Thursday, 28 January 2010
A painting of Brigit by Jane Brideson
Some years ago I was invited by a magazine to write an article on Brigit/Imbolc and I groaned inwardly for the most that I have ever seen written about this festival was half a page in any of a number of books. According to Ronald Hutton, the first mention of Imbolc is contained in one of the early medieval, "Ulster cycle stories concerning the wooing of Emer by Cu Chulainn in this tale Emer refers to Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring's beginning".
The name Imbolc or an older name Oimlec may originally have meant "ewes or goats milk " and it is a time of quickening. Here and there new shoots can be found protruding from the earth along with snowdrops, natures' first hint that deep within the earth womb there is regeneration of new life.
Daylight is lengthening, though it can still be cold, and there may be flurries of snow, along with a hard frost. With the occasional sunny day at this time of year it brings us joy and the hope of a good summer.
In Ireland traditionally the 1st of February is known as the “first day of spring” and it is also the Goddess Brigit’s Day. These days however we celebrate Imbolc/Oimlec as one of the four fire festivals and pitch the date midway between Winter Solstice & Spring Equinox making the date Feb 3rd or 4th, according to movements of the Sun. This may be the closest we can get to the original date prior to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.
The Goddess Brigit herself is hidden by the mists of time. In legend she is associated with poetry, healing, metal-working, learning and prophesy. She was also a goddess of battle as the patroness of the armies of Leinster. Brigit may have originally been a local goddess of that province as her cult centre was at Kildare.
The Goddess Brigit, possibly a daughter of The Dagda, is seen today as a fire goddess because of her association with metal-working and to some a goddess of the sun.
Historically she may have been a single goddess or a triple goddess, we do not know for certain, although we still associate her with inspiration, herb lore and healing.
The name Brigit derives from the Celtic word BRIG meaning 'high or exalted one' and it is probable that Brigit is a title rather than an actual name.
The Celtic cult of the Goddess Brigit, I feel, operated within the Druid pantheon. Her priestesses, as druids, may well have fulfilled all of the various roles including advisors, law makers, bards, healers etc. The cult of the goddess Brigid spread throughout the Celtic countries. In Germany she was Birgit, in Scotland Bride, in England Brigantu, and her name was borne by a tribe in that country, the Brigantes. She was also known as Brigandu and Brid. Her cult could be found in Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Spain and Wales.
When sifting through information regarding Brigit it is often difficult to separate the attributes of the goddess, from those of the saint of the same name.
The early christian chroniclers were as proficient as todays' spin doctors in exaggerating the qualities of their saints and incorporating the gifts of the goddess for use in their propaganda.
Imbolc today is celebrated in diverse ways, from the festival of Brigit at Kildare, organised by the Brigadine Sisters to the many pagan circles held across various countries in Europe.
In Cornwall on 31st January, followers of the goddess Bride celebrate with a torchlight procession to ancient wells and moorland springs where they place a circle of candles. A ritual is performed which consists of dressing the wells with ribbons and wild flowers, singing, blessing with water and giving thanks to their ancient goddess.
In Glastonbury, England, her followers assemble at Chalice Well and process through the town carrying Brigid's crosses and Bridie dolls to Bride's Mound at nearby Beckery. Here they perform a ceremony to honour the Goddess, sharing ewes milk and honeyed barley cakes as part of their Imbolc festival.
Here at our home I gather the Reeds in silence, keeping them hidden until the women arrive a day later to sit and make Brigit Cross's of which there are 5 or more designs. A few days afterwards we celebrate the arrival Brigit in ritual toasting her with Goats milk.