Story, art, magic and creative activities for families to share and do.
As the Goddess Turns
As the sun set on February 1st, Pagans everywhere began their preparations to celebrate Imbolc. This is an Irish word meaning “in the belly”, because lambs would be developing “in the belly” of the ewes (female sheep) at this time, waiting to be born in the spring. It is a fire feast because now we can truly see that the sun is growing stronger in the winter skies, and the days are getting longer.
But February 1st through 2nd (note: Irish pagans see the day as starting at dust the prior evening) is also sacred to the Celtic goddess known as Brigid or Bride. (The Celts were the tribes of people who eventually became the Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Scots, Irish, and people of Brittany). Her name means “Exalted (mighty) One”, as well as “Bright Arrow”. She is often seen as 3 goddesses in one, known as a “triple goddess”, because she had mastery over three things: fire and smith-craft, hearth and home, and poetry – which was thought of as magical, and born from the “fire” of inspiration. She is a goddess of fire, but also of water.
This may surprise you, but it is often true: for something to thrive, it needs a little bit of it’s opposite. The warmth of the sun (fire) makes things grow, but it can’t do it without the rain (water). The fire goddess Brigid is also goddess of sacred wells where people would go for healings. So that the goddess would remember them and aid their health, people would tie strips of white cloths, called “clooties”, to the branches of the trees surrounding the wells. It is similar to the way some Christians light candles before a statue of a saint in church, to be a reminder that their help is needed.
Brigit was so powerful a goddess that even the Christian church could not make the common folk forget her. So, when the Catholic Church became the major religion in Ireland, February 2nd was picked to be the feast day of “Saint Bridged”! She was patroness of the same fire, wells, and poetry as Brigit. Even today, nuns tend a sacred fire in the town of Kildare Ireland, just like the pagan priestesses of Brigid did centuries ago. Brigit’s symbols now became the symbols of the Saint.
The pinwheel made of rushes (a straw-like plant), that represented the turning of the year towards spring, became “Brigid’s Cross”, said to have been woven by the Saint for her dying father. Folks would make a doll, or “effigy”, of Brigid out of old wheat, and have the youngest daughter in the household wait with it outside the front door. Meanwhile, the rest of the family would make a bed of straw under the table by the fireplace. When all was ready, they would open the front door and welcome in the “goddess” (doll), which the youngest daughter would place in the straw bed. This was still done, only now it was the Saint who was welcomed. Saint Brigid became so popular, she was called “The Mary of the Gaels” (Irish People). As Mary was the mother of Jesus, the Christian son of God, so Brigid was the mother of Ireland – still a goddess, even though the Church called her by other titles!
Even today, wells and fires, prayers for healing, clooties and candles all remind us of both goddess and saint. So, keep the Imbolc candles burning, let a pinwheel blow in the wind, notice the days getting longer, and welcome Brigid into your homes and hearts!
by Kat Clark, Art by Thalia Took
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