February 1st is one of the great cross-quarter days which make up the Wheel of the Year. It falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and, in many traditions, including Celtic, is considered the beginning of Spring.
Imbolc means “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnant ewes who are about to birth their lambs, but can also refer to the Goddess, as in “in the belly of the Mother”, for in the womb of Mother Earth, even though it may to be apparent to us yet, there are stirrings. The seeds are just beneath the surface, ready to sprout; this is a time of quickening and new growth. Imbolc does not bring dramatic change from the apparent death of Winter-the trees do not burst into blossom overnight, leaves do not immediately sprout from the branches, plants and flowers do not instantly carpet the earth. This is a very mysterious time-growth is gradual and seeds lie hidden in the
earth, slowly pushing the first shoots up through the soil and yet all still appears lifeless.
In Western Europe, this was the time for preparing the fields for the first planting. Even in British Columbia, we can begin turning over and enriching the soil in anticipation of the first sowing in March.
The other name for this festival is “Oimelc” meaning “ewe’s milk” in reference to the lactating ewes. For our ancestors, the lambing season was another sign that Winter was combing to an end. The gamboling lambs seemed to herald the warmer days to come. In Cornwall they honored this event by making a ritual drink from cider, mashed apples, honey and the milk of pregnant ewes.
Imbolc is a celebration of newness-the promise of fertility new life and new hope. The white of the Imbolc snowdrop is a color of the Virgin Goddess. Imbolc is the festival that celebrates the transformation of the Goddess from the dark Crone of Winter to the radiant Virgin of Spring. The ground is awakening and the seed is placed in the belly of the earth. The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life, which were made at the Winter Solstice, are now becoming manifest. It’s the dawn of the year. It is time to creep out of Winter hibernation; it’s the time of germination. This is also a traditional time for new beginnings, a time of initiations and taking a new name.
The Catholic Church, as it is wont to do, found an opportunity to superimpose a Christian holiday on this pagan festival. In the Christian calendar the day after Imbolc, February 2nd, is designated the Feast of Purification, when Mary went to the temple to be ritually cleansed after giving birth. According to Hebrew tradition, all new mothers had to be “purified” forty days after the birth of a male child (eighty days after the birth of a female child). When Mary attended the temple and presented her new baby, she met the aged holy man, Simeon, who prophesied that the infant would become “a light for revelation”. In memory of this prophecy, candles are blessed in church on this day. There is a candlelit procession and candlelit services are held, giving rise to the feast name of Candlemas.
This, of course, has a Pagan origin, like many Christian celebrations. In ancient Rome, a similar rite at this time of year honored the Goddess Juno Februata. It was Juno who generated the ‘febris’ (Latin for fever and the origin of this month’s name) of love and on this day her worshippers carried burning candles.
February 1st is the feast day of Brigid, who began her life as a Pagan Goddess and ended up a Christian saint. Her name originates from the Gaelic words Breo-Saighit, which means fiery or flaming arrow. The Church of Rome could not hope to extinguish her flame, so they attempted to control and contain it by creating a saint in her image, changing the name to Bridget. Some church scholars say there never really was a Saint Bridget, but because the Catholic Church couldn’t very easily call the Great Goddess of Ireland a demon, they canonized her instead. In her temple at Kildare, nineteen priestesses tended an eternal fire-an inextinguishable flame. It is said that on the twentieth day, the flame was left to burn by itself, though some say Brigid attended it herself.
On her feast day, beginning at sunset on February 1st and ending at sunset on February 2nd, her statue was washed in the sea-for purification-and then carried in a cart through the fields surrounded by candles. Sacred fires were lit, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge and the fire of poetic inspiration. Brigid is the protector and preserver of all memory and knowledge-she is also called Brigit, Brid or Bride. Her role is that of teacher and magical instructor and she empowers her students with wisdom and knowledge to nurture the land, keeping it safe and productive and for the good of all.
Brigid is a Goddess of Fire, Creativity and Fertility. She is known as the Goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing. She is patroness of inspiration and midwifery. She has also been associated with the martial arts.
In Britain, there are many sacred wells and many of them are dedicated to Brigid. The water in these wells contain healing minerals and people tie ribbons to nearby bushes and trees so that they flutter in the wind like prayer flags. As the cloth is torn to rags by the wind, sun and rain, illness falls away too.
Brigid is known as the White Swan and in Glastonbury the outline of a swan in flight can be seen in the contours of the hills which make up the Isle of Avalon. Brigid has strong connections with Glastonbury-there was a shrine dedicated to her at Bride’s Mound and also a well called Bride’s Well. There is a chapel of St. Bridget there and, in its original location, it is said that Brigid’s embroidery tools were preserved there. In the ethers a flame still burns at Bride’s Mound. Brigid’s bag of healing herbs and her bell are said to be hidden in the ground near Chalice Well in Glastonbury. They say at Imbolc, you can hear her bell softly ringing in the earth.
