These last few days the weather has been on the dreary side, with cool temperatures and a damp to the air which hasn’t the pluck to decide if it wants to be rain or fog. In other words, it’s been typical weather for winter in North Texas.
Many of my friends grumble about it daily. They are hungry for the return of spring and summer. They want to put away their coats and and start wearing shorts again.
I don’t mind the weather so much. In fact, I’d like it to be a bit colder, but again, it’s winter in Texas and I know to be thankful for what I can get.
Time passes quickly and spring is close at hand.
Already the first Celtic celebration of the coming season is at hand.
February 1st marks Lá Fhéile Bríde which is the modern Irish name for The Day of Brighid, otherwise known to our more ancient ancestors as Imbolc.
Many believe that the ancient title, ‘Imbolc’ translates roughly as “ewe’s milk” and ties the festival to one of the most obvious signs our ancestors had of the approaching spring: the beginning of lambing season. It has a nice ring to it, particularly if you know how to pronounce it (the ‘b’ is silent folks). It has deep sound which comes across as both primitive and mysterious, which may explain why many modern Pagans who follow traditions with little or no connection to Celtic mythology have adopted the word as their own.
I get it. I like the word as well.
Lá Fhéile Bríde, however, is the more properly descriptive term.
In this age of calendars and computer weather models, we don’t need the sheep to tell us when spring is coming. Instead we are free to focus our attention upon the goddess for whom the day was made sacred, the Goddess Bríde.
She has been known by many variations of the same name (Brighid, Bríd and Brighit among others) but they all mean the same thing: Exalted One. She is the goddess of the coming spring; the goddess of poets and smiths; the goddess of hope and healing who lives in the light of every candle.
There are those who refer to her as a “fire goddess”, but the gods of the Celts are not so easily pigeonholed into particular roles or duties. While it is true that Bríde reveals herself to us most often in the warmth of the hearth, the smoldering coals of the forge, and the light of the dawning sun, she is as easily found wandering through the dewy grass of green fields or the pinprick light of distant stars. Her voice is the keening wail of a mothers sorrow and the laughing tinkling of bells among a shepherds flock.
She is one of a very few gods who’s worship not only survived the christianization of the ancient world but flourished and spread within the newly dominant Christian pantheon.
Cill Dara (the “Church of the Oak” – modern day Kildare) was an ancient pagan place of worship long before the 5th Century, when the new religion began to take hold. It seems an unlikely coincidence that “St. Brigid” is given credit for starting a church beneath the branches of that same sacred tree. And how interesting that for many years thereafter, nineteen nuns of the Kildare Abbey took turns in keeping nightly vigil over an “eternal flame” which was said to never gave off ash or smoke, and could not be touched by any man.
There are flamekeepers still today and I honor their dedication to the Exalted One.
On my home altar I keep a small figurine of a lamb in honor of the goddess Bríde. That figure, made of Irish marble, has a mottled green surface which reminds me of fields I have walked in that land. In just a few days now, as the first light of Imbolc touches the horizon, I will take that stone lamb outside with me to great the new day. Later, I will place it back on my altar, next to the candle which I keep there to burn on the holy days. Lighting the candle, I will watch the flicker of light reflecting from the cut and polished surface of the lamb.
I will conjure from memory the smell of rain on tall grass and I will imagine myself standing in a green field under cloudy skies, surrounded by everyone I have ever loved, the living and the dead.
I will close my eyes and say her name.
Watch the sun shine through the rain!