Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems – Rainer Maria Rilke.
To celebrate Imbolc, or Saint Bridget’s Day, on February 1st, we decided to collect some local field rushes and create a traditional Brigid’s Cross.
Imbolc is an ancient Irish and Scottish festival associated with the strengthening of the Sun and the lengthening of the days in Spring. It lands about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc celebrates new growth such as buds on trees and the appearance of plants like snowdrops and daffodils.
It is also associated with the lambing season. It is believed that Imbolc translates to “ewe’s milk”. Perhaps because of this Imbolc is associated with childbirth and the fertility Goddess Brigid. Brigid is also a goddess of fire, poetry, unity, and healing.
Imbolc became a Christian celebration. The Goddess became associated with Saint Bridget of Kildare whose feast day is on February 1st.
There are many traditional ways to celebrate St Bridget’s Day or Lá Fhéile Bríde as it’s known in Gaelic.
One of the most well known traditions, is to create a Brigid’s Cross using reeds, rushes or straw. The cross is placed on the front door on Imbolc eve to be blessed by the Saint and thereby protecting the home from evil and fire.
Another tradition is to place a cloth or scarf outside to be blessed by St. Brigid as she passes by. In Irish folklore these can then be used as a cure for headaches or sore throats.
Making a fire or lighting a candle is associated with the Saint from early Christian times. Perhaps a perpetual fire for cooking was kept going in order to feed the poor at Saint Bridget’s monastery in Kildare.
Another way to mark Imbolc is by creating a feast. Traditional foods were eggs, sheep’s cheeses, fresh greens, colcannon (mashed potatoes with shredded cabbage mixed in), milk and beer. Brigid used to brew her own. Spring cleaning is another way to mark the festival, as is planting seeds.
IMBOLC by Caroline Mellor
I am the dream of awakening.
I am the returning of the light.
I am the tough green shoot pushing up through the pavestones, I am the first kiss of sunlight on the unfurling petals of the snowdrop. I am the wind which whispers the gentle pull of home to the migratory bird.
I am the drop of ice melting on the mountainside with its great dream of the ocean.
I am the sap rising in the blossom tree just before it reveals its sticky buds to the sky; I am the riotous celebration humming away beneath the earth’s mantle of frozen sleep.
I am the rousing of the bee from its winter slumber, and the soft pad of the mother-wolf’s paw on the snow as she prepares to birth her pups.
I am hope, potential, rebirth and promise. I am the kindling breath which transforms the flicker of inspiration in your creative core into a blazing torch.
Give me the silent crescent moon rising over the sea and I will build you a bridge of silver light so you can walk up and lie in it.
Give me the frost-hardened wilderness and I will breathe radiant green life over it.
Give me the healer, the writer, the craftsperson and the storyteller, and I will replenish her essence and make her new again.
I am Brigid, Bast, Inanna and Hestia. I am the fierce protectress of the sacred fire.
Tonight I bestow my gifts of power and courage at the hearth of your soul: power to step out of the shadows of self-doubt and negativity which have held you in darkness for too long, power to shed all that which no longer serves you, and courage to clear your heart and mind for the dawn that awaits you.
I am the time to honor your unique gifts for their true worth and to protect and nurture your creative self as you would a child. I am the deep longing of the spirit which refuses to be consumed by a narrative of fear and chooses instead to place itself vivaciously on the side of love.
I am the stirring in your belly which knows exactly what you are capable of — and that it’s time the world found out.
I am the fire within which will not be contained any longer.
I am the quickening, I am the serpent uncoiling, I am Imbolc.
I am the dream of awakening.
Words: Rainer Maria Rilke, JesseJames, Caroline Mellor. Images: JesseJames