Imbolic and St. Brigid
I have always been fascinated by ancient Celtic lore. My roots are showing! Imbolic for me is a joyful time, a time of hope. We celebrate the coming of spring, of planting, of life! While we are still held deeply in winter's grip, spring will come. As I write this, a beautiful beeswax candle (a gift from a very dear friend) casts a gentle light across my desk. So, light candles, celebrate and have hope.
Imbolc or Imbolg, also called Brigid's Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. It is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
As with all ancient tradition observances, this holiday is usually celebrated beginning at sundown on February 1 and continuing through the day of February 2. Imbolc means in the belly of the Mother because that is where seeds are beginning to stir as it is Spring.
Another name for this holiday is Oimelc, meaning milk of ewes since it is also the traditional lambing season in the old world. Herd animals have either given birth to the first offspring of the year or their wombs are swollen and the milk of life is flowing into their teats and udders. It is the time of Blessing of the seeds and consecration of agricultural tools. It marks the center point of the dark half of the year.
Imbolc celebrations took the form of a festival in honor of the pagan goddess Brigid, who was evoked in fertility rites and oversaw poetry, crafts and prophecy. Brigid was worshipped by the Filid, a class of poets and historians among the Celts of ancient Ireland and Britain.
Brigid was considered one of the most powerful Celtic gods, the daughter of the Dagda, the oldest god in the Celtic pantheon Tuatha du Danann. She had two sisters also named Brigid (though it’s speculated that these sisters are meant to symbolize different aspects of the same goddess.)
Brigid appears in the saga Cath Maige Tuired and the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a purported history of Ireland collected from various poems and texts in the 10th century.
Myths about Brigid’s birth say she was born with a flame in her head and drank the milk of a mystical cow from the spirit world. Brigid is credited with the very first keening, a traditional wailing for the dead practiced at funerals by Irish and Scottish women.
Over the centuries, Brigid was adopted into Christianity as St. Brigid.
One of Ireland’s three patron saints, the Catholic Church claims St. Brigid was a historical person, with accounts of her life written by monks dating back to the 8th century. Brigid (or Bridget) is the patron saint of Irish nuns, newborns, midwives, dairy maids and cattle.
Whether or not she existed, these stories contain aspects in common with the details of the pagan goddess and illustrate the transition from pagan to Christian worship.
Like the goddess Brigid, St. Brigid is associated with milk and fire. Born in Ireland around 453 A.D., St. Brigid was the daughter of a slave and a chieftain who was celebrated at an early age for her agricultural knowledge.
With no interest in marrying, Brigid’s goal was to create a monastery in Kildare, supposedly the former site of a shrine to the Celtic goddess of the same name. Brigid lived her entire life there.
She was renowned for her charity to the poor and stories abound about her healing powers. St. Brigid was a friend of St. Patrick, whose preaching set her on a course at an early age, and she became Ireland’s first nun.
St. Brigid is said to have died in 524 A.D. The remains of her skull and hand are claimed to be in the possession of churches in Portugal.
In the 12th century, legend holds that the nuns in Kildare attended to a fire built in St. Brigid’s honor. The fire had burned for 500 years and produced no ash, and only women were allowed in proximity of the fire.
The celebration of St. Brigid’s Day on February 1 was put in place by the church to replace Imbolc. On her feast day, an effigy of St. Brigid of Kildare is traditionally washed in the ocean and surrounded by candles to dry, and stalks of wheat are transformed into cross talismans known as Brigid crosses.
Symbolism of Imbolc: Purity, Growth and Re-Newal, The Re-Union of the Goddess and the God, Fertility, and dispensing of the old and making way for the new. Symbols of Imbolc: Brideo'gas, Besoms, White Flowers, Candle Wheels, Brighid's Crosses, Priapic Wands (acorn-tipped), and Ploughs. Herbs of Imbolc: Angelica, Basil, Bay Laurel, Blackberry, Celandine, Coltsfoot, Heather, Iris, Myrrh, Tansy, Violets, and all white or yellow flowers. Foods of Imbolc: Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Poppyseed Cakes, muffins, scones, and breads, all dairy products, Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Raisins, Spiced Wines and Herbal Teas. Incense of Imbolc: Basil, Bay, Wisteria, Cinnamon, Violet, Vanilla, Myrrh. Colors of Imbolc: White, Pink, Red, Yellow, lt. Green, Brown. Stones of Imbolc: Amethyst, Bloodstone, Garnet, Ruby, Onyx, Turquoise. Activities of Imbolc: Candle Lighting (light Candles or lamps in each room of the house right after sunset for a few minutes to honor the Sun's rebirth), Stone Gatherings, Snow Hiking and Searching for Signs of Spring, Priapic Wands, Decorating Ploughs, Feasting, and Bon Fires maybe lit, and there is always music!