After a long winter, I felt inspired to start writing again, today, on the first day of spring, the Celtic festival of Imbolc. I look out at the Daffodils, Hyacinths and other spring flowers on my balcony, the catkins or ‘lambs tails’ on the Hazel trees and the first green shoots in the garden below and feel joy in my heart and my spirits lighten.
Let me tell you a little about Imbolc and Brigit’s Day, an important day, not just in the Celtic calendar but for all. The awakening of new life, the start of spring and the celebration of this, is of the utmost significance.
The term ‘Imbolc’ derives from Old Irish and means “in the belly,” or alternately “ewe’s milk’. Imbolc is a celebration of fertility, reproduction and the young, all overseen by the goddess Brigid.
The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period. This is based on the alignment of some Megalithic monuments. For example, at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, the inner chamber is aligned with the rising sun on the dates of Imbolc and Samhain.
It is one of the four major “fire” festivals, referred to in Irish mythology. The other three festivals are Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.
Brigid, the Celtic goddess of fire (the forge and the hearth), poetry, healing, childbirth, and unity, is celebrated in many European countries.
She is known by many names, including that of Saint Brigid who is, perhaps, the most powerful religious figure in Irish history.
It is said that wherever she walked, small flowers and shamrocks would appear. As a sun goddess her gifts are light (knowledge), inspiration, and the vital and healing energy of the sun.
Born at the exact moment of daybreak, Brigid rose into the sky with the sun, rays of fire beaming from her head.
The love and respect for the Goddess Brigid brought unity to the Celts who were spread throughout Europe. Regardless of their differences, they all agreed upon her goodness and compassion.
The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearth-fires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted.
Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. A spring cleaning was also customary.
Ireland is full of springs and wells named after the goddess Brigid. Symbolically, water is seen as a portal to the Otherworld and as a source of wisdom and healing.
It is said that if the weather is bad on Brigit’s Day, that the goddess still sleeps and winter will continue for another few months but if the weather is good, the goddess walks the land and winter is over.
At her most famous shrine Brigid taught humans how to gather and use herbs for their healing properties, how to care for their livestock, and how to forge iron into tools. As a goddess of childbirth and protector of all children, she is the patroness of midwifery.
This shrine, near Kildare, was located near an ancient Oak that was considered to be sacred by the Druids, so sacred in fact that no one was allowed to bring a weapon there.
The shrine is believed to have been an ancient college of priestesses who were committed to thirty years of service, after which they were free to leave and marry.
The Christian monastery eventually built upon the site of her sacred shrine continued this tradition and became known as a great European centre of learning and culture. Indeed, it was instrumental in preserving much ancient learning and literature during the Dark Ages.
Inspired by the Pagan symbol of sun wheel, the famous Brigid’s Cross can be distinguished with a woven square at the centrepiece with four dials extended and tied at the end. To this day, many people weave her cross on the first of February.
While Brigid is the primary deity that is honoured on Imbolc, other deities like Aengus Og (God of Love), Aphrodite (Goddess of Love), Bast (Cat Goddess), Ceres (Goddess of Agriculture), Eros (Fertility Deity), Hestia (Goddess of Hearth), Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and Warcraft), Artemis (Goddess of the Moon and Hunt), and Gaia (the Great Mother of all) are also celebrated on this day.
‘This is the time of the feast of torches, When every lamp blazes and shines
To welcome the rebirth of the God.
I celebrate the Goddess,
I celebrate the God;
All the Earth celebrates Beneath its mantle of sleep.”
It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house, if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth.
If snow lies on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, recalling the warmth of summer. With your projective hand, trace an image of the Sun on the snow.
”Hail, Brigantia! Keeper of the forge,
she who shapes the world itself with fire,
she who ignites the spark of passion in the poets,
she who leads the clans with a warrior’s cry,
she who is the bride of the islands,
and who leads the fight of freedom.
Hail, Brigantia! Defender of kin and hearth,
she who inspires the bards to sing,
she who drives the smith to raise his hammer,
she who is a fire sweeping across the land.”
Happy Spring to All 🙂
Lots of love,