Badger Day

DawnGroundhog

Here is a photo from my house this morning.  As you can see the sky is clear, promising a clear dawn and a sunny sky.  Which according to Pensylvania Dutch tradition is a disaster.  Because today is groundhog day, and if the critter sees his shadow he goes back into the burrow and winter lasts another 6 weeks.

Yesterday was Lá Féile Bríde here in Ireland, St Bridgets Day, which sits upon the older pagan feast of Imbolc, the first cross quarter day.  Imbolc marks the beginning of the Celtic spring and involved various fertility rites.

In Ireland we don’t have groundhogs so we don’t actually celebrate groundhog day.  Of course before they arrived in Pensylvania the Dutch did not have groundhogs either.  But they did have badgers.  So apparently you can celebrate badger day.

Sadly there is little cute or cuddly about what happens in Ireland and England to Badgers.  Badger baiting is considered by some to be a “sport”.  They train dogs to fight with badgers, often rescue or kidnapped dogs, because the dogs are damaged in the fights.  They would not risk a valuable animal, so these dogs are considered to be “disposable” and are treated accordingly.  The poem below by John Clare is a pretty fair description of the practice in all its cruelty.  Clare was born in 1793, son of a farm labourer.  He is an important 19th century poet because he gives us a view of life at the bottom of the social divide.

At the bottom I will include some photos from modern badger baiting.  It is an abhorrent practice that serves no purpose but to entertain the foulest of people.  If you are a sensitive type you will not want to look at those photos.

 

Badger: by John Clare

The badger grunting on his woodland track
With shaggy hide and sharp nose scrowed with black
Roots in the bushes and the woods, and makes
A great high burrow in the ferns and brakes.
With nose on ground he runs an awkward pace,
And anything will beat him in the race.
The shepherd’s dog will run him to his den
Followed and hooted by the dogs and men.
The woodman when the hunting comes about
Goes round at night to stop the foxes out
And hurrying through the bushes to the chin
Breaks the old holes, and tumbles headlong in.
When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes bye.
He comes and hears—they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes bye.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where e’er they go;
When badgers fight, then every one’s a foe.
The dogs are clapt and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for bones and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through—the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans, and dies.
Some keep a baited badger tame as hog
And tame him till he follows like the dog.
They urge him on like dogs and show fair play.
He beats and scarcely wounded goes away.
Lapt up as if asleep, he scorns to fly
And seizes any dog that ventures nigh.
Clapt like a dog, he never bites the men
But worries dogs and hurries to his den.
They let him out and turn a harrow down
And there he fights the host of all the town.
He licks the patting hand, and tries to play
And never tries to bite or run away,
And runs away from the noise in hollow trees
Burnt by the boys to get a swarm of bees.

 

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Imbolc Eve

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February 1st is St Bridgets Day in Ireland, celebrated by school children making St. Bridget’s crosses, like all good little catholic children do in Ireland.

Only it is a pagan celebration, a pagan symbol and a pagan goddess.  Brigid was an Irish Celtic Goddess long before the Christians came.  The “St. Bridget’s Cross” is in fact a pre-Christian pagan sun motif, celbrating the arrival of spring.  Brigid was a goddess of fertility.  Imbolc is the first cross quarter day of the Celtic calendar, lying halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Brigid had a sanctuary in County Kildare where an eternal flame was kept forever burning.  The sanctuary was surrounded by a hedge.  Any man who attempted to enter the precinct could not pass through the hedge without becoming confused, being driven mad, or dropping down dead.

Irish Celtic women never needed a feminist movement.  They were boss.

Brigid was also the Celtic goddess of smiths, healing, midwifery and poetry!

 

 

Groundhog eve

Spring

Guess what just sprung?

Yes it is Feb 1st, Feast of Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility, or St Brigid if you are a Christian revisionist.  Celtic festival of Imbolc, thought to drive from “i mBolg” which means “in the belly” where all the spring lambs, calves and babies are.

Outside my window I hear a colt nickering in the field next door, full of the joys of the burgeoning summer.

Spring And All: by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital

under the surge of the blue

mottled clouds driven from the

northeast —

a cold wind. Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

 

patches of standing water

the scattering of tall trees

 

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines —

 

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches —

 

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all

save that they enter. All about them

the cold, familiar wind —

 

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —

 

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 

But now the stark dignity of
entrance —

Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted they

grip down and begin to awaken

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.

Imbolc dawns

Brigid, a triple deity

Brigid, a triple deity

Celtic Spring has arrived with a beautiful soft sunny day here in Cashel.  Just a light frost, but a great feeling that Spring has arrived.  Days are getting longer, mornings are not so dark and soon we will be leaving work before the sun sets.

1st Feb is also St Brigid’s Day of course, because the Catholic Church in Ireland had to replace the Pagan Goddess and patroness of poetry with a cheap Christian copy.

The real Brigid was a goddess of high stuff, like forts, uplands etc.  This translated into lofty pursuits of the mind, psychologically elevated thinking.  Craftsmanship, logic, reasoning, abstract thought etc.  She was similar to goddesses such as Brigantia, Minerva and Athena.

GENEALOGY OF BRIGIT

The genealogy of the holy maiden Brigit,
Radiant arrow of flame, noble foster-mother of gods,
Brigit the daughter of the Dagda,
Dagda the Good God, the son of Ethlinn,
Ethlinn the daughter of Balor,
Balor the king of the Fomoire.

Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Brigit,
I shall not be killed, I shall not be injured,
I shall not be enchanted, I shall not be cursed,
Neither shall my power leave me.

No earth, no sod, no turf shall cover me,
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No water, no lake, no sea shall drown me,
No air, no wind, no vapour shall sicken me,
No glamour out of Faery shall o’ertake me,
And I under the protection of the holy maiden,
My gentle foster-mother, my beloved Brigit.

Vernal Equinox

 

March approaches equinox.  Indeed today, March 20th, is when the day equals the night. 

There are various ways of measuring the “rebirth” of the year.  Our most common in the modern world seems to be the Winter Solstice, when the nights are at their longest and days at their shortest.  Once we have passed that point and the sun shines a little longer every day it seems that the worst is over.

For the Celts the “Cross-quarter days” were significant.  So Imbolc (Feb 1st) the feast of St Brigid, was seen as the start of spring.

For many primitive peoples the spring equinox was more important.  This is why Easter is a time of rebirth in many religions, Christian and pre-Christian.  At the Spring equinox day and night battle and the Sun emerges victorious, to grow stronger than the night with each passing day.

The victory of the Sun God became the victory of the Son of God in Christianity, when the Crucified Christ rose from the dead.

Since I started rising with the farmers and commuting to work in the early hours I can understand the significance of the equinox.   Spring bears a heavy workload of ploughing and planting and there are simply not enough hours in the day.  Each day gives you a little more time, and it feels you are winning.

Soon we will enter summertime and I will be plunged back into early morning darkness for a time.  The evenings will be brighter.  Light at 6am is useful for farmers, but not for many others.  Most of us get the value from the longer evenings.

I’d say that guy in Thurles who rises at 6 every morning to walk his dog so he doesn’t have to pick up the shit is feeling very exposed at the moment.  I’d bet good cash that he can’t wait for the hour to go back so he can skulk in the shadows for a while longer.

Anyway, here’s an ode to another early riser.

THE WINDHOVER  (To Christ our Lord): by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

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.