Some Information on Brigid
and the holiday of Imbolc culled from
our Senior Druid Norma's notes for an Imbolc Druid Service
and Sermon at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County;
Rev. Norma Hoffman, Grove of the Other Gods, ADF - Guest Speaker,
In the cold of early February, many ancient and modern traditions
have a celebration to anticipate the arrival of Spring. Join us as the Rev.
Hoffman, Senior Druid of Grove of the Other Gods, ADF, discusses the folk
traditions, myths, and contemporary Pagan practices that connect the holidays
of Imbolc, Candlemass and Groundhog Day. Come and herald the underground beginnings
The holiday Im here to talk about today is called by many names: Imbolc,
Imbolg, Candlemass, Candelaria, Lupercus, Brigantia, and St. Brigits
day, and yes, Groundhog day too. Its origins are in ancient Ireland,
Scotland, and Great Britain. Where, I might add, the weather at this time
of year is mostly fairly similar to ours - too cold for comfort.
FOUR MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Theres pretty good evidence that the ancient Celts were mostly a herding
people with some agriculture on the side. Their main holidays had to do with
what was happening to the herds and crops that sustained them. There were
four main holidays:
Samhain (somewhere roughly around November 1st - and remember that this is
far enough back to be calenderless time - no Roman emperors calendar or popes
revision to it - when I say roughly I mean really roughly) the Celtic new
year. Celebrated when the herds were moved to winter pastures.
Imbolc (somewhere roughly around February 1st) when the ewes were lactating
and heavy with lambs.
Beltaine (somewhere around May 1st) when the herds were moved to summer pastures
and the first crops were planted. As the herds were moved from pasture to
pasture they were driven between two large fires - the Bel fires. As spooky
as this sounds the main purpose was probably to remove ticks, fleas and other
vermin from the hides of the herd.
Lughnassadh (somewhere around August 1st) when the tribes got together for
the start of the harvest of crops and of animals to prepare for the winter.
IMBOLC AS FOOD SOURCE
Whats so special and so vital about the ancient holiday of Imbolc is
that the crops and meat that were put away in August at Lughnassadh would
probably have been just about running out by February and hunger would have
been a real issue. An issue like most of us have never, thank the Gods, known.
The pregnancy of the ewes would provide life-saving nutrition in the form
of milk. And if a ewe delivered early there would be lamb to eat. I recently
learned from a friend whos the daughter of a sheep farmer in Wales that
if a lamb is delivered early in these modern times, exactly the same thing
happens. If the lamb were to be allowed to live it would stop nursing before
there was tender grass available for it to eat and would die of starvation
so they consider it a mercy to kill it before that happens and a blessing
to have the fresh meat in the winter. So the base of the ancient holiday of
Imbolc was about survival and the miracle of having food without having to
kill the herds.
My husband and I went to the local petting zoo last week and Im happy
to report that, although we have no sheep to check on, the local goats were
well and truly pregnant enough to be lactating. Although it doesnt mean
anywhere near as much as much to us modern supermarket shoppers, its
good to notice that the wheel of the year is still turning.
OTHER SIGNS OF SPRING
Along with the lactating ewes other signs of spring abound in hard-to-see
places. One Imbolc tradition is to cut dry reeds from a reed bed. They look
dead, as these reed do here, but when we cut them last week many of them were
green and growing inside. If you went to your garden and dug up a snowdrop
or daffodil bulb youd see that theyre already growing, just waiting
for warmer weather. The very tops of the tree are just starting to get the
tiniest of buds on them around here. So spring is really getting its start
underground and way up in the air around here even if it doesnt feel
And many local animals are coming out of their winter hibernations to mate.
This is where the groundhog comes in to the picture. Although Puxatawney Phil
comes out of his burrow because his trainers tell him to, most groundhogs
around here (in Ireland, Britain and Scotland theyd be looking for hedgehogs)
would be roaming in search of a mate. The ancients frequently used wildlife
as means of prophecy. The old legend has it that the fouler the weather at
Imbolc the fairer and earlier the spring. So if an animal leaves his burrow
in search of a mate around the first days of the ewes lactation and
the weather is fair enough for him to see his shadow the weather will be bad
and spring will be far off.
