There is a soft, steady snowfall here in the foothills of the Appalachians. That is the way with Imbolc, winter hasn’t quite loosened her grip. The bone crone of winter thinks she is still in control, riding around on her steel grey wolf striking down any signs of spring with her great black throrn staff. Eventually her desperation turns into a kind of madness, then an exhaustion, which begins the ancient ancient drama where she will shape-shift again into the maiden Brighid.
It is Imbolc that awakens me, for I am not teased out of that winter hibernation by the shiny things of our modern world. I am not fooled into acting on new year resolutions, as I am far too comfortable in the darkness. Imbolc is still shrouded in darkness but it offers hope, a hope that our ancestors saw in the shape of a bear emerging from hibernation. That bear emerging marked the ending of winters grip on the land. The bear is magical, if they had stumbled upon her in hibernation she would have appeared dead – with heart rate and breathing dropped down to an inconceivable minimum. She is magic as she resides in the otherworld throughout winter, as it is she who brings the land back to life (Lally, 2013). She is Brighid, as Brighid’s roots lie with the great bear mother. Brighid after all is a shapeshifter, who has travelled with mankind – always regenerating, always relevant.
Our lives might not be quite as endangered throught the winter months as our ancestors lives were, but we still yearn for brighter and warmer days, to return the fertility to the soil, and life back into the land.
One of my favourite traditions was in the laying out of the bhrat, a peice of cloth left outside on Imolc eve. In the stillness of the night, a time not quite night nor daybreak is when Brighid returns from the otherworld. A flicker of northern lights announces her presence, the worlds seems to hold its breath – for she is here, she is here! Wind and breeze pick up her energy and tree whispers to tree underneath the carpet of the forest. Birds awaken, and sleeping critters feel her presence. She blesses everything in her path, the pregnant ewe’s, the melting snow, the gushing spring, houses and lochs, tall towering Ben’s, cattle and the the cloth and objects laid out for her – stung out in gardens, across bushes and on trees.
Copyright free image. Click on pic for source.
People awake excitedly on Imbolc eve and rush to the ashes of the hearth, seeking a footprint, a stone moved, any evidence to say that Brighid had visited, blessed the hearth and so the lives of all within the household. The bhrat, the cloth left out for her blessing, is collected before sunrise for it’s magic lies in the dew soaked into its fibres. To collect it after sunrise is disasterous as the sun will have dried up the dew. Midwifes would cut little peice of their bhrat to help mothers in labor, and to protect new born babies. peices of cloth would be tied around sick cows. The magic of the bhrat was that it was portable, you can keep some in your pocket – whenever you feel you need dear Brighid’s help. Strips were also tied onto trees by the house of a storm was due, invoking brighid’s help to protect the house, the souls inside, the barn and all the animals.
There are so many aspects of Imolc traditions, rites and cermonies from Brideog dolls, making Brighid’s wheels, Imbolc eve meals, laying out of the bhrat etc. In his book ‘The Rites of Brighid’ Sean O Duinn gathers many of the Brideog rituals from around Ireland. The Brideog was an image of Brighid, which was made from readily available materials, in some instances dressed up with some rags or clothes, in others a figure made from rushes. One commonality was in the Brideog taken from house to house throughout the village. Although these rites varied there was always words exchanged over the threshold of the house from the travelling band of participants outside and the household inside. In certain rites, particularly in Kilcommon, County Mayo a stalk taken from the main Brideog doll was then incorporate into their new Brighid’s wheel (or cross), which was made annually at Imbolc, which offered protection and healing and general prosperity throughout the year.
Brighid is a shapeshifter, a time traveller, from creatrix to bear, from goddess to saint she morphs and changes always offering us her fire of transformation. She midwifes our continual rebirth in all stages of life and death, but personally I find her greatest wisdom in the power of transformation. Her perpetual flame of inspiration, our own internal flames of passion in our relationships with each other, with the land and our non human relatives. In our role in life. If there is ever a time we need her fire it is now.
So leave out a piece of cloth this Imbolc eve, create something with it, maybe keep it with you for her protection. See your own flame mirrored in hers, a flame that sustains and never burns, and may we work with Brighid in our relationships with self, each other and community in building towards transformation.
I create mini Brideog dolls if you would like one to adorn your altar or sacred place. Within your own rite invite her energy into the doll, in that age old tradition. Email email if you’d like your own little Brideog.
Lally, Jude. 2013. The Great Bear Mother: A Journey with Brighid to the Ancient Dawn of Imbolc. Contained in: Monaghan, P and McDermott, M, (Eds), Brighid: Sun of Womanhood. Goddess Ink, USA. Pgs 10-16.
O Duinn, Sean. 2004. The Rites of Brigid. Goddess and Saint. The Columba Press, Ireland.