Imbolc, Brigid & St. Brigid - celticgoods

Imbolc, Brigid & St. Brigid

Imbolc is a pre-Christian festival that marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It signifies the end of winter and the anticipation of the rebirth of nature in the coming spring.

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Today, Imbolc, like other festivals throughout the year that highlight the changing of the seasons or celestial events, is celebrated by Wiccans and other practitioners of neopagan or pagan-influenced religions.

Imbolc is referenced in Irish literature going back to the 10th century. It’s typically celebrated from sundown on February 1st through sundown on February 2nd.

The festival has ancient Celtic origins and is part of the agricultural and seasonal cycles celebrated by Celtic peoples. The word "Imbolc" is believed to come from an Old Irish term meaning "ewe's milk." It reflects the time of year when ewes begin to lactate, indicating the approaching birth of lambs in spring.

A central figure in Imbolc from Celtic mythology is Brigid - a prominent goddess with a multifaceted and revered presence. She is associated with various aspects of life, including fire, water, poetry, healing, fertility, smithcraft, and childbirth. Brigid is a triple deity, often depicted as three sisters who share the same name but different attributes.

Considered one of the most powerful Celtic deities, Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda, who is a prominent and powerful figure in Celtic mythology, particularly in Irish mythology. He is often depicted as a father god, a chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology. The name "Dagda" translates to "the Good God" or "the Great God" and he is considered one of their most powerful and benevolent figures.

Brigid’s strong association with the element of fire, symbolizes its transformative and purifying qualities. As a fire goddess, she is associated with the hearth, home, and the creative spark of inspiration. Some myths claim Brigid was born with a flame in her head.

Brigid connectivity to water is associated with sacred wells and springs believed to have medicinal properties. Even today, pilgrimages to these wells are made in the hope of receiving healing and protection.

Brigid is also a goddess of poetry and she was celebrated by poets whose duties were in part, comprised of being the keepers of history, genealogy, and stories surrounding the ruling class in Ireland.

Brigid’s association with smithcraft and metalworking emphasizes her connection to craftsmanship, forging, and the transformation of materials.

Brigid is also credited with establishing the first keening, which is a ritual practiced at funerals in different parts of the world and especially in Ireland and Scotland. Keening is a poetic lament performed in the presence of the deceased. It was a vocal expression of sorrow and grief in the form of a melodic wailing or crying. This practice was essential to ensure the deceased was able to successfully journey to the Otherworld. By the 17th century, the ritual of keening was heavily suppressed by the Roman Catholic church, and it mostly died out by the middle of the twentieth century.

Imbolc is considered a time to honor and invoke Brigid's blessings. The festival is a time to welcome the first signs of spring and the increasing daylight. Traditionally, people engaged in rituals, lighting candles or bonfires, and making offerings to Brigid. Imbolc is also a time for cleaning and preparing for the agricultural activities of the coming spring.

The Celts made a doll of wheat or straw, put it in a dress and placed it in a bed of flowers in a basket. In modern times, some pagan traditions involve setting up an alter with different symbols of Brigid, such as a corn husk doll, white flowers, and candles to mention a few. Others may focus more on the changing of the season.

The worship of Brigid extended beyond Celtic mythology and persisted through the z. In Christian tradition, Saint Brigid is often considered synonymous with the pagan goddess, blending Celtic pagan elements with Christian beliefs.

In Ireland, St. Brigid is one of three patron saints, and the Catholic church claims they have accounts of her life dating back to the 8th century as written by monks during that time.

Between pagan and Christian worship, there’s a lot of commonalities between Brigid and St. Brigid.

One notable symbol associated with St. Brigid was a cross. Known as a Brigid’s cross or St. Brigid’s cross, it was typically made of rushes or straw commonly into a four, and occasionally three armed cross. Some traditions have the cross hanging over doors, windows and stables, for protection.     

St. Brigid is associated with milk and fire, just like the pagan goddess. It’s said St. Brigid was born around 453 AD and died in 524 AD. Some Portuguese churches claim to possess the remains of her skull and hand.

There are many stories about how St. Brigid was known for her charity work as well as her healing powers. At an early age, she was associated with St. Patrick, and his preaching set her on a path to become Ireland’s first nun.

Never marrying, she created and lived in a monastery in Kildare which was believed to have been the site of a shrine to the goddess Brigid.

According to legend, in the 12th century a group of nuns in Kildare tended to fire that had been burning for 500 years which was said to honor St. Brigid. The fire produced no ash, and no men were allowed in the vicinity, or so the story goes.

February 1st was established by the church as a feast day to celebrate St. Brigid. Records of this feast are documented by a monk in Kildare dating back to the 7th century. The night before, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless those who lived there.  

Officially, this day was celebrated by Catholic church, well at least for a few hundred years.

In the 11th century, it seemed the church’s opinion of St. Brigid no longer fit the “model” of a female saint. She was said to have both men and women at her monastery in Kildare - Not that this was necessarily scandalous, the problem was it depicted Brigid at the top, placing her over both men and women. Some of the miracles she is said to have performed seemed to stir some controversy at the time, such as those including animals such as pigs.      

In 1969, St. Brigid was removed from the universal calendar by the Vatican and her feast day revoked, along with a few dozen other saints. Like this guy (St. Nicolas) who led to this guy (Santa Claus). Good enough to bring gifts, but not quite good enough to qualify as a saint.

Today, Brigid is still honored and celebrated in various forms during Imbolc with modern Pagan, Wiccan and Celtic-inspired spiritual practices and some Christians celebrate St. Brigid’s Day.

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