Light of Prehistoric Promise Burns Brightly at Imbolg ,
By C. Austin,
Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit "Bidden or not bidden the gods are present"
The sun set brilliantly this evening. As high cirrus clouds of purple, bronze and magenta ushered the solar disk westward, I noticed that dusk arrived later than it did only weeks ago. Imbolg, the advent of Celtic spring nears, its promise unchanged since primitive humans first battled to survive the bitter winter season.
The twilight of February 1 marks the commencement of the Celtic spring. Imbolg, a festival of many names, is also known as "Oimelic", "St. Brigid's Day" and "Candlemas." Yes, even "Groundhog Day" owes its existence to Imbolg. The timing of the festival is linked to the visible observation of the lengthening of days as well as the birthing of spring lambs.
The provision of milk, meat and increased daylight gives evidence of the Goddess' journey to bring light from the underworld. So too, the solar child born at Solstice has survived and is returning warmth to the world from above.
The festivals of the Celtic year are ancient and precede the arrival of the Celts to the European continent. The germ of these festivals was likely borne from the soul of the Mesolithic period hunter-gatherers who, living close to the earth, revered Nature, above and below, and set their lives to her cycles.
The archaic Feast of Lights was originally a torchlight celebration of the Goddess' return into spring and the survival of the newborn solar light. The torches symbolized the life-giving light returning to the landscape and to the tribe -- a moving evocation for growth, fecundity and protection from pestilence and ill fortune.
Among the primitive traditions of Imbolg is the requirement that all vestiges of the previous year and the solstice season be removed from the domicile. The new tide of life begun at Imbolg looks not backward, only forward. This requirement, coupled with the entreaty for protection from illness and misfortune, is the original intent behind "spring cleaning."
With the influx of Celts to the continent came the Brigantes, a powerful alliance of Celtic tribes that survived into Roman times.
Situated in northern Britain, the eponymous goddess of the Brigantes was "Brigantia" and those seeking her influence could find her favour in the life-giving water of rivers, lakes, streams and wells.
By the time the Brigantes settled in County Wexford, Ireland, the goddess "Brig" also known as Brigit and "Brid" (pronounced "breed") was settled throughout the British Isles. As a prehistoric goddess she exists as part of a triumvirate, both in form and in function.
At Imbolg, Brigit is the enchanting Maiden goddess of spring who will grow into Danu, the ripe Mother at Beltaine.
Danu, in turn, will cede her fertility at Samhain to the Cailleach, the Crone of wisdom who resides over a frozen landscape and the fructuous underworld until she is called forth again into the light at Imbolg as Brigit.
In function, Brigit is the name of three daughters of the Dagda, the skilled leader of the Tuatha De Dannan. As three, and as one, Brigit holds sway over three walks of life. As a woman of learning, a woman of healing and fertility and a woman of the smithery, her appeal is both intensely personal and broadly cultural.
In the Roman era, Brigit was associated with Minerva and the spring festival remained in "Februarius mensis," the "month of ritual purification." The Roman festival of Lupercalia on February 15 was a rustic purification celebration to promote fertility of human and beast. The ritual included a "beating of the bounds," that is, a tracing of the boundaries of the original settlements to promote divine cleansing and protection from famine.
Still later, in the Christian era, under Pope Gelasius in 494 AD, Lupercalia was dissolved into the feast of the Purification of the Virgin more commonly called "Candlemas." Vestiges of Lupercalia remain in our "St. Valentine's Day."
The ancient fertility and purification rites of the Goddess became the domain of the Christian virgin, Mary, and the sacred light of the Goddess' solar child became a symbol of the Christ child. The life-heralding ascent of the Goddess from the underworld in spring evolved into the resurrection of Christ from a cave, the womb of the Goddess, at Easter.
Too indigenous to be displaced, the earthy goddess Brigit took up a halo to become "St. Brigid," her sacred waters and wells, so similar to Brigantia's, became St. Brigid's holy wells.
As the earth reawakens at Imbolg, so do we. In the softening ground the first snowdrops push forth. The chaff of last season is broken and blown away. From her subterranean smithery, Brigit, the goddess of the everyday, of ashes and light comes forth.
From her underworld hearth she carries the hammered cauldron of her own making. Into this pot our future is poured, our pain is held, our joy is found. Under her stewardship the psyche is granted a safe place of refuge, an inviolable vessel of hope.
Sweeping upward, Brigit scatters the seeds of ideas and prospects to come from her ancient cloak. They will find their footing to grow in our lives if we are willing to make room by releasing outdated thoughts and mores. It is the springtime of consciousness, of awakening to what can be, of liberation from the dark seasons of the mind that have passed.
With Brigit we weave through ancient passageways, some remembered, some not. As we ascend the earthy darkness of our pathway to light we remember the liminal moments before we were we -- a time when all was ahead. It was in this very passageway that we came to be, deep in love, knowing that we were never alone.
Hesitating when we reach the edge of our comfortable darkness the unknown light beckons us on. Stepping across the threshold we are bathed in the light of divine Being and possibility. For an eternal moment we are illuminated, young again of soul, reborn of spirit, the cosmic cycle again complete.
And then we walk back to our lives, the same, but never the same - changeable and tedious, mythic and mundane. Welcome Brid, welcome this springtime of our lives.
Brighid of the sunrise
Rising in the morning
Rising with the Springtime
Greening all the land
See you in the soft cloud
See you in the raindrop
See you in the winds of change
Blowing through the land
You the red eared white cow
Nourishing the people
Nourish now the hunger
Souls longing in our land
Bird that is unfolding
Now the time's upon us
Only have we eyes to see
some great links on Imbolc in Irish tradition :