask Brigid to help you achieve them.
- Meditate on that which you wish to see grow or come into your life and that which you wish to see go.
- Meditate on bringing Peace to the World and Health and Happiness to Family and Friends.
- Meditate on any New Year Resolutions you made in January and ask Brigid to help strengthen your Resolve.
- If you are at a Crossroads in your Life, Meditate on this and ask Brigid to illuminate the Path and steer you in the right Direction.
- If Pregnant or wish to Conceive, ask for Brigid’s help, and Protection for your Unborn Child.
- Be Mindful of someone you have issues with or do not like. Send out thoughts wishing them Health, Happiness and Peace in their life.
Copyright © 2006-2014 Vivien Ní Dhuinn