Welcoming the Return of the Light with Brighid at Imbolc
This past weekend I spent quite a bit of time in ceremony with the goddess Brighid. I often feel “goddess” is the wrong word for these large intelligences and forces of nature. She seems so much larger, and so much more connected to the land and elemental forces.
In her winter form I see her as the Cailleach, the old woman of the hills; the old hag. Callieach is an old Gaelic word that may have been more related to a land-goddess than old hag (hag itself may have once had a much more revered origin as well). The Cailleach comes in with Samhain and the restful dark. She has an enchanted well, linking her, I think to other winter goddesses like Old Mother Holle.
Brighid is related to the return of spring and the heat of the sun (fire). She is also considered a triple goddess. Not the maiden-mother-crone; that’s a recent (20th century) invention. I think she’s related to the triple mother goddesses found throughout Celtic and Germanic Europe and the British Isles. These local goddesses were shown as three women and called the Matrones, or the Mothers. Each region had its own set of Matrones. While Celtic and Germanic cultures were oral, once the Romans moved in stele were erected to these local Matrones. What we have are these stele as archaeological remains. Given Brighid’s triple nature, I think she may be related to these types of land goddesses.
Matrones of Vertillum in Gaul (France) from wikipedia
Whether she is related to the Matrones or Matres, she has grown to be an important force in my life and has served as a connecting force both to the ancestral lands of my blood lineage, my Ancestors and to the land I live on. In both older Irish pagan belief and modern pagan belief, Brighid is related to the hearth, healing and smithcraft (alchemical/transformational change). Even in Christianized Ireland there are still many folk beliefs regarding Brighid, even if cloaked in the mantle of St. Brighid. As time has gone by I’ve come to appreciate and participate in some of these folk customs. This year I was organized enough to do all of the traditional folk ceremony that relates to Brighid as I celebrated Imbolc, the spring festival related to St.
As with many of the Celtic celebrations I look at Imbolc as a period of time, not a discreet day. I spent four days working with specific aspects of Brighid folklore. I made Brighid’s crosses with rushes gathered in a field – and here in Massachusetts that was cold, cold work on that day! They’re not as lovely and green as Irish rushes at this time of year but they would do. Brighid’s crosses can be made at any time of the year so I’ll be making more once the rushes are nice and green again.
I also worked on a Brideog, a small doll that symbolizes the goddess. She is often put in a bed on the eve of St. Brighid’s day. Other traditions have the doll carried house-to-house along with singing and asking for alms or food and drink. Mine will have a special place near my altar to Brighid.
I also put cloth out as a Brat Brihide, a healing cloth to be used throughout the year. The cloth is put out on St. Brighid’s eve to that Brighid will touch it and endow it with healing powers. The cloth is then used during the year for ailments like headaches, sprains, pains, etc. A bit of the cloth can also be carried or worn for protection. I left out an offering of a white candle and some oats (traditional offerings for her) with the cloth.
I also made a delicious oat cake based on a recipe from the Gather Victoria blog. I highly recommend that.
That is just a wee bit about Brighid. If you'd like to learn a bit more, check out this article from RTE, an Irish newspaper. It includes interviews with older folk talking about Brighid traditions in their different areas.
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