Following Celtic Ways

Ramblings and reviews by John Willmott as he travels the Celtic Ways and Waterways visiting hidden ancient Celtic temples, sacred wells, and provoking legends .... plus music and theatre along the way

Monday, January 31, 2005

This Is The Season Of Brigid

by John Willmott of Celtic Ways

Dear Saint Bridget of the Kine
Bless these little fields of mine,
The pastures and the shady trees,
Bless the butter and the cheese,
Bless the cows with coats of silk
And the brimming pails of milk,
Bless the hedgerows, and I pray
Bless the seed beneath the clay,
Bless the hay and bless the grass,
Bless the seasons as they pass,
And heaven's blessings will prevail,
Brigid - Mary of the Gael.

As Mardi Gras, Carnivale and Pancake Day consume the last of our milk and eggs we enter The Season Of Brigid, the Celtic goddess, and later a Celtic Christian saint.
Brigid, Bridget, Brighid, Brighde, Bride
and even the Vedic Sanskrit "Brihati"

Sometimes known as the daughter of the Daghda,
the “Great God” of the Tuatha de Danaan.
A woman of wisdom, seership, poetry, healing, and smithcraft.
Described as the patron of dying, weaving and brewing.
A goddess of regeneration and abundance who brought forth the bounties of nature to provide for the people.

She was said to be led by two oxen called Fea and Feimhean who gave their names to plains in Co. Carlow and Co. Tipperary. Cattle were very sacred and valuable currency in Celtic times, the gold of the time. After all, their time was the Age Of Taurus in the Great Year.

Originally, Brigid's festival was known as Imbolc or Oimelc, a cross quarter day that falls on February 4th or 5th. Many neo-pagans and Celtic Christians now celebrate, often around holy wells, on February 1st.

Imbolc and Oimelc are both names that refer to the flow of milk heralding the return of the life forces of spring. Later, the Catholic Church replaced this festival with Candlemas Day on February 2, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions.

The celebration of Brigid involves keeping the light alive,
Brigid the Light-Bringer.

Lambs are now being born, soft drizzling rain rain brings new grass, snowdrop flowers bllom, and some birds begin to build their nests. In Scotland, the Old Woman of winter, the Cailleach (pronounced kayak), is reborn as Bride.

With the coming of Christianity, Brigid became Ireland’s much-loved saint, possibly second to Patrick.

There's an oral story of transformation from Celtic Goddess to Christian Saint near Drumeague, Co Cavan, at a place called "The Mountain of the Three Gods." Here a stone head of Brigid was hidden in a tomb when the area was approached by Christian monks. Later it was recovered from this tomb by monks who mounted it on a local church and canonized it as "St. Bride of Knockbridge."

Whether we refer to Celtic or Christian legends Brigid is always connected to cattle and milk. When St. Brigid became abbess of Kildare her miracle was the ability to feed the poor with abundance. One miracle orally told is how Brigid's presence rapidly increased the milk and butter yield of the abbey cows. Some oral accounts tell of her cows producing a whole lake of milk three times a day and filling hundreds of baskets with butter.

When Saint Brigid died it is said that her skull was kept at Kildare. This was typical of the marriage between pre-Christian and Christian faith that was practiced at the time. Pre-Christian customs revered the head as sacred, a relic of the Age Of Aries that followed the Age Of Taurus that flowed into the Christian Age Of Pisces (the fish's head worn by bishops?).

Norman soldiers were supposed to have stolen Brigid's head from the abbey and sold in Portugal where it played a role in a Spring Cattle Ceremony.

Brigid is not only associated with milk and cattle and the feeding of the poor. She is equally associated with creativity and regeneration fueled by fire and sun, hence the flow into the tradition of candles and Candlemas.

Brigid is said to belong to the East, like the rising sun. Her influence radiated through Leinster from her convent at Kildare. Within the convent burned a perennial flame which became known as one of the three inextinguishable fires of the Irish monasteries. Stories have been told about this flame's miraculous properties, especially its ability to burn for 11 centuries without creating any ash. This fire was surrounded by a hedge where "no male may cross".

Let us not forget Brigid's legends of healing. Many Holy Wells have been named after her due to "miracles" of their healing properties. The most famous is her well outside Kildare, refurbished by local nuns in 1984. Near the spring, an upright stone tablet bears two crosses on either side. One is a Christian cross and the other is the cross of Saint Brigit which is a fiery sun-wheel. These wells are important places of congregation, prayer and thankgiving on February 1st.

In some places of Ireland and Scotland people honour Brigid or Bride by leaving gifts in front of their homes such as cheese, butter, flowers, and even crystals.
Someone is appointed to collect these gifts to give to the poor.

Let us not also not forget Candlemas. To keep within the policy of the Catholic Church to consume pagan festivals into Christian feast-days, Brigid's Day became Candlemas on February 2nd, the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, forty days after childbirth.

The story is that this the day that Mary entered the Temple of Jerusalem and an old man, Simeon, called her baby the "Messiah of Israel, a light to lighten the Gentiles.". This symbolism converted the faith of light bringing regeneration and creativity into the divine light of Christ shining into the darkness of human sin.

In Britain, Candlemas was celebrated by each member of the congregation carrying a lighted candle to be blessed by the priest and then taken home to keep away demons and evils. Eventually this ceremony was banned due to a belief that it promoted the rising of harmful magical manifestations. However,the symbol of the lighted candles has always been a potent to many people, even today. Many Christians and even full church congregations still maintain this old ceremony.

In some English and Welsh counties fresh bloomed snowdrops have replaced candles for this ceremony. Snowdrops are locally called "Candlemas Bells" and "Purification flowers"

Interestingly, traces of this light festival is in the USA with the Groundhog Day custom on February 2. If the groundhog sees his shadow on this morning, it means there will be six more weeks of winter.

Finally, what about those ribbons we see tied on trees and bushes
by holy wells?

Brigid is also said to weave cloth where the threads preserved healing properties. It is said that when ribbons are left by holy wells the disease will heal when the ribbons rot (so why do some people leave plastic ribbons????).

Some of you may pray or celebrate today, 1st
which is also Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes etc.
Some of you may wait until Candlemas Day on the 2nd
which is also Ash Wednesday

The accurate day is the 4th
a wonderful day to be at some ancient sites where the orientation is engineered to welcome the rising light from the east.

Whatever you may do and wherever you may be, meditate upon what you would like to see grow in health, strength and abundance through this year for yourself, your family, your community and all people on this Earth. As you complete your prayers, ask for Brigid's or Bride's blessing upon what you have thought and spoken.


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