Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Imbolc. The Festival of Brigid.
Imbolc. The Festival of Brigid.
In the ancient, agrarian society of the Celts, the heralding of spring was no small thing, having spent months in the frigid cold, often with little food stores left. Imbolc is a word believed to be derived from the Old Irish i mbolg which translates as 'In the belly', referring to the pregnancy of Ewes, an event which coincided with the onset of spring. Initially celebrated on February 1st, the festival of Brigid represented the point in the Celtic year that divided winter in half; where the crone aspect of the cold months recedes heralding the return of the young spring maiden. The festival of Imbolc celebrates the increasing strength of the new God, still within his child form, and a return of the maiden aspect of the Goddess in the form of Brigid.
Spring, the time of year that is full of energy. When the fertility of the land bursts forth. It is full of the promise of renewal and potential, an awakening of the earth and its life force. A return of the light and warmth of the sun and life’s insatiable appetite for rebirth. It is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, a clearing out of the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. This can be done in numerous ways, from spring cleaning your home to clearing the mind and heart to allow inspiration to enter and a good time for making a dedication to the goddess Brigid. Imbolc is traditionally the great festival and honouring of Brigid (Brighid, Bride, Brigit). She is a Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. She is a Goddess of Fire, of the Sun and of the Hearth and is associated with wells and water. She brings fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival.
This is also the time to hang strips of cloth on the branches of a tree, Rowan or Willow if possible but if not then any tree near your house will serve the same purpose. The dew that settles on them overnight will be blessed by the goddess as she passes by and will be imbued with the powers of healing and protection and these powers will last throughout the year. Keep them in a special place in the house and bring them out when needed (when illness occurs). They could be wrapped around the site of pain or injury and in times gone by were used by midwifes to help women in childbirth as Brigid was especially known as being the patron of healers and midwifes. These healing cloths can also be used on sick animals, especially cows and sheep.
Brigid’s Cross is made annually from straw or rushes and hung above the door. In pre-Christian times, it was probably a sun symbol and celebrated the power of the goddess to bring back the light at the Celtic feast of Imbolc. It holds the promise of fertility and abundance.
Some of the symbols attributed to Brigid are:
The Snowdrop. The first gift of Spring in the bleakness of Winter.
The Swan. The swan mates for life and represents loyalty, fidelity and faithfulness. Swan feathers are a powerful amulet.
The Flame. Imbolc is a Fire Festival and fire of all kinds is associated with Brigid – the fire of creativity, the protective hearth fire, and her fire wheel – the Brigid Cross, which heralds her as a Sun Goddess.
Brigid’s Cross. This is a traditional fire wheel symbol – found at the hearths of homes throughout Ireland and beyond as a symbol of protection.
Brigid Doll. A very old tradition involved the making of a Brigid doll which can be included in ceremony and/or placed in ‘Bride’s Bed’ to bring fertility and good fortune to the home.
The Serpent. In Celtic mythology Brigid was associated with an awakening hibernating serpent which emerged from its lair at Imbolc. Traditionally serpents were associated with creativity and inspiration.
Sheep. Brigid’s festival is at the beginning of lambing – eat ewe’s milk cheese!
Herbs of Imbolc:
Blackberry: Sacred to Brigid, the leaves and berries are used to attract prosperity and healing.
Coltsfoot: Coltsfoot or ‘sponnc’ (Gaelic) is an herb associated with Brigid. An herb of Venus, moves emotional and physical stagnation and is used magically to engender love and to bring peace.
Ginger: revitalises and stimulates the ‘fire within’.
Trees of Imbolc:
Rowan: Luis, or the Rowan, is the tree usually assigned to this time of year in the Celtic (Ogham) Tree Alphabet. It has long associations with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. It is also known as the ‘Quickening Tree’ and is associated with serpents. Traditionally it protects and wards of evil. A sprig of Rowan can be put near the door of your home (we have a whole tree), or a sprig worn for protection. Rowan berries have a tiny five-pointed star on the bottom reminiscent of the pentagram.
Willow: The fourth tree in the Celtic Tree alphabet – S Saille, is also long associated with the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. Willow is the great ‘shape shifter’ of consciousness and emotion and symbolises feminine energy and the lunar cycle. Its branches are flexible – expressing movement and change rather than resistance. It is a tree of enchantment and dreaming, enhancing the confidence to follow one’s intuition, and inspires leaps of imagination.