Lá Fhéile Bríde

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Imbolc, the festival of Brigit, Goddess of ancient Ireland.  She ruled over the Spring, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft.  As Goddess of Poetry she has pride of place on this site.  Officially Imbolc is a cross quarter day, one of the four great festivals of the Celtic calendar.  It lies between Winter solstice and Spring equinox.

The title of this post is in Irish Gaelic.  It means “Day Feast Brigit” (Brigit’s Feast Day)

Along with Hallowe’en it was found to be a sticky holiday with the Irish.  Very tricky for the Christian church to get rid of.  So they subsumed it.  They changed Brigit, the Goddess, into Saint Bridget.  This year the Christian feast is Feb 1st and Imbolc is Feb 3rd.  Choose your poison, or celebrate both.

Just to fill up the agenda this year, Groundhog day lies in between!  Welcome to Spring if you live in Ireland.  If you live in the USA you need to hear from the furry rat.

Spring: by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

St John’s Eve

Bonfire

Last night was St John’s Eve.  In rural areas of Ireland it is  bonfire night.

This is a classic case of a pagan festival that the catholic church tried to muscle into the Christian sphere by shoehorning a Saint into the mix.  It is remarkable in that it celebrates the birth of St John the Baptist.  Most Saints and Martyrs are commemorated on the day of their death.

St John’s day replaces a Celtic Summer Solstice festival which honoured the Goddess Áine.  She was a goddess of light, fertility and kingship.  The concepts of fertility and kingship were inexorably linked in the Celtic pantheon.  The Lammas Kings (also known as Corn Kings) were “married” to the land (and celebrated at Lughnasa).  They lived the high life as long as the land produced.  But they typically reigned for only seven years.

In some traditions the king was sacrificed for the continued fertility of the land.  In other traditions young clansmen could compete for the opportunity to challenge the corn king in single combat to the death.

It is easy to see how this ancient tradition of Kings tying their lives to the fate of the people could be molded and replaced with the central mystery of Christianity, a saviour who dies on our behalf.

The festival of Áine was marked by bonfires lit on the solstice, the shortest night of the year.  The Christian festival shifted out three days.  Who knows why? Maybe to separate the Christian and Pagan traditions?  To identify those holding on to the old ways, so they could be targeted for conversion?

In the Pagan Lammas tradition the Solstice might have represented the last celebration of the existing Corn King, before he faced sacrifice or replacement.  Indeed the bonfire tradition may have originated from the sacrifice of the Corn King.  There are many details of Celtic religions lost to us because they were not documented, and they were expunged by Christian proselytisers.

If you go to the cities in Ireland nobody will know that this is bonfire night, especially in Dublin.  But rural people live close to the land.  They retain old traditions, especially those linked to the fertility of the land.  Always good to have a backup deity on standby 🙂

So if you want to celebrate with a bonfire on St John’s Night go to the most rural areas of Ireland.  Go west!

Bonfire 2

Happy Imbolc

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February 1st, St Bridgets Day, and the beginning of Spring.  Irish school kids are taught to make simple crosses from rushes to learn the story of St Bridget of Kildare.  A fascinating lady who embodies elements of the ancient pagan celtic goddess Brigid.  Feb 1st is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  The “cross-quarter” days were very special in the pagan celtic calendar.  This year Imbolc fell on the 3rd of Feb.  It is a season of fertility and fecundity, a very un-Catholic thing, definitely not something you want to associate with a nun.

Her Oratory was built under an Oak, a tree sacred to the Druids.  Her monastery tended an “eternal fire” guarded for hundreds of years by 19 nuns.  A practice which was almost stamped out by the Norman bishop of Dublin, and lasted until the reformation of the church.

The cross of St Bridget looks far more like a Celtic fertility symbol to me than any facsimile of the cross of Christ.  But who knows?  Its origin is hidden by the mists of time.

Of course, you have to be careful not to confuse the Irish St Bridget with the Swedish St Brigit, she of the 15 prayers.  No relation whatsoever!

Anyway, I need a poem.  Where am I going to find a poem about springtime that embodies the concept of a Pagan Celtic Fire Goddess who inspires artistic creativity and fertility?  A fecundity of both the land and the spirit!  Tricky……..

The Enkindled Spring:  by D. H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.