A time of dark and light..
In the dark of the year in the Old World, our ancestors kindled fires against the harsh, cold nights, and held feasts of profound significance to urge the return of seasons of growth. February 1, the Feast of Catholic Irish saint , Brigid, was one such celebration, and particularly special to women who followed the Old Way, where the festival is known as Imbolc.
St. Bride, John Duncan (1866-1945) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox in Old Ireland
You see, Brigid (Brigit, Bride) was not always so saintly; She actually began as ancient Irish goddess, who oversaw the crafts of poetry, healing, and smithwork. Some experts think that Brigid is a northern version of the ancient goddesses of Wisdom, like Athena and Minerva, but this old Irish goddess seems to have been known and worshipped from Neolithic Times. She heralded the fertility of spring, protection of the household from evil, and exemplified all that was life-giving. She also stood for all that was elevated, from actual heights (highlands) to metaphorical heights of philosophy, medicine, speech arts, and practical skills..
The Wishing Wells of St. Brigid
She was especially associated with wells, and often they were attended by groups of women who kept Brigid’s flame alive. A well with a tree or grove growing nearby is one of the most sacred natural phenomena in our ancient history. At Brigid’s wells, strips of cloth, rags, or leather, known as “clooties”, representing prayers for health and fertility, were tied to trees that grew by sacred wells in the British Isles. They were concrete prayers meant for Brigid to bless—sort of the Goddess’ “friendship bracelet”. Similar practices of hanging wishes on trees exist in Japan, and other parts of the world.
Clooties Hang at a Well in Cornwall (By Jim Champion – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3345708)
On Brigid’s feast, villages lit fires and gathered rushes—every household made food and drink, and a bed of rushes, hoping that Brigid would visit and leave Her blessing. Young girls wore crowns of rushes and processed around the town carrying crosses of woven rushes and carrying dollies (“Biddy”s) made of woven rushes, praying for health and the blessings of fruitfulness for flock and family. Such crosses were placed above doorways to house and barn for good health and protection against evil, to kept there all year and replaced at the following year’s rites.
By Culnacreann – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3500722. The cross is woven from the rushes of County Down.
Special food was served (boiled “Clootie Dumplings”), and weather predictions were made..on this day, snakes and badgers might leave their holes to gather food on a fine day, betokening the need to store food for the continuation of a long cold winter. If it sounds something like the Ritual of Groundhog’s Day, celebrated at the same time of year in modern North America, you are quite correct! Even today, we seek the wisdom of Brigid!
Today, Be Your Own Brigid
In the modern reconstruction of ancient Earth religions known as Wicca, Imbolc or Brigid’s Feast in earliest February holds a special function. After a year and a day of studying herbcraft, the poetry of spell-casting, and meditating on the ways of Nature, a devotee of the Old Way is initiated on Imbolc, and becomes a full member of her group.
Today, the dark seems all around us, but Brigid promises light if we look up to see Her at our doorway, asking to come in and leave blessings behind. She is friend to household, and the hearth, to children and animals, wells and trees. We could all use a friend like that–and a new look at Old Ways promises that if we study, practice, and center ourselves in sacred meditation of our world, we can also be hargingers of light and life.
Enjoy the season!