I am the one who wakes the creatures sleeping in their dens.
I am the one who makes the milk and puts eggs in the hens.
I am the one who wakes the seeds and puts buds on the trees.
I am the one who thaws the streams, I am a summer breeze.
Wherever you have seen my work, you know I walk the land.
And if you simply reach for me, I’ll take you by the hand.
When the spring signs come, she walks the land. When you leave out your cloaks and your offerings in early spring or you stand at the spring to gather water, she will be there. You have no need to worry that she is not walking the land when you have chosen to do her work. When the milk flows and the lambing begins, she is there. When the hens lay more eggs as the daylight grows, she is there. When the seeds sprout and the trees bud, she is there. When the springs can be found flowing within the icy ground, she is there. When the breeze blows warm, she is there. She walks the land, offering her blessings of fire and water.
As the marker of growing light and sun, the turning point from the depth of winter, the softening of the icy days with the flowing life waters from deep in the earth, the welcoming of new growth, we prepare for and celebrate the Festival of Brigid, Lá Fhéile Bríde, Imbolc, Gwyl Mair, Goel Kantolyon, Laa’l Breeshey. Some may simply called the holiday Brigid. In Wales, the festival is known as Gwyl Mair, reflecting the Christianized name of Mary, who took on many of the pre-Christian attributes of Brigid during her feast as January transitions into February and the sun has finally gained the upper hand enough to promise the return of summer. Brigid, as goddess of the Land, goddess of the power of fire and water, she allows the people to live through her blessings and her gifts. Her fire may be the fire of inspiration, the fire of new life deep in the earth and deep in the womb, the fire of the forge and all works created by the hands and minds of the people in harmony with her. Indeed, all of these are her fire and at this time, we seek her blessing on all our endeavors, our work and our health. The waters flow in spite of flying snows and the time has to wash away our darkness, our shadows, our grudges and our coldness, to lift our faces to the rising sun, to take her blessings of water and milk, to light the fires within, to bless the crafts of our hands and our hearts.
Brigid feeds the fires of inspiration, life, and the forge. She is goddess of healing, poetry, and smith craft, making her the pillar that holds up the tribe in a Celtic society of farmers, spiritualists, and warriors. She is the beneficent goddess of the land whom all are dependent upon for harmony and life. The Celts held true that the gods walked among them, manifesting themselves as humans who would form bridges between the tribe and the land. It is no wonder, then, that St. Brigit of Kildare, the 5th century saint and abbess of Kildare, was so clearly connected with the goddess herself. There is no inconsistency for the Irish mind that Brigid, the goddess of fire and water, goddess of the green mantle, the goddess who makes it possible to live a spiritual life in harmony with the land, would be born to bridge the tribe’s new Christian faith with the land for a new era.
On pilgrimage to seek Brigit’s sacred flame in 2005, I was surprised to find this truth amongst the Irish – that Brigit the saint and Brigid the goddess are one and the same. When it is so often a struggle in the US that so many saints or holidays hold pre-Christian roots, it was a shocking relief to learn that this was not a struggle in the heart of her land at all. Brigidine sisters tell that St. Brigit was present at the beginning of creation, for she was the one who carried the light when God said, “Let there be light.” She is also said to have distracted King Herod’s men while Jesus, Mary and Joseph escaped, donning a crown of candles, dancing and singing in order to allow them to escape. This story connects her, in my mind, to other goddesses and saints of Northeastern Europe who also don crowns of light in winter, and it shows how the philosophical worldview of the people would have easily allowed Bride the goddess and Brigit the woman to be one and the same.
The connection of tribe and land, as bridged by a goddess and her interaction with the people arises even in the Celtic diaspora of Haiti, where many enslaved people from Celtic lands worked beside African enslaved populations. When a new cemetery is created in a Haitian Vodou community, the first woman buried is titled the Brigitte, connecting the people with the place and making them able to communicate with the Goddess and, through her, with the dead who are buried thereafter. This Celtic diaspora practice in Haitian Vodou gives an interesting nod to Celtic beliefs of connection to the land and how Brigid, ie. Brigitte, forges that connection. When the author of Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess asked who the first woman buried at Kildare was, the response was, “St Brigit herself was the first.” Whether or not Brigit was actually the first woman to die at Kildare is a good question, and we know she was not the first person to die there. Her body is not there even now, making all the more interesting the ideas put forth about the way people connect with the land from a Celtic/Irish perspective.
