Today is Candlemas, the Christian festival of presenting Jesus at the temple, but long before that, this time of year marked a more ancient celebration in Gaelic Britain: the rites of spring and the fire festival of Imbolc.
Let’s get with the programme, Imbolc style, and parade down the street, go pray for the health of the fields! It’s all about the soil. Our cradle on Earth.
Candlemas is a continuation of that more ancient festival Imbolc, which spans 1-2 February and begins 1 February with St Brigid’s Day.
The original Brigid was a pre-Christian goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the mythical first people or faerie people of Ireland. She was a daughter of the chief of the gods, The Dagda, and was known as a goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration. Her name means “exalted one”.
Her story was later merged with the Christian saint of the same name in the middle ages, St Brigid of Kildare.
This fire festival, whether viewed as pagan or Christian, began as a neolithic festival also celebrated in Scotland and the Isle of Man, roughly marking the 1/2 way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
There are various suggestion about the etymology of ‘Imbolc. ‘ It is commonly thought to come from a word meaning “in the belly.” reflecting the role of the goddess Brigid as a protector of women in childbirth, as well as the safe birthing of precious livestock.
Any time now, is the time of the very first lambs. The start of the lambing season varies by up to two weeks in any given year.
Brigid was said to visit one’s home at Imbolc. Asking her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, and items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was petitioned to protect homes and livestock. This was a time for feasting and visits to sacred wells, and a time for ritual divination.
St Brigid’s cross is the classic icon of her saint’s day today, though this too, predates Christianity. It is made from rushes and was placed in doorways to protect the home from harm.
A new Christian story was created for it, that the earthly manifestation of Brigid, St Brigid of Kildare, had woven it for a dying man, using rushes from the floor, baptizing him at the point of death.
Spring fire, fierce quickening of new green shoots, the fierceness of the ram.
Imbolc was when the Cailleach. —the divine crone of Gaelic tradition—gathered her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend said if she wished the winter to last a good while longer, she would make sure the weather on Imbolc was bright and sunny, so she could go out and about, and gather firewood.
This superstition says it’s good news, then, if we have bad weather at Imbolc. Winter is almost done with for another year.
Let them sleep soon, the storm hags.
Until next time 🙂