Brighid of the Bonfires
Imbolc, celebrated on the 1st of February, is an ancient Irish celebration intricately connected with the Irish Goddess, Brighid , whose vast provenance included poetry, law-making, animal husbandry and fertility, the sacred hearth fire, and a long line of human endeavours over which she cast her blessings. Imbolc also marked a turning point in the year from darkness to light and the promise of new growth as the winter stores diminished and hunger threatened the land. As Goddess of the Hearth, Brighid was the provider whose generosity was to be reflected in the Irish practice of welcoming strangers and offering them the gift of hospitality. Brighid was the life-giving Goddess and her children would not want.
On her feast day, Brighid was honoured by the ritual sweeping out the ashes from the hearth, the weaving of “sun crosses” and the making of new corn dollies from dried reeds.The lighting of fresh candles and the kindling of new hearth fires from the still burning embers of the winter fire preserved the continuity of Brighid’s warmth-giving light.
Brighid of the Bonfires
Imbolc was also a time of Divination by Fire when a girl of marriageable age went to the local wise-woman (sometimes also the midwife of the village) to see if she would meet her future husband before the end of spring lambing, the season of fertility. The maiden would carry her old corn doll to the wise- woman who would cast it on her hearth fire and look into the flames for the answer to this most vital question. Marriage was essentially about survival in ancient times but also about the possibility of love, the dream of most girls that would make the hardships to come more bearable.
Imbolc was also a time to contemplate the promise of change, a time to act on the ambitions and hopes that were born at Samhain, to bring to fruition a private promise to ourselves to make our lives better from now on whatever that might entail. It is a time to take first steps into the future as the sun gradually but steadily extends its light day by day by a minute or two. Small steps repeated consistently can bring big rewards whether they be material, spiritual, or both. So whatever it is that you want to do in your life right now, use the energy of Imbolc to gently and lovingly move toward your vision. Brighid’s power, though obscured by the fogs of history, is still accessible to all who seek it.
© Delia O’ Riordan 2015
Image credit: Tending the Fire: Edmund Dulac; Cross of Brighid, Wikimedia Commons.