Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Imbolc, 2012...

Wednesday, February 1st, is the eve of the Pagan celebration of Imbolc, which honors the Celtic Goddess Brighid, the Light Bringer (Brighid meaning "exalted one").  Imbolc is a Fire Festival that acknowledges the approaching Spring.  It is known as a "cross-quarter day" because it sits directly between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, two quarter points on the Pagan Wheel calendar of the eight yearly Sabbats.  It is to acknowledge that Spring will be arriving soon, and it heralds the return of the seasons life-giving energies.

On the eve of February 1st, pieces of ribbon, or cloth, were laid out for Brighid to bless as it was believed that she would walk among the villages during the night.  The following morning, if the cloth/ribbon pieces were marked, it meant that Brighid had paid them a visit and their household had been blessed.

The Goddess Brighid represents fertility and love.  She is associated with both the Sun and the Moon. Brighid is known as a Triple Goddess, as she is said to have three aspects: Goddess of Poetry and Healing, Smithcraft (metalworking), Inspiration and Divination.

When Ireland converted to Christianity, it was hard to convince the Irish to change their core beliefs.  Goddess Brighid had an extremely strong following, so the Christian Church decided to bring her over and assimilate her into their belief system.  Brighid was sainted, and St. Brigid's Day was born.  Stories were created to get the followers to leave their old beliefs enough to pull them away from the Druids, who were violently opposed to the Christians at that time.

The above statue of St. Brigid is located in Kildare, Scotland, by a healing well where a sacred flame was once tended by 19 priestesses.  When the Church sainted her making her St. Brigid, midwife to Mary, the well was made a Christianized shrine, and was later tended by nuns.  

The Irish Gaelic celebrate by honoring Oimelc, which means "ewe's milk". This time of the approaching Spring is when Ewes begin nursing their newborn lambs.

(Artist: John Duncan, "Saint Bride" c. 1913; Famous painting of the legend of the Irish Saint Bride who was transported to Bethlehem to attend the nativity of Christ.  The painting is a depiction of two angels carrying the saint across the sea.) 
In Scotland they have their version of the Spring celebration.  Winter is represented by the Cailleach, also known as the 'old woman of Winter'.   Their Fire Festival celebrates the Cailleach being reborn as Bride, the young maiden of spring.

The Cailleach is the Dark Goddess of nature.  The name came to mean "old wife", but actually means "veiled one" (an epithet applied to those who belong in hidden worlds).  Another word often attached to Cailleach is 'Bheur', which means shrill.

The Cailleach personifies the harshness of Winter.  On the Eve of Bride, she journeys to a magical isle where, deep in the isles woods, lies a miraculous well of youth.  At the dawn, the Cailleach drinks of the well and is transformed into Bride, the fair maid who waves her wand and turns the earth from brown to green again.

February 2nd, is also the day for the celebration of Candlemas, the Festival of Light.  It is a time for honoring the Gods & Goddesses of hearth and home.  A feast is held for the purification of the Virgin.  Jewish law stated that it took 40 days from the birth of a son for a woman to be cleansed.  40 days from the birth of Christ is February 2nd.

Romans had the celebration of Lupercalia, also with a purification theme, and focused on the founding of Rome.  A ritual was held where a goat was sacrificed, and a scourge was made of its hide.  Thong clad men would run the city streets hitting people with strips of the hide.  Those struck were seen as being very fortunate.  (Sounds kinky to me.)

In ancient Egypt, February 2nd marked the celebration of the Feast of Nut.  Nut was the mother figure to the Sun God Ra.  The 2nd marks Nuts' birthday.

(Maiden, Mother, Crone)
(Triple Moon Sign)
Then there is the more neopagan/Wiccan belief of the Triple Goddess, or maiden/mother/crone.  The three figures are also represented in the Triple Moon Sign.

  • Maiden:   She is the Virgin.  A girl/woman who hasn't awakened yet. She represents new beginnings, enthusiasm, and youthful ideas. She is represented in the Moon as it passes from the dark phase to full phase (the waxing Moon).

  • Mother:   Represents fertility and sexuality.  She is about abundance, growth, and fulfillment.  She is the full Moon.  She reigns in the fertile and green days of Spring, and early days of Summer.    The mother is coming into play as Spring approaches.

  • Crone:   She is represented in the final stage of the year.  The old and wise woman, she resides in the dark night, and in death.  The Crone comes into play in the Winter, as the earth becomes dormant and dies.  She is represented in the waning Moon, as it goes from full phase to dark phase.
The history and stories surrounding the various celebrations I listed above all have variations on the theme, but the basic essence of each one is there.  

To those celebrating this mid-point on the way to the Equinox:

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