Following on from my previous video blog and the story of The Old Woman in the Cave, we have now entered the season of Imbolc and as if right on cue, in glides of one of the greatest deities of the Celtic pantheon, the glorious fiery divine power, patroness of Imbolc, Goddess Brigid. She of the sacred fire.
Brigid, Brigantia, Breo-saighead, goddess of the hearth and home, fire, alchemy and smithcraft, light, healing, divination, prophecy and poetic inspiration. A sun goddess bringing the vital energy needed for birthing new life. Even under the snow, new shoots are bursting forth and I am careful where I tread.
Imbolc – start of hope
Imbolc, literally translated, means ‘in the belly’. It is celebrated on the 1st of February as one of the four great fire festivals in the wheel of the year and heralds the return of life giving light and nature about to burst forth when Spring arrives. It marks the beginning of lambing season, and I always feel an uplift of hope, joy and promise when I hear and see the first lambs. Spring is on her way.
Imbolc – Time of hope
Just as the sap begins to rise again in the trees, it is a time of birth and beginnings, a new weaving of life in all her myriad forms. Hope is born again. People gather for the Feast of Brigid, to worship and give thanks with lighting of fires, sharing of food, invocations, songs and each to weaving an ancient solar symbol of protection for the home – the three pointed cross of Brigid.
For the Celts, the deities were inseparable from daily life. Their world was infused with relationship to the elemental forces, nature sprites, ancestral spirits, and worship of gods and goddesses alike. Their understanding of how the inner worlds related to the cosmos and the material world was profound. They built sacred sites where ley lines intersected, knowing these were sacred places of power where physical energies aligned with the sun and the cosmos were especially potent. Places of divine conjunction.
Rose Rylands is a Storyteller and walking guide based where she grew up on the East Coast at Whitby. Her mission is to connect people to the earth as a place of magic, mystery and meaning, to arrest ongoing harm to both ourselves and the natural world.
“My passion is to connect people with the earth as a place of mystery, meaning and magic through story. I suppose I am a sort of cultural custodian of my own small space and beloved bit of earth.”
The next blog is a video of Rose sharing about ‘Imbolc – Time of hope’.
Rose is running a series of workshops on the TA Earth theme:
- Loss of Language
- Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm
- Storytelling: Connecting head, heart, earth and hearth
- Spiritual Ecology
Take a look at our other TA Earth articles and workshops.
Deeper relationship with the natural world
Communication with the divine, the spirit world and the non human web of life, combined with a deep kinship and reciprocity was part of their culture, as it had been for thousands of years. Nature was known to be woven through with numinous magic and for millennia people lived with reverence for the living world around them. In all, the living world was the church of our ancestors.
There was no separation between the seen and the unseen worlds. They knew full well that many otherworldly beings existing in other realities, could come and go at will. The veils were thin and much was seen, envisioned, midwifed and balanced in accordance with ancient esoteric laws and practices.
Enormous respect was given to the gods and goddesses. Brigid was one whose appearance was welcomed with relief and warmly celebrated with thanks and praisegiving after the long winter.
It is hard for us to imagine how it was thousands of years ago when sacred fires were kept alight in holy shrines dedicated to Brigid. They were tended and fed with hawthorn, potent branches signifying entry to the Inner World, by priestesses who were also trained to tend sacred wells, groves, caves and places of worship in the hallowed hills. It was the time of Druid magic and wise women of the hedge.
In Kildare, Ireland, there was a shrine to Goddess Brigid where a fire was attended by 19 priestesses that it should never go out and would burn eternal. The Brudins, a place of magical cauldron and perpetual fires, disappeared when Christianity took hold.
Arrival of Christianity
When early Christianity arrived on these shores, millenia old customs and ceremonies were appropriated and moulded into Christian doctrine. Some of the deities and goddesses who had been celebrated and worshipped over thousands of years were banished. Others became Saints instead. Suffice it to say, Brigid is one of those who epitomises the marriage between the Pagan and Christian traditions. She remains strong as she bridges both worlds, albeit now as Saint Brigid.
But eventually goddess consciousness rotted into the idea of a malevolant, putrid, evil underworld that was projected onto witches (the wise women).They became cast as the evil sorceress. Much esoteric knowledge and wisdom was lost and the later witch who practised occult arts became the half baked shaman, with only half knowledge.
Loss of respect for the old ways – and women
And there we have it – the fire and the cauldron, both symbolic and literal, tended by women, was extinguished by the banishment of pagan culture. It is a long and painful story . Too long to go into here when whole books have been written about it. But it involved a long and drawn out persecution of women. The banishment and murder of priestesses, nuns and women of the hedge. The genocide of the Druids, burning of sacred groves and banishment of millenia old ways of worship. These ways had kept humanity attuned to the deeper rhythms and cycles of nature, and responsibilities as stewards of both the seen and unseen worlds.
Gosh…we have drifted a long way from there to the transactions we now have with our world.
Brigid and Jesus
The involvement of Brigid in the birth of Jesus became the stuff of legend. The story goes that Brigid was midwife and placed three drops of water on His forehead. An ancient Celtic myth tells that three drops of water were placed upon the head of the Son of Light in order to confer wisdom. I think it’s vital to remember that Jesus Christ was born in pagan times. The story of his birth is woven through with the symbolism of his time.
But here, on the emerald islands of Britain, even until a few hundred years ago and before this industrial civilisation, grass was cut with scythe, earth ploughed by man and horse. Crops were harvested by hand, fires lit for both warmth, cooking, and to gather around. Life had it’s own simple rhythms in accord with sunrise and sunset, the turn of the wheel, the cycles of nature and the seasons. Each community celebrated the seasons with song, dance, rituals and gatherings. God fearing and yet still alive with the old ways inherited from ancestors.
The household fire is sacred to Brigid. At the time of Imbolc the fire should be kept going, and each evening the woman of the household should smoor the fire, (cover it over to keep the fire overnight), asking for the protection of Brigid on all its occupants.
Honouring Brigid through Imbolc
There are many ways to honour Brigid. She is sacred to so many things – but she is also known as Brigid of the Sacred Wells. In Druid ritual, Brigid is honored by placing candles around a well. The well is dressed with flowers and green foliage. Coins and silver objects were offered to the well. Many of her holy wells still exist, some thousands of years old. Her waters were said to heal all manner of disease.
I have a Holy Well at the end of my street that is now known as the Well of St Hilda. But eons ago it would have have been one of Brigid’s Sacred Wells. It is supposed to heal diseases of the eye. I might go down there and splash some water in my eyes and perhaps I will see more clearly..
So we labour on in lockdown and under a foot of snow. I am listening to the lambs in the field and hoping the farmer will take care of them. I feel in accord with Brigid. The well has been visited and I have been keeping my log burner going overnight. Keeping the fire burning and praying for poetic inspiration. I fight back the darker thoughts that prowl around the edges. I just live in hope that somehow a better normal will arise out of this Imbolc and new beginnings. Let the new weaving begin.