Happy Imbolc! Today is one of the ancient fire festivals of the Celtic world, celebrating the pre-christian goddess Brigid. February 1st heralds the halfway mark between winter and spring. In olden days, commitment and perseverance were needed to survive the harshness of the season. So I ask you, what do you commit yourself to for the coming year? What pledge do you make to yourself? The first glimmers of our yearly life path have arrived! They are dependent on where we focus our energy.
Brigid and Saint BrigidIn the Middle Ages, the goddess Brigid was syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart," St. Brigid of Kildare.
St. Brigid is associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. The sacred flame at Kildare was said by Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die or be crippled.
The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally-occurring eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality. Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other hearth-goddesses, such as Hestia.
Both the goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Well dressing, the tying of clooties to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid still take place in some of the Celtic lands and the diaspora.
From the Independent Irish News:
"Here are a few facts you may not know about St. Brigid’s Day and the saint herself:
1. St. Brigid’s Day, on February 1st, officially marks the start the pagan festival of spring.
2. It is also known as ‘Imbolc’, or the Feast of Brigid, It celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early signs of spring.
3. ‘Imbolc’ literally means "in the belly" in the old Irish Neolithic language.
4. It is one of the four major "fire" festivals, referred to in Irish mythology. The other three festivals are Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.
5. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints and was known also as a fertility goddess in Celtic mythology.
6. She is often referred to as ‘Brigit of Kildare’, and was said to be the founder of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare. She is also associated with perpetual, sacred flames, and there is also a shrine dedicated to her in Kildare.
7. According to tradition, Saint Brigid was born at Fochart (or Fothairt), near Dundalk in Co Louth
8. One of the most common traditions of the day is to make a Saint Brigid's Cross.
These crosses are relatively simple to make, and traditionally, Brigid’s crosses are made on Brigid’s Eve, January 31st. They are usually made from fresh rushes, but you can also use straws if you don’t have them. They are made in a cross shape with a square shape in the middle and then four arms coming along each side.
9. Some believe that the crosses have the power to protect the owner’s home from harm."