Just before the holiday season started, we wrote about the Celtic Goddess Brigid and the creation of the Brigid’s Hammer necklace. Now, with Imbolc right around the corner – this year, it’s Friday, February 1 – we thought we’d come back and talk about how Brigid is celebrated and revered today.
Imbolc Traditions: Heralding Spring
Throughout most of the Northern hemisphere, and certainly in Ireland, this is a cold, dark time of the year. Yet Brigid is quite busy. In one aspect, she watches over the seeds that are sleeping beneath the earth, waiting to emerge at spring’s first call. In another aspect, Brigid is the Bone Mother. Going between the snowy trees, she gently gathers the bones of animals that did not survive the season. Then she sings to them, magic songs that restore the creatures to a new life as part of the next generation. And, in what is my favorite aspect, Brigid watches over the smithy, granting the gift of lasting strength to all who labor in her name.
Here is a translation of an Old Irish poem honoring Brigid, patroness of smiths:
The ringing of its busy bent anvils,
the sound of songs from poets' tongues
the heat of its men at clean contest,
the beauty of its women at high assembly.
Beannachtaí ar an gCeárta -- Blessings on the Forge!*
Celebrating Imbolc: the Cros Bríde
Ask any Irish school child, and they can show you how to weave a Cros Bríde – otherwise known as a Brigid’s Cross – out of rushes. There’s some variation in design. Newer style Cros Brídes have 4 arms, while the older, more traditional versions have only three. Once the Cros Bríde is made, it’s generally displayed over a doorway or in a window to bring good luck to the home. Legend has it that the Cros Bríde will protect a home from fire. While this may be true, Imbolc is also a good occasion to check the batteries in your smoke detectors – just in case.
Celebrating Imbolc: Candle Ritual
Imbolc is sometimes known as Candlemas, and what better way to celebrate Candlemas than with light? Midwinter is a dark time. Rituals and meditations that include candlelight nurture the optimistic spirit, promote feelings of hopefulness, and provide a much-needed lift to the spirits that make enduring the remaining winter days so much easier.
For many, the focus of Imbolc is on purification, healing, and inspiration. The Druids honored Brigid by decorating a well with candles, flowers, and other offerings. People would toss silver items – most often coins – into the well in the hopes of securing Brigid’s favor. This tradition continues to this day: when you see someone pitch a penny into the local fountain, it’s the modern day echo of an ancient Celtic tradition.
If you don’t have a well handy, and a trip to the sacred wells of Ireland isn’t in your immediate future, you can still celebrate Imbolc in your home. Simply light a few candles – white, red, and black are the traditional colors – and offer up a prayer of gratitude for all Brigid does during the winter, and the gift she brings in the form of spring.
It’s not unheard of to exchange gifts on Imbolc, especially with those who have aspecial place in your life. One traditional gift is baked goods – Brigid is a goddess of hearth and home, after all. Another idea, if you’d like to give something that lasts longer, is Celtic knotwork jewelry representative of Brigid’s power and grace. In addition to the Brigid’s Hammer, the Triskele is also appropriate. It is the same form as the 3-armed Cros Bríde, which makes it perfect for the holiday.
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