Today we are experiencing snow here in the foothills of the Appalachians, big snow. With it brings feelings of wondering if you have enough food, enough fuel – will the power go out? And of course addressing is being co-oped up with family members going to drive us all mad!
The storm has delivered the very essence of Imbolc. The wheel of the year isn’t a rigid thing with just one meaning (as in mainstream Pagan interpretation) it is viewed slightly differently with different peoples. There isn’t one story, there are as many stories as our own experiences. In my tradition, born at Northern latitudes, Imbolc is the very essence of that uncertainty, that feeling of being unsure, that not knowing how things are going to turn out. Our ancestors faced these very same questions at this time of year – the worry over were food stores going to run out, when would winter eventually end? It’s as if that worry at this very time of the year is still knitted into our bones – as who doesn’t worry about paying the fuel bills? But it’s ok, we acknowledge this feeling. The wheel is our practice, that’s why at Imbolc we acknowledge these feelings and work out how best to deal with them so when those feelings hit again at another time of the year we have practised, we know what to do to take care of ourselves.
Beyond our knowing, honoring mystery
Throughout the ages Brighid has meant many things to many people, at each age her mystery and stories grew another layer, another dimension. We each have a personal relationship to her, mine may well differ from yours, as yours does to the next person. Just like our circle of friends, each friend seeing us differently valuing and appreciating particular qualities of us.
I first found my Brighid in the thresholds, the liminal places, the in-between places, the on -the-edge places. She is this, she is that and she is beyond knowing, she is that mystery which is reassuring in its incomprehensibility and so unfathomable. She leads us to this place in Gaelic which is described as neart, a Gaelic term meaning ‘strength’ or ‘power’ that can described as the energy of the creator or spiritual source. I have talked to others who know Brighid as a shapeshifter, who changes and morphs offering insight, offering steps along the path which ultimately arrives at nothingness, that place where we merge with the divine.
Her rich tapestry
It’s impossible to tease out the threads of Brighid’s rich tapestry and say this one is about her as Goddess, this as one saint. All her stories are so interwoven that they are tightly felted together, picking at a single thread seems to pull the entire fabric even tighter. It’s an impossible task.
As she was many things to many people – Celtic Goddess, christian saint, some even taking her even further back as being related to the bear (see my essay listed below).
The Brideog doll
Traveling forward to more recent times Imbolc offered us a host of traditions from Brideog dolls, making Brighid’s wheels, Imbolc eve meals, laying out of the bhrat, making her a bed and inspecting the morning hearth ashes for evidence of her visitation.
In his book ‘The Rites of Brigid’ Sean O Duinn gathers many of the Brideog rituals from around Ireland explaining that the Brideog doll as an image of Brighid, which was made from what materials were readily available, rushes or old rags or everyday clothes. One thing that all the Brideog rites and ceremonies had in common was that she was taken from house to house throughout the village in a procession. This gathering would stop at individual houses and perform a ceremony over the threshold of the house.
From outside the house they would call (to those inside):
Teigi ar bhur ngluine (go on your knees)
agus oscailigi bhur suile (and open your eyes)
agus ligigiisteach brid (and let Brighid enter)
The reply from inside the house would be:
Se beatha (she is welcome)
se beatha (she is welcome),
se beatha (she is welcome)
These rites varied regionally in the physical rituals carried out, O Duinn a rite common in Kilcommon, County Mayo where a stalk taken from the previous years Brideog doll was incorporated into the new Brighid’s wheel (or cross), offering the prosperity of protection and healing throughout the year.
The Brideog doll was often in attendance at the Imbolc eve meal. O Duinn explains that Brighid was called from the otherworld and was seen as being held in the doll herself.
You could make your own Brideog doll – she can be as simple as wrapping some fabric around a stick, or clothes pin or fashioned from corn husks or an elaborate art doll. There is a long history of dolls reaching back to the handheld stone figurines (Often called Venus figures). It is likely that these were used in ritual and ceremony and you could tend to your Brideog doll throughout the year and the seasons. Marija Gimbutas connected the woven lozenge shape at the centre of a Brighid’s wheel to engravings made on early Goddess figurines, linking Brighid back through the ages to Old Europe.
