May your ewes give plentiful milk; may your awakening plants be safe from frost and bloom abundantly once summer comes; may the pale sun grow to warm your spirit and quicken what is most precious to you.
The prehistoric Irish goddess/woman Brigid, aka Bríg (& later, the female saint Brigit) is the Irish patron of healing, poetry, learning, and smithcraft. The meaning of her name, according to Lady Augusta Gregory, is “Breo-saighit, a fiery arrow.” In a way, she’s sort of a western Saraswati. Besides her main skills listed above, she is credited in early Irish tales for the invention of the whistle (for calling each other during the night before the invention of cel phones) and of keening, a particularly moving wailing cry for mourning the death of a beloved. At this turning of the year back toward the warmth, we remember her by visiting wells or springs, and by lighting candles.
At Kildare, Ireland, one flame burned constantly in her honor for thousands of years, non-stop. It was tended by 19 priestesses in rotation, one each night in sequence. On the 20th day, the flame was tended by Brigid Herself. Men were expressly forbidden to cross the hedges to view the sacred flame. Giraldus Cambrensis reported that males who tried would go insane, die, or have their penises wither off. No messing around here! This was strictly women only.
In the middle ages, this ancient flame was extinguished by the Church in an attempt to snuff out such pagan worship – but the people, in good Celtic fashion, just switched names and began worshipping Saint Brigit instead of the goddess Brid. The holiday on Feb. 2 now became known as “Candlemas.” And Brigid’s flame was lit once more, this time by Catholic nuns, who continue to tend it to this day.
“Groundhog Day” is a remnant of Pagan spiritual practice for this time of year. I’ll admit to feeling mischievous delight every year when weather augury by rodent gets televised.
At this time around February 2, Imbolc, how might you honor the spirit of Brigid and invite her gifts into your life?
- You might do so by letting your springs of inspiration flow. Compose a poem, a song, a dance, a recipe, a goofy rhyme, a blog post.
- Light a candle, with intention of allowing your inner lights of hope, strength, love, perseverance, attention, kindness, etc. to return with the light of the sun. Staring into the flame of a candle for three minutes while stilling the mind to pay attention to only that can be a powerful meditation.
- Pick some herbs and place them in a cauldron to brew tea for healing.In what way can your health be better attended to? Imbolc offers a second chance to go for those new years’ resolutions. After all, the quickening of spring feels much more like the real new year of life beginning, eh?
- Perhaps you need to be inside the cauldron: take a long hot bath with candles and lavender and perhaps a really good book.
- Clean and repair your home – the hearth is another aspect of Her sacred fire.
- Some people feel moved to keep Brigid’s flame as a serious ongoing personal practice. If this is you, check out Ord Brighideach International.
- You could bring in white: decorate with white flowers or wear white garments. White is an important color for Brigid’s Day – the melting of the last snows; the rising of the first flowers, which in the cold British Isles are often white snowdrops; the white milk that gives this day its other name, Imbolc (from the Gaelic oi melc, ewes’ milk, beginning to flow around now due to the birth of the spring lambs).
- Go to a water source with reverent intention to help. Clean the debris from a well or spring, so it can flow freely and cleanly once more. (As without, so within, as the sages say.) Then sit by it and watch the birds. Listen to the frogsong. Make little offerings – perhaps of ribbons or tokens; perhaps of poetic words – and ask her blessings.
I once saw such a well deep in the forests of Brittany, the tree overhanging it festooned with petitions and offerings. It was a moving sight, and a beautiful reminder to tend the spirit of our living world.
Whether you prefer to think of her as pagan deity, Catholic saint, or the manifested qualities her name invokes: inspired eloquence, skill at forging, and healing, may the blessings of Brigid fall softly upon you this Spring like petals from an abundantly flowering tree. And may they smell sweet.