On the Fairy Road

An exploration of historic and modern Fairy beliefs, and more generally Irish-American and Celtic folk beliefs, from both an academic and experiential perspective.

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Some Brighid and Imbolc Facts

With Imbolc fast approaching there is a lot of information going around about both the holiday and the goddess. I thought it might be helpful here to offer some basic information about both, sourced from the original texts.
The name Brighid comes from the older name Brig or Bric, which means power, vigour, strength, authority according to the electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. It is in this form that we find older references to the goddess, such as in the Cath Maige Tuired. In later use, such as the Sanas Cormaic we see it spelled Brigit and there are now several variants. Its suggested the earlier root in proto-Indo-European would mean high or height giving us 'exalted one'. The popular idea that Brighid comes from Breo-saighead or Breo-aighead meaning "fiery arrow" is a fanciful folk etymology from Cormac's Glossary. This is the full entry: "Brigit .i. banfile ingen in Dagdai. is eiside Brigit baneceas (ł be neicsi) .i. Brigit bandee noadradís filid. arba romor ⁊ baroán afri thgnam. is airesin ideo eam (deam) uocant poetarum hoc nomine cuius sorores erant Brigit be legis Brigit bé goibnechta .i. bandé .i. tri hingena in Dagdai insin. de quarum nominibus pene omnes Hibernenses dea Brigit uocabatur. Brigit din .i. breoaigit ł breoṡaigit." (Brigit - a poet, daughter of the Dagda. This Brigit is a woman of poetry (female poet) and is Brigit the goddess worshipped by poets because her protection was very great and well known. This is why she is called a goddess by poets. Her sisters were Brigit the woman of healing and Brigit the woman of smithcraft, goddesses; they are three daughters of the Dagda. Almost all Irish goddesses are called a Brigit. Brigit then from breoaigit or breoshaigit, 'fiery arrow').
Its unknown what Imbolg means but the leading suggestion is i-mbolg "in the belly" although alternatives have also been suggested over the years. The name is referenced in the Táin Bó Cuiliagne and Dindshenchas, usually as a time marker, ie "luan samain sáinriuth cossin cetáin iar n-imbulc" (monday of Samhain particularly until the Wednesday of Imbolg). We also find this reference to Imbolc in the Dindshenchas: "iar n-imbulc, ba garb a ngeilt" (after Imbolc, rough was their herding). There is no information as far as I am ware of older celebration practices for this holiday.
An alternative name for the holiday is Oimelc or Oimelg, possibly meaning "ewe's milk", oi meilg, although this name appears to be later and less common. We see a reference to Oimelc in The Wooing of Emer: "55 To Oimolc, i.e., the beginning of spring, viz., different (ime) is its wet (folc), viz the wet of spring, and the wet of winter. Or, oi-melc, viz., oi, in the language of poetry, is a name for sheep, whence oibá (sheep's death) is named, ut dicitur coinbá (dog's death), echbá (horse's death), duineba (men's death), as bath is a name for 'death'. Oi-melc, then, is the time in which the sheep come out and are milked, whence oisc (a ewe), i.e., oisc viz., barren sheep."
We also have this about Oimelc in the Sanas Cormaic: "oimelc .i. oimelg .i. isí aimser andsín tic ass caerach." (Oimelc that is oimelg that is the season when the sheep are in milk.)
I know this is a lot of references and facts to throw out there but beyond the huge array of personal practices and folk customs these are the main factual items that I see coming up either skewed or inaccurately relayed. I hoped it would help to provide some basics for people to work outwards from.
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Morgan has been a practicing witch since the early 90's with a focus on the Fairy Faith and fairylore. She has written over two dozen non-fiction and fiction books on topics related to Irish mythology, witchcraft, fairy folklore, and related subjects. Morgan has also taught workshops on these same topics across the United States and internationally. In her spare time she likes to study the Irish language in both its modern and historic forms.
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