01 February 2018

Imbolg - the first rites of Spring

Beannachtaí na Féile Imbolc a Chairde
Greetings of the Festival of Imbolg

Imbolg or Candlemas Eve is a night that belongs to the goddess Brid or Bride.  In the old Celtic calendar it was the nocturnal welcoming of the first day of spring.  Small plants begin to bloom, and ewes start to lactate; the flowing of milk was viewed as the life-giving force returning to the land, finally the end of winter.  In old Scotland, the month of February fell in the middle of the period known as Faoilleach, the Wolf-month, for wolves were hungry, and still prowled the lower lands trying to survive.  Sometimes, it was called an Marbh-Mìos—the Dead-month, for leaves were not out yet, and things were still hard and cold.  Still, signs of new life were appearing.  Baby lambs come.  Soft rains sees the grass greening up.  Ravens and magpies begin to build nests, and start their fanciful dances of mating.  Meadow larks’ songs herald springtide across the glens.

blessing of the fields

I wrote about this ritual in RavenHawke, Book 2 of the Dragons of Challon, and in many areas remnants of this tradition are still carried out.  People would carry torches or large candles through the fields to purify them with the sacred smoke.  Once the parade was done, the remaining trash from the previous years crops was set aflame and the grasses were burnt to the dirt.  A ritual with purposeful meaning behind it.  The burning removed grass seed, and already rooted grass, which made the fields clear for plowing and planting.  Also, the trash becomes potash, which is fertilizer for the crops, producing stronger root systems and more abundant crops.  It also made them more able to withdraw periodic droughts.  Even today, I see people in the Southern US burn their yards down to the dirt, to reseed.  It gets rid of the weeds and the seeds that prove unwanted and makes for a dark lusher lawn.

alter of lights for Brid's Night

The lore says the old Lady of Winter, The Cailleach, is now being reborn as Brid, the Maid of Spring.  Brid is the light-bringer, she is tender, yet grows stronger as the sun’s time lengthens.  Brid’s name means exalted one.  Scottish artist, John Duncan, pictures her as young and fair, in his painting of Coming of Bride.  As with female deities in Scotland, she was a strong goddess, so rooted is her lore that you see the commonality of stories echoed through many countries in various similar names: Brid, Bride, Brigid, Bridget, Brighid or Brig.  In the 10th century, Cormac’s Glossary, she was described as the daughter of the Daghda, the Great God of the Tuatha de Danaan.  Brid is the personification of wisdom, a patron goddess of poets (poets covering bards).  Since the discipline of poetry, filidhect, was interwoven with seership, Brid was also seen as the goddess of inspiration, divination and prophecy.

welcoming of Bride's light

She was said to have two sisters:  Brid the Healer and Brid the Smith, but this is a repetitive theme of the Three Faces of the Goddess—the maid, the mother and the crone aspect of one single goddess, reflecting the wheel of life, death and rebirth.  Aside from the spiritual part of her nature, she was a patron of other worker crafts of early Celtic and Pictish society: dying, weaving and brewing.  A goddess of regeneration and abundance, she was greatly beloved as a provider of plenty, who brought forth the bounties of the natural world for the good of the people.  

Scottish Artist John Duncan's
"The Coming of Bride"

Brid's Symbol hanging on ancient door

Beannaichte Latha Brid!!

Happy Brid's Day

Silk Painting, one panel of the Three Faces of the Goddess
by the late Carmon Deyo

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