One of the nicest folk customs still practiced in many countries is to place a lit candle in every window of the house, beginning at sunset on February 1st, allowing them to burn until sunrise on February 2nd. Candlemas is also THE day to make candles. Other customs include weaving “Brigid’s crosses” from straw or wheat to hang around the house for protection, performing rites of spiritual cleansing and purification, making “Bride’s beds” to ensure fertility of mind and spirit (and body if desired), and making Crowns of Light to wear.
Since this is a time of new beginnings, this is a good day to ritually celebrate all things new. Plan a ceremony to name a new baby, officially welcome a new person into your family or home, take on a new name or make a commitment to a goal.
Since this is also the beginning of Spring, you can perform another ritual act of purification-spring cleaning. This is a good time to do a thorough house cleaning, sweeping the floors with salt water, banishing the gloom of Winter and creating a sparkling, shiny new setting for Spring.
Many Pagans have an annual ritual of voluntarily surrendering something they are fond of between Imbolc and the Spring Equinox. Perhaps this is the origin of Lent? You can give up something frivolous or serious, but it should be something you will notice and miss.
Traditional foods are pancakes, cakes and all grain-based foods. Pancakes are considered symbols of the sun because of their round shape and golden color.
Bailey’s Irish Cream Truffles
1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur
1 Tbs. Butter
12 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup heavy cream
powdered sugar or cocoa
Melt chocolate pieces, Bailey’s and cream together over very low heat. Whisk in yolks, one at a time-mixture will thicken. Whisk in butter. Refrigerate several hours or overnight until firm. Make small balls with a teaspoon. Roll in powdered sugar or cocoa.
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Warm milk–DO NOT BOIL. Add honey and vanilla. Mix together and pour into a mug. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Kindling The Fire
This morning, as I kindle the flame upon my hearth, I pray that the flame of Brigid may burn in my soul and the souls of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy or malice, no hatred or fear may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride may not pour like cold water in the flame.
Instead, may the spark of Brigid light the love in my soul that it may burn brightly through the day.
And may I warm those that are lonely, whose hearts are cold and lifeless, so that all may know the comfort of Brigid’s love.
We will never, ever lose our way
To the well of her memory
And the power of her living flame
It will rise, it will rise again
Covering the Fire
Brigid, preserve the fire as you preserve us all.
Brigid, may its warmth remain in our midst as you are always among us.
Brigid, may it rise to life in the morning as you raise us to life.
So Many Years
So many years have veiled your face
Made you a legend or a song.
Is it a dream I am following?
Can you still speak after so long?
For I see the path behind
But not where you are leading me.
Flame of Divinity
Flame of Divinity
Guide us through the darkness.
Brigid our Lady
Born of flaming arrows.
Poem of Brigid (Traditional Wicca)
Brigid they name me
And three gifts of fire I bring:
First, the flame of inspiration,
Frenzy of poet and anguish of artist,
And passion of lover for union with the beloved;
Second, the fierce fire of the smith-craft,
Through whose testing all must pass;
And third, the most precious of all,
Which eases the second’s pain,
The undying warmth of healing,
The last and greatest gift
Of the ever-returning sun.
Gentle flame, born at sunrise
You warm the land
Bring life to the sap.
White Swan, inspirer of poets
Your sacred flame
Renews the soul.
Hearth of warmth, heart of the home
Your promise fulfilled
Bring Spring to the land.
The Genealogy of Brigid
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Brigid
I shall not be killed
I shall not be harried
I shall not be put in a cell
I shall not be wounded
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me
No lake, no water, no sea shall drown me
For I am the child of Poetry
Poetry, child of Reflection
Reflection, child of Meditation
Meditation, child of Lore
Lore, child of Research
Research, child of Great Knowledge
Great Knowledge, child of Intelligence
Intelligence, child of Comprehension
Comprehension, child of Wisdom
Wisdom, child of Brigid.
Brigit At the Forge (Joanna Powell Colbert)
Mine is the magic of the forge
And the brewery.
My brass shoes I made myself.
And my bell of healing-
That I hammered also,
Golden like the sun,
Milky like the dandelion.
The first time keening split the air of Ireland
Was when I howled for my dead son,
His skin so white.
That was the first,
But not the last.
For me plant the spring wheat.
For me catch the new lamb.
For me greet the speckled snake.
For me stamp your beautiful feet.
For me ring the golden branch.
For me pour out milk, sweet milk.
I am the white swan,
Queen of them all.