This blogpost is about Brigid and no, Brigid is not the sheep in the picture. But read on to see what Brigid, the sheep and Febuary 2nd have in common.
Brigid, or Brighid, Bride, Brid was an important Irish Goddess. Her Welsh name is Ffraid (which I mention here, because Ffraid plays a role in the stories of my Celtic fiction series Braider of Words). It is said she can be traced back to the people of the Brigantes, being their Goddess Brigantia, though the Brigantes were not Irish but lived between todays London and Wales.
She was a Goddess for fertility, women, poetry, forging and the fire of the hearth. An interesting combination and I cannot help but image a poem-reciting blacksmith surrounded by pregnant women … but just as the hearth and forging, there are the flames of inspiration burning in poets, authors and other artists and it takes a lot of „inner fire“ to turn an egg and a sperm into a fully developed baby. So the combination of poetry and forging is not that far fetched, at least not in the eyes of the Celts.
In later times Brigid was turned into a Christian Saint (as so many other old Gods), St. Brigida, but there are also opinions putting it the other way round: that people argued that St. Brigida was the one that existed and Brigid was made up to defame the Saint as a pagan Goddess and therewith lessening the power of St. Patricks competitor … I rather believe she was a Goddess made Saint, as naturally a Goddess of women and poetry is what any female writer wants as her patron. (there is also the God Ogmios in Celtic lore, a God of oratory, but I have come to prefer Brigid, as Ogmios binds the ears of his followers with chains to his tongue. A strong picture for the power of words, but I rather have pregnant women around a poem-reciting blacksmith ...)
It is said that Brigids eternal fires burned at Kildare and were never allowed to die.
Mythology makes her a daughter of Dagda and his wife Bress, belonging into the cycle of the Túatha Dé Danann.
Her day is Feb. 1st/2nd (always keep in mind that when the Celts celebrated, they normally did so for at least three days) and it is not only known as Brigid's Day but also as Imbolc or Oilmec or, in the Christian version, as Candlemas.
Imbolc or Imbolg comes from the Old-Irish word imb-folc which means a big washing, so it must have been a cleansing ritual, getting rid of the old dirt of winter. Oilmec is the word for the first milk sheep give and the beginning of Febuary is the time of the first lambs (in regions that do not suffer icy winter until later in the year). It is the perfect day for new beginnings and lies in the middle between the two sun-festivals of Solstice and Equinox.
On Brigid's day it is customary to make Brigid's crosses out of straw or other materials. Most of them have four arms, but I have also seen and made some with three arms (like a triskel) or five. The cross shall protect your hearth and there is supposed to be a house in Ireland where each year's cross has been left hanging and there are 200 Brigid's crosses on the wall there. What a sight that must be!
You can find a tutorial on how to make a Brigid's cross HERE.
For food milk naturally plays a big part on that day, be it as cheese or milkpudding or sweet milkbread.
To get ideas on how to celebrate Imbolc with your family, one of my favorite books is Starhawk's Circle round which also contains stories for each of the big festivals. Starhawk was one of my first influences into paganism when I was young. She is a Wiccan (or maybe ex-Wiccan) earth activist still active today.
In book five of Braider of Words (which will hopefully be out in English in 2024) it will be Imbolc. But as book one starts in August, there are still some other Celtic festivals you will come across in the series. So dive into the world of the Celts and feel their heartbeat within you!
Want to get a taste of the series Braider of Words? Then read the free prequel Moon of beginnings, to see if you enjoy the series as much as so many others do (the German edition is at book 5 right now and all books will appear in English within the next 2-3 years).
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have a great day!