A slightly more modern addition to the holiday of Imbolc was the veneration
of a Goddess or saint whose name is Brigit, Brigid, Brij, Bride, Saint Brigit
or Brigantia. Brigid is a patroness of the arts, of crafts, of smithwork,
of writing, of hearth and home, of healing, and as I mentioned in the childrens
stories of wells and of fire. She also serves as the midwife of the spring,
helping it to emerge from the cold and the snow. With so many attributes,
youve probably guessed that contemporary Brigid is an amalgam of several
pre-Christian Goddesses and the Christian St. Brigid of Kildare. This makes
for stories that tell of widely varying personalities of Brigid.
One ancient charm for Imbolc day is:
On the feast day of Bride
The daughter of Ivor shall come from the knoll,
I will not touch the daughter of Ivor,
Nor shall she touch me
Early on Brigids morn
The serpent shall comes from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.
/ ST. PATRICK
Then there would be offerings made and incense burned to the daughter
of Ivor who is the serpent, so that no harm would come to the offerer
in the coming year. This connects Brigid with the pre-Christian Celtic serpent
worship. Did you ever wonder about the snakes that St. Patrick drove out of
Ireland? Here they are. Not so much the snakes as the snake worshippers -
practitioners of the Pre-Christian folk traditions.
BRIGIDS WHITE MANTLE
Another legend says that Brigids white mantle brings the spring.
And here were probably talking about an actual calendar date of February
1st, 2nd, 5th, or 13th, depending on which country youre talking about.
So if it snows or theres bad weather anywhere around this time of year
its an indication of an early spring. If the Daughter of Ivor come from
the knoll on Imbolc and the weather is clear enough for Her to see Her shadow
it means six more weeks of winter. No kidding. So the weather auguries are
confusing this year: Phil the groundhog saw his shadow which is a bad thing,
but Thursdays snow is a good thing. I guess that means we break even
spring-wise this year.
DAUGHTER OF DAGDA / BRIGANTIA
Brigid has been mentioned historically as the daughter of the Dagda, or good
god and is one of the oldest know Goddesses of the pre-Christian Celts. Her
fires at Kildare have been tended through the ages by Pagan Priestesses and
Christian nuns and although it was extinguished briefly by narrow-minded people,
it burns again today. She was not always portrayed as meek either. Brig means
strength in old Irish. Brigid could fight when she needed to. As Brigantia,
She led her tribe the Brigands into battle against the Romans. After the Roman
battle Brigantias tribe took to waylaying enemies along the road and
assaulting and robbing them. This is where the modern term brigand come from.
GOG / BRIGID DOLL / BRIGIDS BRATS
(Hand Doll to Ushers to pass around!)
As modern American Druids, we at Grove of the Other Gods welcome the spring
and honor Brigid by following many little folk traditions. We always make
Her a traditional Brigids doll like this one. Our Imbolc celebration
was last Saturday and we made another Brigids doll for that. She was
burned at the end of the ritual so that the doll could go back to its
owner Brigid in Her fire. This Brigids doll was made for you and She
will go back to Brigid later today in our little barbeque-grill-and-occasional-
fire-altar back in New Brunswick. Under the Brigid doll are strips of cloth
called Brigids brats. Brats meaning strips of material in Scots Gaelic.