Brighid needle felted art doll – wearing a Bhrat cloth cloak
One of my favorite traditions was in the laying out of the bhrat, a piece of cloth left outside on Imolc eve. In the stillness of the night, a time not quite night nor day is when Brighid returns from the otherworld. A flicker of northern lights announces her presence as the world 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 (Scottish term for mountain) cattle and the the cloth and objects laid out for her – strung out in gardens, across bushes and on trees.
It was import to collect your bhrat before sunrise as it’s magic lay in the dew soaked into its fibres. The blessings remained on the cloth for a year, making sure not to wash the cloth as then its healing power was removed. What makes the bhrat important is that whatever you make from it is mobile, wither that is something you pin to your clothes or kept hidden in a pocket. The bhrat was seen as being particularly useful in combatting particular ailments such as headaches, sore eyes, toothaches or helping sick animals. It was particularly used by midwives who aided both women and often animals in giving birth, and so when complications arose the midwife would have her special cloths which had been blessed by Brighid who herself is a midwife in both bringing life into this worlds but also in midwifing those souls as they depart this world and pass into the otherworld at the end of life.
A strip of your bhrat cloth would even be used as protection, and tied to a tree if facing an approaching storm and so it offered protection to the house, those inside and also it’s protection radiating out to the barn and the farm animals. You may wish to leave out your own cloth offering on Imbolc eve, possibly beginning your Imbolc ceremony.
As the Brighid wheels, or crosses were renewed each year and put up throughout the house over thresholds to offer protection to the house itself and the people within you too could also engage this tradition but also you could invite Brighid in in a house blessings. You can make this up yourself but if it’s helpful this is the format that I usually follow.
If your working with someone else you could incorporate the threshold exchange mentioned in the Brideog section.
Tools – what tools do you normally use? I gather my drum, candle, incense or/and sage.
1. I start off by grounding and purification – such as cleansing yourself in sage and grounding. As you ground consider letting go of anything mentally you have been holding onto. You may wish to tap into the long history of Brighid herself and any other deities, energies that you work with. I particularly like to connect with the ancient womenfolks in my lineage, not the ones I knew (as this can be triggering) but those ancient ones, the ones we are all related to.
2. I begin with clearing the space in the house. For this i use my drum, drumming loudly, walking from room to room shaking up the energy, breaking apart anything that is stagnant. I drum loudly into the tall ceiling corners, and under the bed and into open cupboards. This isn’t something you need to think about instead it’s something you feel. Continue around the entire house.
3. Next i repeat that step with sage, or inscence burning on a charcoal in a small cauldron or holder. I consciously concentrate on feeling about letting go of the old and making way for the new. Work with the visualisation of the smoke doing the work. To me this is a prayer of feeling. Feel your intention as you hold it within your heart. Feel gratitude for having a home and to the physical house itself.
4. Next I will say something as I light my candle – a 7 day candle in the tall glass jar. You might decorate it with images that resonate with you. Again holding that intention on your heart – I think of Brighid goddess of hearth, of fire, and fire – a fire that heals and never burns. My prayer is held within three words ‘Heart, hearth, home’ – within the feeling of this prayer I am inviting Brighid in and I do this throughout every room in the house. I will end in the kitchen – or wherever you feel the centre of your house is. I will sit by the candle feeling Brighid’s energy radiate from me and the candle again throughout the house past into the garden – use your imagination here to blend in with your image of source, divinity – all that is. Ground again, back into the earth which is our ultimate home, and acknowledging Brighid as a face of our great cosmic mother, bear, Goddess or saint. There are so many Imbolc traditions for you to reclaim and make your own, many ways to say yes to Brighid and invite her in again in this annual ritual of inviting her back into our homes and our hearts.
- Coming soon – A course focusing on the many ways Brighid offers us protection. This course will be offered online in partnership with the publishers Goddess Ink. Please sign up via the Celtic Soul Circle if you’d like to know when this course launches. Click here to go to the sign up page
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. Copyright Jude Lally 2013.
O Duinn, Sean. 2005. The Rites oF Brigid Goddess and Saint. The Columba Press, Dublin, Ireland.