For the celebration of Brigid’s return to power after the deepest darkness of winter, activities of our grove include attention brought to light, seeking out and using spring water to transform our inner darkness and washing ourselves with the spring water to ready ourselves for spring, weaving dolls, crosses, and girdles representing the goddess herself, and healing practices to help ensure the health of the people. Brigid is known to wander the land on the eve of her night with her sacred white cow, blessing the “cloaks” left out for her, offering her protection to all her people. A ribbon, the “cloak,” could be tied to the door latch overnight and then could be tied around the head to relieve headaches, a common problem the saint herself experienced. People would often leave a bowl of milk, water, butter or salt for Brigid to bless and a bundle of oats for her cow, after which the blessed food would be shared, given to the needy or kept for its curative powers. Colors associated with Brigid’s day are white, green, yellow and cream, reflecting her associations with winter, light, the sun, and new growth as seen in nature.
Weavings in Ireland take on many forms. Families will weave crosses of different styles to represent Brigid, large dolls to walk house-to-house or smaller family ones. One of the Irish traditions involving weaving is to make a crois or girdle that is meant to be Brigid’s girdle, made large enough to hang from a beam and allow members of the house to walk through for a blessing from Brigid. This can be seen as the passage of each member through the womb of the goddess herself, through her girdle. This is quite a blessing, to pass through the threshold once more and be gifted another year from the goddess. This is still done today in some parts of Ireland and our grove continues the tradition. Participants pass through the braided loop of straw, vine, or other natural, gathered material three times in a fire-eight pattern, receiving Brigid’s threefold blessing.
Other traditional weavings include making a doll to represent Brigid, though this wasn’t always the case and sometime a woman would represent Brigid instead of a doll or, as in Scotland, a bed would be made for Brigid and a doll may or may not be placed within it. These representations preside over the festivities and represent the goddess herself, whether it be a woman or a woven brideog.
The snake and hedgehog are sacred to Brigid and the traditions of Groundhog Day in the US is related to old Celtic customs related to Imbolc. In this tradition, a chthonic animal that bridges the worlds of the deep and this world are looked to for divination about the remaining period going into spring. If it snows on Brigid’s Day, it is a blessing, which we still see in the Groundhog Day tradition, saying that if the groundhog cannot see his shadow (ie. it is cloudy or a storm is present), then summer will come sooner. The idea behind this is that if the winter is blaring during this time, it will run itself out and warm weather will come sooner. Other animals associated with Brigid’s Day include the sheep, whose lactation and lambing is an often-mentioned marker for her festival and a major component of the blessings of milk and butter. Indeed, some of the etymological references for the holiday of Imbolc and Oimelc refer to lactation and to the pregnancy of the ewes, reminding us also of the pregnancy of the earth with the seeds preparing to burst forth and with our own endeavors, readying themselves to burst forth in the new light of spring.
May the work of your hands be blessed.
May the work of your spirit be blessed.
May the work of your body be blessed.
May you walk in harmony with the land.
May the waters sustain you.
May the fires burn bright within you.
May you never hunger.
May you never thirst.
May you pass through the girdle again and again.
Blessed Imbolc, Lá Fhéile Bríde
Resource & References List:
Image: Day Chapel Tapestry of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard. House of Brigid. University of Notre Dame. http://www.houseofbrigid.org/
Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber
“Going with the Grain.” Smallholding Ireland. http://www.smallholding.ie/blog/going-with-the-grain
Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press: New York. 2003.
Marshall, Ruth. Celebrating Irish Festivals. Hawthorn Press: Gloucestershire 2003.
“The Ancestors, and the Vodou way of reclaiming the dead.” Meta-Religion. http://www.meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Voodoo/ancestors.htm
Telyndru, Jhenah. 2005. Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, Minnesota.
Wikipedia. “Brigit of Kildare.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigit_of_Kildare