The cloth these strips were cut from was hung out at dusk on February 1st
and taken in after dawn on the 2nd. So when the daughter of Ivor came from
the knoll on her morning, when Saint Brigid walked across the land to visit
her children, legend says that she will touch and bless any piece of cloth
left out for her. Im going to have this basket with Brigid and her cloth
passed around. You are invited to touch the doll for good luck and prosperity
in the coming year and to take one of the strips of cloth, one of the Brigids
brats. You might want to tie the cloth somewhere in your home so Brigid will
bless your hearth. You might also want to tie it to a tree near running water
or a well. If you do that and make a wish Brigid is said to grant it. A very
modern way to get both house blessing and wish is to tie the Brigids brat
near running water - a faucet or water pipe or washing machine - in your own
home. However you choose to use it, accept it as a reminder of Goddess and
Saint Brigid and of the wonder of Spring underground and in the tops of the
CHRISTIAN ST. BRIGID
A lovely Scottish story of the Christian saint Brigid says that she was originally
a poor serving girl in an inn in Bethlehem. The was a drought and food was
scarce. Her master had gone in search of water and left Brigid with just one
loaf of bread and one jug of water for herself. Her forbade her to allow guests
at the inn because there was no water and he warned her not to share her bread
and water or she would surely starve before he returned. A couple came to
the door of the inn and asked for food and shelter. The man was older, grey-haired
and tired looking. The woman was young and beautiful but Brigid could see
the cares of the world lying heavy upon her. Brigid could not allow them to
rest at her masters inn, since to do so would be to disobey her master, but
she couldnt help but feel sorry for the couple. She offered them some
of her own bread and water and they drank and ate of the her meagre supplies.
Sadly, she watched them walk away and wished she could do more to help. Later,
as Brigid grew hungry, she turned to survey the small remains of her bread
and water she found, to her great wonder, that the bread, which she had seen
them eat most of, was whole again and the jug of water which had been nearly
empty was full to the brim. She knew then that great miracles were happening
and went running into the street to try and find the couple again. She didnt
have to go far because from a barn at the end of her masters property there
came a glow and over it there shone a star. She ran to the barn just in time
to be the midwife to the Christ child. When Brigids master came home
to his inn he heard a rushing stream running by through his drought stricken
land and saw the glow and the star over the stable and knew that as had been
prophesied, a miracle had happened and Christ had been born in Bethlehem.
In rural Ireland and Scotland to this day Brigid is still loved and Her day
of Imbolc or Candlemass is widely and enthusiastically celebrated by her people
both Christian and Pagan. She is also formally called upon by midwives to
help in the birth of children as she helped in the Christ childs birth
and, as in other legends, she helps to give birth to the spring.
BRIDE / MARRIAGE
Every woman who marries get to dress as the Goddess and Saint in white and
to have Brigids blessing on the day shes a Bride. Yes, thats one
explanation of where that word comes from.
NO MODERN USA CANDLEMASS / CANDELARIA
But, sadly, in doing research for this talk Ive been finding that Candlemass
is pretty much not a big deal anymore in modern Christian worship in this
country. Not so though in the unlikely place of South America. Remember that
we started this talk by talking about weather-driven holidays. Well, sometimes
the holiday jumps to a new place with old traditions that, while theyre
still beautiful, make a little less sense than they used to. In Peru and Bolivia
the holiday of the Virgin of Candles, Candelaria, is celebrated on February
2nd. Brigid, the midwife of Christ, has become here the Virgin herself. The
people dance and sing through the town and bring candles to be blessed at
the Cathedral where the statue of the Virgin of Candles lives. In many other
holidays statues of the Virgin are taken out and join in the parade around
town, but not in this holiday. And can you guess why? Because if the statue
of the Virgin of Candles sees Her shadow on February second bad weather and
calamity is sure to follow. Folk traditions are sometimes stronger than time
and place and Knock Wood theyll continue to be so until the end of time.
MODERN CONSCIENCE BRIGID / INTRO TO POEM
One more manifestation of Brigid I should mention and thats a very contemporary
one. Brigid as a midwife and a healer has shown her face again in Ireland
and Scotland and in Pagan America as a spur to our consciences, reminding
us at all times and especially in the cold of February, WE are Her emisarries
and need to care for our own poor and sick and needy. Brigid has become a
symbol for people trying to help and heal their little corners of the world
and, yes, possible to midwife the birth of a new and more just world.
the service, at the social, a woman mentioned that her mother and grandmother
would check the stores of cans in the attic and preserves in the basement
on Feb. 2nd to see if they had gone bad. That was the traditional date, and
now she knew why. Her grandmother called Feb. 2nd "up and down day."
standing nearby mentioned a ryme he had heard while living in Maine: "Candlemass
Day, Candlemass Day, Half the wood and half the hay"
are the things we live for, and the gifts we get, aside from hospitality and
rough notes of the full Druid ritual we designed for the Unitarian service,