Imbolc or Brigit
Imbolc is the holiday that marks the sun’s growing strength. We begin to seethe days grow longer, and in many places we observe the first signs of spring.
In ancient times in Ireland Brigit was also called Imbolc or Oimelc, which means “ewe’s milk,” because at this time of year baby lambs were born and their mothers began to give milk. The Irish called this Spring’s Beginning, and it was one of the major markings of the year. A Brigit doll would be made out of sheaf of the last grain harvested the previous summer. Wheat or barley was bundled together so that the ears of grain made hair. The doll was dressed in white and carried in procession through the village and the fields, to protect the crops yet to be planted and bring fertility to the land.
Brigit is a time of initiation, which means beginning. We look forward to spring and summer, and start thinking about the work done in the warm time of year. We order seeds from catalos, make plans fro vacation, and make pledges for the coming year – our “new year’s” resolutions.
Initiation is also the word we use to mean learning about the mysteries, the deepest insights of our tradition. Am initiation is both a commitment and a test. It requires training and preparation and courage to face challenges. We have to leave the shelter of all that is comfortable and safe and take risks, but in the end we become more truly ourselves. Each of us comes into this world with unique gifts and special tasks to do. As we discover our gifts and do our work, we gather true power, wisdom and understanding.
Brigit is also a time for weather magick and divination: reading Tarot cards, runes, using any technique we know that can help give us a glimpse into the future. The sun is growing stronger, but in many places February is one of the coldest months. We know spring will come eventually, but we wonder how long it will take.
Weather divination survives in the tradition of Groundhog Day. If the groundhog can see his shadow when it comes out of its hole on Brigit, winter will last another six weeks. This story has roots in ancient traditions. An old Irish custom at this time was to say this charm:
Early on Bride’s morn
Shall the serpent come from the hole,
I will not harm the serpent,
Nor will the serpent harm me.
There are no snakes in Ireland, but for many thousands of years, all over the world snakes were sacred to the Goddess.
At this time of year, the Goddess is the teacher, the midwife, the forest mother. We know her as Brigit, the Irish Goddess of the holy well and sacred flame. Her name can be spelled Brigid, Bridgid, Brighde, or Bride. As the sun grows warmer, we turn our attention to those things that support life and growth.
All life depends on water. Water that comes up from the earth in springs and wells is special and precious. Since for us the Goddess is the living earth, wells and springs are her lifeblood. Because we drink from pure sources of water and feel refreshed, Brigit is also the Goddess of healing and inspiration.
Fire is energy, warmth, the spark of life itself. Fire helps us keep warm, cook our food, make the things we need to live. And when we feel inspired, we say we get all fired up.
Brigit, as a fire Goddess, was also charge of inspiration – especially poetry. Poets were as important and respected in ancient Ireland as rock stars or football heroes are today. Both women and men were famous poets and also powerful workers of magic. A good poet could bless a field or a family. An angry poet might write satire, which could raise blisters on an enemy’s face or make someone sick.
Since fire is energy, Brigit is also known as the healer, because sickness was seen as unbalanced energy. And she is the Goddess of the forge, the place where metal is heated in fire until it is soft enough to be hammered and shaped into tools, horseshoes, and other useful things.
When the Christians too over Ireland, they found the people were so attached to Brigit that they couldn’t get rid of her. So they simply called her a saint instead of a Goddess, and people went on tending her fire and worshiping at her sacred wells.
The cow is sacred to Brigit. For early people, the cow was a very magical animal, because it gives so much milk, to drink and to turn into cream and butter and cheese. The Celtic people measured their wealth in cattle, not money.
The serpent or snake was also sacred to Brigit. The snake is one of the oldest aspects of the Goddess. Snakes shed their skin and come out brand-new. They teach us about death and life. Death is like shedding a skin and becoming something new, and so is every initiation. The snake teaches us wisdom, and wisdom gives us inspiration.
In Irish mythology, Brigit was the daughter of Daghda (DYE-dah) or (DOW-dah), whose name means “The Good God.” Although we often can the Goddess Mother Earth, we could just as well say Father Earth, for Daghda is God of abundance, food, and plenty. He is pictured as a giant, a big, big man who carries a big club, which stands for both life and death, for while it is shaped like the new shoots pushing out from the earth, or the rising penis that fertilizes new life, it can also hit you over the head and kill you! Daghda reminds us that life and death are always linked.
In stories about the Daghda, e was known to eat an enormous amount. He was keeper of the magic cauldron that was never empty. No matter how many people drank soup from it or ate what was cooked inside it, there was always more.
The Daghda is the powerful life of the earth itself that begins to reawaken under the rays of the growing sun. When the earth is respected, the land itself is like a magic cauldron, producing food and drink and everything we need in great abundance. But if we don’t respect the earth – watch out! The giant figure of the Daghda reminds us that the earth is bigger and more powerful than we are.
As Brigit is the Goddess of poetry, the God at this time of year is also the poet whose words of power can bring healing or change the future, the guardian of secret knowledge. Fintin, who guarded the salmon swimming in the pool of wisdom, Merlin the wizard and Taliesin the shapeshifter are some of his names.