As the Earth slowly warms her way towards the light, it happens every year that the northern hemisphere becomes wrapped tightly in the grasp of winter. In New England it’s part of the cycle of things. Some feel that the harsher the winter the better the harvest will be in the following season. Farmers begin to plan where the crops will be rotated to, hearth dwellers begin thinking of the cleaning that must be done, and many are preparing for the bounty that Spring brings with her.
To many Pagans across the globe Imbolc, known better as Oimelc to the Celts, is a holiday that reminds them that things are moving. Despite how harsh Old Man Winter may come off, he is truly preparing us for what’s to come. Imbolc, a holiday most significant with quickening and preparing, beings at sundown on February 1st or February 2nd depending on the sect of Paganism one follows. Ironically it is yet another Pagan holiday that well aligns with a Christian day, Candlemas, which come Pagans use as the name of Imbolc instead. (Whether this is by error and lack of knowledge, or by feeling that the title fits better for how they celebrate is up to debate.)
Imbolc, specifically among the Celts yet widely amongst others, is associated closely with the Celtic goddess Brigid. Goddess of the fire, forge and hearth, she is also protector of poetry, healing, childbirth, inspiration, and unity. (The last trait is an interesting one as it is supposed that the Celtic goddess of Brigid was adopted into Christianity as Mary’s midwife, whom eventually became known as St. Brigid.) During the doldrums of winter, she is honored for the light that she continually brings to the world and the homes therein. The website Brighid, Goddess and Saint, has the following to say about this Goddess.
“Brighid is particularly associated with the first stirrings of Spring as the days begin to lengthen, the snowdrops bloom, and the ewes begin to lactate. In a Scottish story Bride is taken captive by Beira, the Queen of Winter. Some say her winter prison is the mountain, Ben Nevis. Before the fire of the sun can warm the earth again Bride has to be freed. So a spell is cast borrowing three days from the heat of August. As Bride walks free light fills the earth and the land turns green again.
Brighid’s fire is truly the fire of creativity. It is responsible for the kindling of the earth in early Spring, the kindling of sexual passion, the kindling of the body in healing, the kindling of the heart in poetry and song, the kindling of the mind in science and craft. Her fire is a guiding light to her people in times of trouble, darkness and despair. To see her pass the house at Samhain is a sign that those within will be safe throughout the dark days of Winter.
It is said that Brighid taught the Irish people how to weave as she wove her own mantle at the loom by the hearth. It is easy to imagine the very flames themselves being woven into that wondrous cloth. Brighid’s Mantle is left outside the house at Imbolc. She blesses it as she passes so it will bring healing to those wrapped in it.
The Fire in the hearth is Brighid’s fire of healing, divination and protection.”
This is an example of Brigid's cross made to be the "starter" at the first bonfire on Imbolc.
During this time, many Pagans begin working on what is to come, prepping for Brigid’s release back into the world from her prison and the light she brings with her. Planning gardens, rededicating to the path, cleaning home and hearth, and celebrating the expectancy of life, birth, and spring all come during this time. The purification process is both physical and spiritual, as without one in order, the other suffers greatly. The first bonfire of the year is normally lit in celebration, using what precious wood one has to help guide Brigid to their home for a blessing.
Below are four common blessings given over the meal taken at Imbolc in honor of the Goddess Brigid.
An Tri numh (The sacred Three)
A chumhnadh, (To save,)
A chomhnadh, (To shield,)
A chomraig (To surround)
An tula, (the hearth)
An taighe, (The house,)
An teaghlaich, (The household,)
An oidhche, (This eve,)
An nochd, (This night,)
O! an oidhche, (Oh! this eve,)
An nochd, (This night,)
Agus gach oidhche, (And every night,)
Gach aon oidhche. (Each single night.)
– Smooring the Fire from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, published 1900.
Mighty Brighid, keeper of the flame,
blazing in the darkness of winter.
O goddess, we honor you, bringer of light,
healer, exalted one.
Bless us now, hearth mother,
that we may be as fruitful as the soil itself,
and our lives abundant and fertile.
– Author Unkown
Bride of the earth,
sister of the faeries,
daughter of the Tuatha de Danaan,
keeper of the eternal flame.
In autumn, the nights began to lengthen,
and the days grew shorter,
as the earth went to sleep.
Now, Brighid stokes her fire,
burning flames in the hearth,
bringing light back to us once more.
Winter is brief, but life is forever.
Brighid makes it so.
– Author Unkown
For more on the history of Brigid, I recommend Druidry.org’s page. While it may be an older website, it is one of the better summary of the goddess that is out there.
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.
– Author Unknown