As sure as clockwork, every 6 weeks, we Pagan folk have a holy day. We have one coming up this weekend, in fact. It is generally called Imbolc, an Irish-derived word that means “in the belly” because it is the time when the lambing begins and the ewes’ milk comes in. In very practical terms–and you know I love that practical magic–it meant that the weaker members of the tribe (the young and the old) could be strengthened by sharing that rich sheep milk and that the tribe itself had probably made it through the worst of the winter.
It is sometimes called “Oimelc” and that’s a Scots-Gaelic word that means the same thing. Imbolc is correctly pronounced “im-mulk”, with a silent “b”. Try saying im-mulk and oy-mulk fast a few times and you’ll see how similar they are in sound. For people who shared a linguistic commonality but had been apart geographically for many generations, they carried the same meaning.
Personally, I call it Bridnasadh, the great festival of Brid. I don’t know where I learned that and may, in fact, have dreamed it up (either literally or figuratively). I figure Lughnasadh is the festival of Lugh, so ipso facto–Bridnasadh. It is pronounced “breen-ah-suh” with the emphasis on the “breen”.
In Brigid’s town, Kildare, they have a huge festival called Le Feile Brid, and it focuses on St. Brigid. Here is the website for the remarkable group of people that keep that sacred flame alight http://www.solasbhride.ie/ I made my personal dedication to Brigid several years ago and did the middle part of the year-long study in Kildare and the second part of my dedication in the ruins of Brigid’s fire temple there.
Brigid traveled out of the Indus Valley in the so-called Indo-European migrations and left Her name in a lot of places along the way, most notable “Britain”, where She was and is called Brigantia. There is plenty of information on both Goddess Brigid and St. Brigid, so I’ll leave you to discover more of Her stories.
She is known as the midwife of the Holy Mother Mary, she founded a double monastery in Kildare (one side for women, the other for men). She was taken wholecloth from Goddess to Saint and all Her stories were mildly adapted. She is the Goddess of healing, poetry, smithcraft, weaving,
lambs and sheep, beer, divination, justice, whistling, water, fire,
She is a Sun Goddess–hence the Brigid’s Wheel or cross–and her name is said to mean “bright arrow”, which makes sense as a shaft of bright sunlight. She is the keeper of doorways, having in that way some kinship with Hekate. She looks forward and back and is then, also a keeper of the people’s history. You can read Her Irish lore in the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann (The Book of Irish Invasions).
But this holy day–which is sacred to Brigid–is really about the coming of spring. I think I hear all of you cheering.
Like many ancient peoples, the Irish divided their year into two season–Winter and Summer. We extrapolate from that when Spring and Autumn begin, so we celebrate this holy day as the first stirrings of spring. So your work this week will be to switch over your altar, learn something about Brigid that you didn’t know before and look for signs of spring.
And as a final note tonight: There are wonderful children’s activities at Imbolc. Brigid travels through the world “among Her people” and brings little gifts. She travels with her white cow and it is traditional to leave a little bowl of oats for the cow and a little drink for Brigid, who is also called the Bride. Because She gets weary in Her travels, it is also nice to make a bed for the Bride out of a shoebox and leave it near the hearth, if you have one. When my daughter was little, the bed was where we also left Her drink and where She left a little present for the good child of the house.
As women, it is the traditional time to give the house a new broom, to put a fresh Brigid’s Wheel over the door to protect the house from fire and the time when you leave a piece of fabric outside overnight to gather dew/mist/snow/sleet (sorry!). You’ll cut that up throughout the year as a healing compress for tired eyes and to tie as clouties for prayers.
And here’s the traditional greeting–Beannachtai na Feile Brid! (bah-nahk-tee nah fay-lah breed) Blessings of Brigid’s Fest!