(Brigids Well in Co. Tyrone: (Photo courtesy Maxine McKeown))
February is Imbolc and is marked on the Gaelic calendar as the first day of Spring. Winter begins to loosen its grip, the days are getting longer and we begin once again, to turn our faces to the coming of the sun.
So, this festival is all about new beginnings, illumination, clearing out the old, healing, and getting ready for new growth. The festival is under the protection of Brigid/Brighid, the Irish goddess, and daughter of the Dagda. There is another St. Brigid in Christian writings, and scholars debate whether they are the one and the same. St.Brigids feast day is 1 February, the first day of Imbolc, so it is possible that the Christian and the earlier belief systems were merged, as many others were. The fusion indicates how powerful she was to the people.
It is traditional to make a St. Brigids Cross at this time. Though Brigids Cross is an Irish symbol, it possibly derives from the earlier pagan sunwheel, indeed, the centre of the cross resembles the sunwheel. I have memories of my grandparents gathering the rushes from the field and scattering them on the table in preparation for cross making. On the eve of Brigids Day, we would sit by the light of the fire and oil lamp making the crosses. My grandfather, with endless patience, would show me how to keep turning the rushes, how to keep the sunwheel part of the cross tightly bound and the ‘arms’ neat.
The cross is hung in the kitchen, or at the front door. It is said to protect the house from fire, and also ensure that money and good fortune stay within. Brigid, the keeper of the home, hearth and health, the secondary patron of Ireland is ever present. The power and light of Brigids protection is thus brought into the house, and to light the way for us for the year. Though most crosses have four ‘arms’, they are also made in the older tradition of three arms too.
It is an old tradition upon at sunset to light every lamp in the house – if only for a few moments. This is a time to light fires to represent illumination, inspiration and birth of the new in our lives. So, wherever you are in the world, celebrate the coming of the longer days, throw light into the corners of your life and clear out the cobwebs of old experiences, old hurts, enabling you to welcome in the new light.
Brigid is a healer, and there are many healing wells in her name. Near where I live there is also a Holy River, said to have been blessed by Brigid, and a place of healing. The holy well pictured above, is known as St Brigids Well, and it sits within an ancient Druid site. Pilgrims come here for healing, leaving clooties at the well, so that the power of Brigid and her Well may invoke healing.
Tonight, I’ll be making this years Brigids Crosses, and tomorrow, (1 February), I am running a healing workshop at my home, so I’ll be enjoying a day of healing and sitting with others in the wonderful light of Brigid. In the afternoon, I will be asking Brigid and my guides to send healing to others. (If you would like to be included in these healing prayers, let me know).
May you all enjoy the coming of the new light of Spring and a rebirth of a new year. And maybe this year, I’ll also be able to welcome you to visit the holy wells here in Ireland.